Interview to Neil Cresswell, CEO and Co-founder @ Portainer.io

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Some weeks ago, with my article Portainer vs Rancher: comparison between the 2 Docker GUI, I had the honor to come in contact with Neil Cresswell, CEO and Co-founder of Portainer.io.

Who is Neil

Besides being a fantastic and extremely available person, Neil is also a professional with a wide experience on Docker. Below a summary from his Linkedin profile (https://nz.linkedin.com/in/ncresswell).

“Neil Cresswell is a technologist who has spent the last 15 years working with VMware Technologies, and more lately transitioned to emergent technologies such as Docker.

Neil is the co-founder of a company called Portainer.io, which is an open-source “human friendly” Management UI for Docker. Neil spent considerable time understanding how to productionise and operationalise Docker, which is what initiated Portainer.io, as a way for “every day IT folk” to deploy and manage Docker.

4 Questions to Neil

In our epistolary, I submitted to Neil the following 4 main questions.

Question 1. How was born the idea of Portainer?

Portainer was born out of my own experiences trying to learn Docker. When I made the switch from VMs to Containers, I really struggled with the concepts of containers, struggled to remember all the CLI commands, and wanted a way to centrally control my fleet of Docker Hosts/Clusters. I had previously been working with VMware and Hyper-V, and felt what was missing was a “vCenter/SCVMM” tool for Docker. Working with my co-founder, Anthony Lapenna, we set about to create just that. A simple control plane that could be used to manage the underlying docker system, regardless of its deployment model (standalone, cluster, on-premises, in the cloud).

We quickly realised that there was a market need to dramatically simplify the Docker management experience, and as there were no best-practice or user guides available for Docker, we set about “opinionating” Portainer so as to help users complete tasks by pre-defining configuration deployment options based upon our experiences. What we created is a tool that makes the whole docker experience semi-invisible. We strive to be the tool that people can use when they want to use Docker without needing to know/care about Docker. Where possible we hide as much of the docker “lingo” as possible, whilst still enabling the users to learn more about the technology through the simplified experience.

Question 2. What are the most common problems that new Portainer customers want to solve

Deploying stateless containers is simple, and newbies to Docker can easily “guess” their way through the process; however, the moment you need to introduce multi-container applications, stateful storage, multi-node cluster environments, then complexity escalates quickly. It becomes very difficult to understand how to move from “docker on my laptop” to “docker in my enterprise”. Portainer helps with this challenge.

By making it radically simple to provision persistent volumes, to manage cluster-aware application deployments, and create custom networks, Portainer users are able to build large scale, production ready landscapes with ease.

Question 3. The day before yesterday there were physical machines, yesterday Virtual Machines and today containers. What can we expect for tomorrow in ICT world?

We believe that whilst IT is evolving to a full DevOps or NoOps model, the evolution is no where near as fast as most would like; for that reason we expect tomorrow to remain a mix of “12 factor” application development, and also COTS (commercial off the shelf) application deployments and support. We believe that the industry will not accept complexity in mainstream IT, so there will be a higher degree of focus on simplification of the operational experience of technology before adoption really takes off.

Question 4. What should be the next great step, from your point of view, for Portainer?

We need to extend Portainer to be a “manager of managers”… where before we wanted to support any deployment model, we also now need to support any orchestrator too, so that means adding support for Kubernetes, without compromising on the core DNA of Portainer, which is simplicity comes first.

Final Consideration

Besides the other definitions, in our communication there was a definiton which Neil assigned to Portainer in his Captains (b)Log (https://www.portainer.io/2019/04/captains-blog/). This definition, in my opinion, extremely summarize what Portainer really is: a management dashboard focused on “day 2 operations”.

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