Calculating the Kube roots: Why 2019’s KubeCon represented a milestone for the industry

James has more than a decade of experience as a tech journalist, writer and editor, and served as Editor in Chief of TechForge Media between 2017 and 2021. James was named as one of the top 20 UK technology influencers by Tyto, and has also been cited by Onalytica, Feedspot and Zsah as an influential cloud computing writer.

The latest iteration of KubeCon and CloudNativeCon, which took place in Barcelona last week, felt like something of a milestone – and not one shoehorned in for marketing purposes, either.

It is true however that Kubernetes came into being five years ago this June, so for those at Google Cloud, it was a time of reflection. From the acorn which was Eric Brewer’s presentation at Dockercon 2014, a veritable forest has grown. “We’re delighted to see Kubernetes become core to the creation and operation of modern software, and thereby a key part of the global economy,” wrote Brian Grant and Jaice Singer DuMars of Google Cloud in a blog post.

“Like any important technology, Kubernetes has become about more than just itself; it has positively affected the environment in which it arose, changing how software is deployed at scale, how work is done, and how corporations engage with big open source projects,” Grant and DuMars added.

2019’s KubeCon saw a smattering of news which represented a sense of continued maturation. In other words, various cloud providers queued up to boast about how advanced their Kubernetes offerings were. OVH claimed it was the only European cloud provider to offer Kubernetes deployment on multiple services, for instance, while DigitalOcean unveiled its managed Kubernetes service, now generally available. From Google’s side, with its Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) managed service toolset, new products were made available, from greater control over releases, to experimentation with Windows Server containers – of which more later.

These are all clues which point to how Kubernetes has evolved since 2014 – and will continue to do so.

Analysis: The past, present and future

At the start of this year, for this publication’s 2019 outlook, Lee James, CTO EMEA at Rackspace, put it simply: “I will call it and say that Kubernetes has officially won the battle for containers orchestration.”

If 2018 was the year that the battle had been truly won, 2017 was where most of the groundwork took place. At the start of 2017, Google and IBM were the primary stakeholders; Google of course developing the original technology, and IBM holding a close relationship with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) – VP Todd Moore holding the CNCF chair of the governing board. By the year’s end, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Salesforce and more had all signed up with the CNCF. Managed services duly followed.

Last year saw Kubernetes become the first technology to ‘graduate’ from the CNCF. While monitoring tool Prometheus has since joined it, it was a key milestone. The award was a recognition that Kubernetes had achieved business-grade competency, with an explicitly defined project governance and committer process and solid customer credentials. According to Redmonk at the time, almost three quarters (71%) of the Fortune 100 were using containers in some capacity.

One of the key reasons why this convergence occurred was due to the business case associated with the technology becoming much more palatable. Docker first appeared on the scene in 2013 with containerised applications promising easier management and scalability for developers. Many enterprises back then were merely dipping their toes into the cloud ecosystem, agonising between public and private deployments, cloud-first eventually moving to cloud-only.

As the infrastructure became better equipped to support it, the realisation dawned that businesses needed to become cloud-native, with hybrid cloud offering the best of both worlds. More sophisticated approaches followed, as multiple cloud providers were deployed across an organisation’s IT stack for different workloads, be they identity, databases, or disaster recovery.

This need for speed was, of course, catnip for container technologies – and as Ali Golshan, co-founder and CTO at StackRox wrote for this publication in January: “Once we started using containers in great volume, we needed a way to automate the setup, tear down, and management of containers. That’s what Kubernetes does.”

The Docker story is an interesting one to tie up. The company had a presence at this year’s KubeCon, announcing an extension of its partnership with Tigera around support for Kubernetes on Windows in Docker Enterprise. Consensus across many in the industry was that Docker had simply run its course. At the end of 2017, Chris Short, ambassador at the CNCF – though he was swift to point out this was not the foundation’s opinion – wrote a piece headlined simply “Docker, Inc is Dead.” In October of that year, Docker announced it was supporting Kubernetes orchestration. Short added that ‘Docker’s doom [had] been accelerated by the rise of Kubernetes.’

One area of potential however is through Windows. In December Docker announced a collaboration with Microsoft in what was dubbed a ‘container for containers’; a cloud-agnostic tool aimed at packaging and running distributed applications and enabling a single all-in-one packaging format. Kubernetes 1.14 brought about support for Windows nodes, and Google referenced this in its Windows Server offering for GKE. “We heard you – being able to easily deploy Windows containers is critical for enterprises looking to modernise existing applications and move them towards cloud-native technology,” the company wrote.  

Docker secured $92 million in new funding in October. As TechCrunch put it, “while Docker may have lost its race with Kubernetes over whose toolkit would be the most widely adopted, the company has become the champion for businesses that want to move to the modern hybrid application development and information technology operations model of programming.”

This is where things stand right now. As for the future, more use cases will come along and, much like cloud has become, Kubernetes will stop being spoken of and just ‘be’. “Kubernetes may be most successful if it becomes an invisible essential of daily life,” wrote Grant and DuMars. “True standards are dramatic, but they are also taken for granted… Kubernetes is going to become boring, and that’s a good thing, at least for the majority of people who don’t have to care about container management.”

“In other ways, it is just the start,” the two added. “New applications such as machine learning, edge computing, and the Internet of Things are finding their way into the cloud-native ecosystem. Kubernetes is almost certain to be at the heart of their success.” in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their experiences and use-cases? Attend the Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

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