The year 2013 was a wild one for Solomon Hykes, founder and CTO of Docker. His startup, formerly known as DotCloud, wasn’t exactly the darling of Silicon Valley, and yet a simple tool his staff constructed to help adoption of their Linux container-based Platform-as-a-Service offering was gaining momentum. Docker.io, as it was called, was a way of turning an application into a Linux container, complete with all of its dependencies.

A few months into 2013, and it was apparent to Hykes and his team that Docker.io was the most important thing they were working on. DotCloud investor Dan Scholnick of Trinity Ventures remembered a board meeting in the first quarter of 2013 where Hykes asked the board if he could open-source Docker.io. The board—Scholnick included—was hesitant.

But Hykes went ahead and made the project’s code open, and the move expanded its community to the point where the DotCloud moniker and PaaS gameplan were thrown in the trash by October. Today, his company is called Docker, and it’s changing the way developers and IT deploy applications at scale.

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John Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, explained why Docker is appealing. “One of the benefits of Docker is that it’s almost like a generic version of Heroku. You have this container, and it can use virtual machines very intelligently. You can actually expand virtual machines under the covers. This is a more generic approach that could potentially be very, very useful. Portability is useful. A lot of what runs in clouds, and a lot of what people bring to clouds you could just stick into a container. You don’t have a dependency on Amazon or Azure or whatever. It’s very easy to move your code back and forth.”

Rymer also said, however, that Docker as a technology is making headway. “First, you have to prove you have something that works,” he said. “I think they’re just coming out of that stage. And hardly anybody is asking me about Docker. They’ve got a lot of buzz now among the vendors, but people don’t ask me about Linux containers.”

Hykes is hoping to change that in 2014. Scholnick is too. They said that Docker has big plans for monetization this year. These include a GitHub-like method of sharing containers for more generic usage, and offering a for-pay repository for building containers from existing artifacts. Docker will also continue to offer its Linux container-based PaaS.

Not the first

When Hykes created DotCloud in 2007, the focus was on PaaS, but first they needed the containers. “The sound bite you’ll hear a lot is that DotCloud was a PaaS and pivoted to open-source container technology, and that’s Docker,” he said.