Kubernetes unleashed: What the CNCF move means to your cloud team

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Christopher Null, Freelance writer, Null Media

Google recently announced that it was handing over the entirety of its Kubernetes project to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). This transfer of power makes sense; Google turned maintenance of Kubernetes' development over to the CNCF in 2015, while Google itself continued to provide the cloud resources to support the project.

Now Google is entrusting those cloud resources to the CNCF community as well. And in a gesture of good faith, it's granting $9 million in Google Cloud Platform credits over the next three years to cover the infrastructure costs.

So what exactly does this move mean for the world's most popular open-source project? TechBeacon asked key DevOps leaders for their take. Here's what your cloud team needs to know.

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The advantages of autonomy

The fact that the CNCF will now be in control of Kubernetes' CI/CD infrastructure, container downloads, and other cloud resources makes clear that Google is committed to making the platform more open to encourage wider use of the technology.

DevOps veteran Chris Short, who works on the Ansible team at an open source software company, also sees the move as a vote of confidence for Kubernetes leadership and a testament to the community's dedication and stewardship. "Letting CNCF and Kubernetes staff and volunteers run the entire build and release process while making the decisions about the why and how of changes to it is a big deal," he said.

"This will naturally align things more toward the contributors and foundation as opposed to Google's priorities."
Chris Short

Indeed, distancing Kubernetes from Google may assuage some friction users said they felt about being tied to the search giant's agenda and timetable. "The primary advantage to me is removing the perception that Kubernetes is still a Google project," said Daniel Barker, a DevOps evangelist and chief architect at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. "That's a good thing for building a multi-vendor community."

"I'm hoping this provides a unique melting-pot culture for Kubernetes moving forward that can take the best pieces from each contributing company and create a better aggregate culture and ecosystem."
Daniel Barker

Moving the project under the purview of the CNCF provides some practical benefits as well. It allows Kubernetes to grow away from some of the idioms of Google and produce its own standards, Barker said, providing an easier path for Google competitors to get involved in the community. 

"Much of the build infrastructure has been heavily controlled by Google and uses Google tooling that isn't as popular outside of Google. That may not change, as it has become too ingrained, but it's more likely that other tools can be introduced moving forward that may not be as common within Google."
—Daniel Barker

Courting Google's cloud rivals

Whether or not the move will galvanize Google's bigger public cloud rivals to add deeper support for Kubernetes within their own ecosystems—which to date they've been slow to do—isn't as clear.

Barker noted that the adoption by other public clouds was largely forced on them due to the popularity of Kubernetes in the industry. He doesn't think this move will increase their adoption of running Kubernetes as a service, but it might encourage more contributions back to the core open-source project. "Google has done a pretty good job of trying to ensure any public cloud can use the system without too many Google-specific requirements that create stumbling blocks for other providers," he said.

There were several features in the early days that "worked well within the Google ecosystem but caused problems in other cloud environments," Barker added. "The Kubernetes team recognized this and abstracted some of those components to ensure they worked as similarly as possible on each cloud provider, with as few issues as possible."

But Red Hat's Short said that running Kubernetes at scale in a multi-tenant environment is still tricky. 'These are still skills that haven't even begun to saturate the market yet,' he said. "Google has a head start on Kubernetes and they are taking advantage of that. But do not underestimate Alibaba, Amazon, and Microsoft."

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Developers are the real winners

Observers agree that the biggest impact of the move will be on developers. They should experience additional flexibility in tooling as well as an influx of contributors from other cloud providers, Barker said.

And as other providers donate resources, automated testing systems should expand to include additional areas in other cloud services. That may, in turn, accelerate the ability of other cloud providers to make their hosted versions feature-compatible with the Google Kubernetes Engine. "Google's is the most mature offering, and this change may be the opportunity needed for the other providers to mature to the same point," Barker added. 

David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting, went even further, underscoring that the fate of Kubernetes is now in developers' hands.

"The developers own the platform, thus it's up to them to mature it, change it, love it. If they don’t like the pace, they can change it. It's no longer owned by a single player."
David Linthicum

The future of Kubernetes

So, given this latest development, it's hard to imagine Kubernetes gaining any more interest than the nearly full saturation it already has, Barker said. It's more likely that the CNCF's stewardship will merely further cement Kubernetes' position as the infrastructure abstraction of the next decade.

"It will continue to be the nexus for future automation developments," he said. "And this change will hopefully increase some of the adoption by Google competitors, primarily around items that install onto Kubernetes or can be built with concepts within Kubernetes."

Red Hat's Short explained further why the move is a big deal.

"Kubernetes is the future of infrastructure management. It's hard to see past that right now."