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Docker's never-ending, thankless quest to make money hits a roadblock

Protocol Enterprise

Welcome to Protocol | Enterprise, your comprehensive roundup of everything you need to know about the week in cloud and enterprise software. This Thursday: Docker rolls out new subscription pricing, how Amazon CEO Andy Jassy dealt with a report of discrimination from a senior executive, and Target CIO Mike McNamara heads for the checkout line.

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The Big Story

The container store

Docker is one of the most influential enterprise companies of the last decade with arguably the least to show for its role in making containers a mainstream software development technology. Yet its decision this week to introduce new pricing plans for its flagship product went over like the Ever Given's route through the Suez Canal in some developer circles.

Docker helped fundamentally change software development. Containers have been around for a long time, but around the middle of the last decade Docker's user-friendly method for adopting containers took software developers by storm, making it one of the fastest-adopted enterprise technologies ever and a unicorn startup. Docker Desktop is a popular software-development tool for Macs, PCs and Linux computers that provides one of the easiest ways to deploy applications in containers.

Yet Docker struggles to translate that success into revenue, and two years ago it pared down to focus on its developer community. This week, Docker announced plans to charge some developers a modest amount to use the product as part of a broader push toward subscription revenue.

  • The new subscription plans cover a wide array of Docker products and resemble the pricing tiers on pretty much every enterprise SaaS company in the market, ranging from "Personal" to "Business" plans.
  • There are a lot of features in those plans that some corporate developers were already paying Docker to use, but there's one big change: Starting immediately, Docker Desktop's free license only applies to what it is calling "small companies," or "fewer than 250 employees AND less than $10 million in annual revenue."
  • It does not appear Docker will be calling for its corporate users to submit their company's income statements to its lawyers.
  • But as of next January, those users outside the above parameters will technically be in breach of license unless they sign up for a subscription, which can cause problems at companies with strict compliance and procurement protocols.

And this latest attempt to make money has not gone down well in certain circles. We're not talking about a lot of money here: The most basic plan costs $5 per user per month for a solo "Pro" subscription, while the more enterprise-oriented "Business" plan costs $21 per user per month. That's less than most companies are probably paying for Microsoft Office, and if you're a big business, you're probably not going to pay the rack rate.

  • Still, the move was met with some pushback among those who use Docker Desktop, and while in general Protocol | Enterprise does not recommend reading Hacker News threads, this one should provide the gist.
  • Docker has been free for so long that it is ingrained across personal projects and massive pieces of internet infrastructure alike.
  • And there are lots of corporate developers who work on open-source projects separate from their corporate duties on company time: Are they "Personal" users of Docker Desktop in those cases, or "Business" users?
  • As HashiCorp's Mitchell Hashimoto put it, it's so much easier to charge more than you think something is worth upfront and reduce the price as needed than it is to get people to pay even a little for something that's been free for a long time. (Just ask anybody in the media business if you won't take his word for it.)

But Docker has a limited set of choices here. There's no question that it has borne the burden of its free users for a long time. Last year the company was forced to impose rate limits on the number of secure Docker images free users could pull from its repository amid the proliferation of continuous integration and delivery software.

  • Given the options, it's hard to see what else Docker can do to support its business while providing an important service to enterprise software development: This move is not a growth hack.
  • Countless enterprise tech companies, including Docker, have built strong followings around the superiority of their developer experience.
  • "Any software that makes a developer more productive is probably worth paying for," said RedMonk's James Governor.

If Docker really wanted to extort money from enterprise tech, it could simply change the terms of the Docker and Moby open-source licenses it controls to make key parts of the code only available with a premium license.

— Tom Krazit


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This Week On Protocol

Overruled: Earlier this year, AWS acknowledged that it invited an outside firm to investigate employee complaints about a pattern of discrimination and harassment inside the company. Here's one for that firm: Sources say that Amazon CEO Andy Jassy overruled an internal HR committee's recommendation that a senior AWS executive be fired for discriminatory comments he made to a Black female employee in 2019, as detailed in this must-read report from Protocol's Joe Williams.

See 3 Toms: I had what I'm pretty sure was my first three-Tom conference call in a long career this week with Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian and C3 AI CEO Tom Siebel to discuss the new partnership between the two companies. The two enterprise sales veterans are lining up their teams with incentives to sell each other's products at scale.

Bricks of money: Databricks raised a whopping $1.6 billion series H round this week, valuing the company at $38 billion. Joe talked to CEO Ali Ghodsi about how the data analytics company is rewarding earlier investors in blocks ahead of a widely expected IPO.

Five Questions For...

Irina Farooq, head of open data analytics, Google Cloud

What was your first tech job?

After graduating college, I got my first tech job as a software engineer at Oracle, where I had planned for a long career in engineering. However, after a few months I learned about a new role, product management, and was really drawn to the ability to drive strategy and roadmap for new products. I am lucky I had the opportunity to make a career switch three months out of college, and have loved it ever since!

What was the first computer that got you excited about technology?

I started out as a math major in college and had my eyes set on getting a Ph.D. in math, and did not have much interest in computers at all. Then, I took a computer science class where, as a part of a project, I built a Maps-like navigation system. It was a life-changing experience. The feeling of creating something that could benefit others in such a concrete way was exhilarating, and I have been studying and working in computer science ever since.

If Protocol gave you $1 billion to start a new enterprise tech company from scratch today, what would you do?

I wouldn't spend it on new enterprise tech, per se. Instead, I'd use the best of what exists in enterprise tech today to solve the most pressing problems facing humanity, such as access to clean water, reliable energy and more access to educational opportunities around the world.

Which enterprise tech legend motivates you the most?

I have always admired [AMD CEO] Lisa Su for the incredible transformation she has led at AMD, and have looked up to her commitment to building an innovative and empowering strategy.

What will be the greatest challenge for enterprise tech over the coming decade?

Balancing the rapid innovation we're experiencing with community responsibility and ethical use of technology. It's so exciting to be a part of the innovation, and I can't wait to see all the good that comes out of the industry.

Around the Enterprise

  • Microsoft officially released Windows Server 2022 to the general public (such as it is) Wednesday, and ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley found the answers to a few pressing questions about the new server's operating system.
  • VMware rolled out the beta version of Tanzu Application Platform, which InfoWorld called the "spiritual successor" to Pivotal Cloud Foundry.
  • Matt Asay will re-join MongoDB after several years at AWS, where he helped repair the cloud giant's image with the open-source community.
  • Cloudflare evaluated Intel's newest server processors for an infrastructure upgrade but decided to go with AMD's Epyc chips due to their better power-consumption numbers.
  • Ventana Micro Systems raised $38 millionto build server processors based on the open-source RISC-V design, another sign that the market for data center chips is the brightest it's been in ages.
  • HPE won a $2 billion contract with the NSA to deploy its GreenLake managed service for the agency's high-performance computing needs.
  • Tanium laid off more than a dozen senior product marketing managers last week, according to Business Insider.
  • Running Atlassian's Confluence on-premises? You should patch a nasty security flaw currently being exploited that could allow for remote system takeovers.
  • Protocol learned that Target CIO Mike McNamara will retire after leading the retail giant's IT teams through the chaos of the pandemic, although according to a company representative the move was long in the works.

Thanks for reading! Protocol is off Monday — see you next Thursday!

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