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Joyent's Triton ships Docker containers on cloudy bare metal

'Container native' infrastructure does away with VMs

Cloud outfit Joyent has launched Triton, a new software and service offering that provides what Joyent describes as "container native infrastructure," where the Linux container – not a server or a VM – is the atomic unit of hosting.

"In a sentence (albeit a wordy one), Triton lets you run secure Linux containers directly on bare metal via an elastic Docker host that offers tightly integrated software-defined networking," Joyent CTO Bryan Cantrill wrote in a blog post on Tuesday.

What that means is that Triton allows developers to deploy Docker containers directly to the cloud in the abstract, rather than to any specific instance or machine. The Triton software handles resource provisioning behind the scenes, freeing IT departments from that level of administrative overhead.

The hosted version, known as Triton Elastic Container Service, deploys containers on Joyent's public cloud with per-minute billing.

The same tech is also available for building private clouds in customers' own data centers, via the Triton Elastic Container Infrastructure software.

Triton is the second container-as-a-service offering from Joyent. While the firm's first-generation Docker container service ran containers inside VMs, as most cloud providers do, Triton runs them on bare metal for better performance.

Joyent achieves this because of the unique nature of its infrastructure. Rather than building its cloud entirely out of Linux, Joyent based its Triton Container Hypervisor on SmartOS, a homegrown open source platform that's derived from OpenSolaris.

In the past, SmartOS has used KVM virtualization to spin up VMs in Joyent's cloud. Triton, on the other hand, uses the older and arguably superior "Zones" technology – which SmartOS inherits from Sun Solaris – to launch containers without running them on a hypervisor.

Specifically, SmartOS takes advantage of "LX-branded Zones," a tech that provides Linux emulation inside Zones. LX-branded Zones began life as a Sun project ages ago, Cantrill said, but it needed substantial work before it could run on modern SmartOS systems. After much hammering, however, Joyent now has it up and running – including support for 64-bit guests, which had previously been missing.

Building Triton on SmartOS also provides additional advantages, such as the ability to use Sun's highly respected DTrace debugging technology on Linux applications running in Docker containers.

Joyent has also added another layer called "sdc-docker," which provides an end point to the Docker Remote API. In other words, the service looks like Docker to a developer, but resource provisioning and instantiation of containers is actually managed by SmartDataCenter, Joyent's own cloud management software.

This Docker emulation code doesn't yet implement the full Docker API and there are some differences between its behavior and that of stock Docker, Cantrill said, but for the most part it should provide a familiar, cloud-native interface for experienced Docker users.

"From a Docker developer perspective, having a Docker host that represents an entire datacenter – that is, a (seemingly) galactic Docker host – feels like an important step forward," Cantrill wrote.

Triton Elastic Container Service for Docker, Joyent's hosted version of the software, has been available in a limited preview version since early March. On Tuesday, Joyent expanded access to include (with luck) anyone who wants to sign up. Joyent engineer Casey Bisson has posted a walk-through demonstrating how to spin up containers on the company's cloud here, and per-minute pricing information is available here.

Customers who are interested in running a Triton Elastic Container Infrastructure stack in their own data centers, on the other hand, should contact Joyent for additional information. ®

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