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Docker, the company that has popularized the use of containers for wrapping up application code, is announcing today that it has acquired Unikernel Systems, a small startup that focuses on the development of the unikernel, a technology that runs code using only the most essential operating system components.

Docker founder and chief technology officer Solomon Hykes sees the unikernel as a technology that could potentially sit on a continuum right alongside traditional virtual machines and containers.

“In effect, it’s like a container but much, much, much smaller,” Hykes told VentureBeat in an interview. The technology might not be as well-recognized as containers now, but that’s okay — with Docker’s backing, it could end up as another tool companies can use to developing and deploying applications in just the right fashion.

Operating system companies like Microsoft and Canonical and virtualization companies like VMware and Citrix have done a lot to embrace containers in recent years. Docker has expanded its scope with enhanced networking capability and on-premises software, but now the company is doing something to move considerably forward rather than simply fill in strategic holes. The unikernel is the sort of thing that large technology companies will inevitably rush to support now that Docker is in on it.


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Not that unikernels are completely obscure. They do already work inside some storage and networking hardware, Hykes said. And some cutting-edge developers have had fascinating discussions about them on Hacker News, as he noted.

But following this acquisition, Docker could make the unikernel something that enterprises will have to know about in the years to come, just as it has done with containers. Specifically, Docker will be adding support for unikernels across its line of products, Hykes said.

To be clear, though, unikernels can already work with Docker, as Unikernel Systems chief technology officer Anil Madhavapeddy explained at a Docker conference in Barcelona last year.

Unikernel Systems started in 2014 and was based in the English city of Cambridge. All 13 of the startup’s employees will stay there as part of Docker’s new systems research center, Hykes said. Unikernel has only taken on an undisclosed amount of angel funding, according to a spokesperson.

Docker is based in San Francisco and reportedly had a billion-dollar valuation last year. Earlier Docker acquisitions include Kitematic, Koality, SocketPlane, and Tutum.

A blog post has more on today’s news.

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