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An IBM z14 mainframe computer. (IBM Photo)

It’s sometimes hard to believe how many companies are running enterprise applications on technologies first conceived before mass adoption of the internet, but mainframes have been a stubborn presence inside an awful lot of large, older companies for years. Docker thinks mainframe users should be able to take advantage of the benefits of containers, and is rolling out a new version of its Docker Enterprise Edition software to help them out.

The new version, which will be generally available on Wednesday, also includes new features for managing roles occupied by different members of a software development organization as well as updates that streamline the application deployment process for users particularly concerned about security and compliance. Enterprise Edition is the paid, supported version of Docker’s free open-source software for managing containers on cloud or on-premises infrastructure.

With this new version, Docker is setting its sights squarely on big enterprise technology departments that have money to spend on much-needed renovations to modernize their development processes, something new Docker CEO Steve Singh said would be an area of emphasis for the company at our GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit in June.

Docker worked with IBM to allow zSystems customers to run Docker Enterprise Edition, said David Messina, senior vice president of marketing for Docker, Docker already runs across Linux and Windows environments, but now mainframe customers — which include venerable financial companies, insurance companies, and believe it or not, airlines — can get the benefits provided by containers, such as easier maintenance and faster deployments, without having to change their source code.

One of the biggest benefits of containerizing an application, or breaking it down into smaller independent pieces, is that you can update that application with new features or fix security holes without having to plow through the entire code base. The number of applications running on mainframes is quite small compared to those running on the Linux or Windows machines that form the basis of the public cloud and most data centers, but they’re still running, and mainframes are often running very business-critical applications that require the stability of Big Iron.

“Enterprises have hundreds if not thousands of applications, especially if you’re talking about the Global 2000,” Messina said. “They’re seeing a great opportunity here to get these modernized without changing the application or changing my policies, but getting new ways to patch things.”

The new version of the software also gives administrators more options for setting roles across software teams, said Jenny Fong, director of product marketing at Docker. This makes it easier to ensure that teams working on different projects within the same Docker cluster don’t bump into each other, and allows the administrator to dole out resources exactly where they are needed, she said.

A breakdown of Docker Enterprise Edition features. (Docker Photo)

Docker is also making it easier for administrators to manage images — basically, containers that aren’t running at a given moment — within their environments, Fong said. They can now automate the process of moving an image into a production environment and prevent image tags from being overridden once they reach that production environment. That helps administrators at companies with strict policies around what gets pushed into the production environment stay on top of everything.

Enterprise Edition is probably Docker’s best hope for generating revenue, something it needs to start doing at a much greater clip if it wants to live up to its lofty valuation. All the major public cloud vendors also offer container management services, although they support Docker EE running on their clouds.

Docker is reportedly seeking to raise another $75 million to help it move past its reputation as a technology wunderkind that has struggled to make actual money, and that’s also why Docker’s board tapped Singh, an enterprise computing veteran, to run the show. Singh is betting that while Docker has struggled to make money off a product that is extremely popular with forward-thinking software developers, there are still an awful lot of companies that have yet to embrace containers, and they’ll need Docker’s help to get up and running.

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