Docker Inc. acquired networking startup SocketPlane today, indicating that Docker wants to accelerate the development of networking APIs and software that will help network managers operationalize production Linux containers.

Docker is a suite of open source software that helps developers and admins manage and scale their use of Linux containers. Containers offer the same resource isolation and allocation benefits of a virtual machine on a hypervisor host, but containers are self-contained and require no guest operating system. Thus, they are much more lightweight and portable. Docker Inc., which leads the open source Docker project and supports the software commercially, has enjoyed rapid success as developers have found containers a much more friendly environment for developing distributed applications. Docker is now finding its way into production, which leads data center operators wondering how they can scale and operationalize the technology. Docker’s success is no surprise, since it facilitates DevOps-style data center operations. Enterprise Management Associates research found last year that 70% of enterprises were enabling developers to take better advantage of data center infrastructure. Docker is a key enabler of such an initiative.

Docker has basic networking primitives, including a native virtual Ethernet bridge (ETH0), which facilitates the networking of individual Docker containers within a host. However, multi-host networking with Docker is far less sophisticated. Docker Inc. has recognized this, and its developers have created open network APIs in an effort to foster community development of networking tools.

SocketPlane emerged late last year as a part of that community. Comprised of a half-dozen former OpenDaylight Project developers for vendors such as Red Hat, SocketPlane has been working on a multi-host networking solution based on software-defined networking concepts and Open vSwitch (OVS). The company is also developing some basic network management capabilities for Docker, such as an IP address management (IPAM) tool. Docker’s native networking primitives automatically assign IP addresses to containers. In complex production environments, admins will want more control over container addressing, which an IPAM feature would deliver.

SocketPlane has said its open source software will address a number of use cases for Docker networking, such as integrating Docker into network virtualization overlays (VMware NSX, etc.) or directly integrating multi-host Docker environments into a traditional physical network underlay.

Acquiring a six-person startup isn’t an earth-shaking move for Docker, but it is an important step for the company.  A lot of developers and data center admins are excited about containers. The technology speeds up the development process, but it also optimizes the use of server resources, which could drive up the density of individual workloads on those servers. Consequently, the networking requirements on those server hosts will also increase in density, making scalable Docker networking software even more critical. Enterprises will seek sophisticated ways to manage Docker networks and insert Layer 4-7 services and security into these environments. SocketPlane gives Docker a team of veteran SDN developers who can lead network software development in the Docker open source community.