Rancher Labs released its ultra-lightweight Linux distribution on Tuesday, a product that illustrates how the container tech revolution is creating room for innovation in the operating system.
RancherOS, an operating system built from containers and geared exclusively for hosting them, achieves an unprecedentedly small footprint by eliminating Linux system libraries and utilities outside the kernel. Those often-extraneous components can be reintroduced separately in Docker containers when needed.
With all traditional OS functions atomized in containers, RancherOS achieves rapid boot times and unique efficiencies that improve operation and scaling of distributed applications built as containerized micro-services, said Sheng Liang, CEO of the startup based in Cupertino, Calif.
Rancher, founded in 2014, has made a name for itself with its container management platform, an open source solution for managing large Docker clusters orchestrated by Kubernetes, Docker Swarm or Mesos.
But back in early 2015, about the same time it released the management platform, Rancher also introduced a unique operating system — what at the time was essentially a conceptual idea.
Initially, mostly hobbyists and technologists were interested in playing with the stripped-down Linux distribution. The product, however, became more practical about a year ago, and Rancher started seeing it implemented in production environments. Last year the company even signed a few support contracts.
"It takes a long time to really stabilize and mature the operating system," Liang said. "We finally got to the point where there was enough community traction, paying users, people who want us to support it commercially."
The advent of containers has ushered in new efforts to innovate at the level of the operating system.
"Linux was a mature, well-established space. Then containers created a lot of experimentation around the OS," Liang said.
That started with CoreOS, another major container tech player. The San Francisco-based startup was the first to strip down Linux to maximize the efficiency of distributed systems architected with Docker containers.