UPDATED 21:44 EDT / NOVEMBER 27 2020


KubeCon 2020 hindsight: The ultimate abstraction of the cloud native community

We can look back on the recent virtual KubeCon/CloudNativeCon 2020 event as marking the inflection point of Kubernetes becoming a ubiquitous architectural unit of enterprise computing of the future.

More than 25,000 attended online, and millions more have downloaded hundreds of unique cloud native project binaries and packaged distributions at every stage of development — but impressive headcounts and figures don’t tell the real story.

The flexibility of deploying on the abstracted infrastructure of Kubernetes, or K8s for short, has become a rallying force for contributions to all projects within the cloud native movement, bringing together open-source development contributors, vendors, service providers and users who want to build and deliver more resilient software anywhere.

“Our SRE team used to be more operational and systems focused,” Apple Inc. software engineer Alena Prokharchyk said in a day one keynote. “Now it has an emphasis on engineering, and a much stronger voice in the platform architectural design. Having a stable and solid platform made it easier to focus on the customer’s needs, and innovate faster.”

Abstracted infrastructure was only the beginning

The enthusiasm and sharing going on here in the sessions and Slack channels were palpable, but down the road, we can already see that every engineer may not need to spend so much time muddling with Kubernetes directly. As management tools and managed services get easier to use, cloud native abstraction will continue to move onward, beyond infrastructure, to modernize every aspect of applications.

“Kubernetes mirrors any new platform adoption,” said Bill Staples, chief product officer of New Relic. (*Disclosure below.) “If you were to count the number of workloads running in clusters today, it wouldn’t come close to representing everything in production, but a majority of companies are currently planning to migrate some or all of their applications to Kubernetes.”

Mature and recently graduated projects are already solving for load balancing, container orchestration and addressability for Kubernetes, but nothing paves the way for enterprise use like scalability.

Wojciech Tyczynski, senior staff software engineer at Google LLC, discussed how a Kubernetes and etcd environment with 15,000 nodes is “already a thing” at a major life sciences implementation, though that’s not the only aspect of scale to consider. “Scalability is a multidimensional problem with dozens of dimensions: Ingresses, services, secrets … node count isn’t the only thing that matters,” he said.

With proof of scale in spades, the community is moving on to fill in the frontiers of cloud native development where solutions were left unspecified by design.

Like tracking grains of sand in the wind

It’s easy to joke about the current eye-chart landscape that represents all of the moving parts of the cloud native ecosystem. Still, all of this investment is an extremely healthy indicator of the amount of business value this ecosystem generates through innovation.

While the release cadence for Kubernetes itself is slowing down, the pipeline of announcements for new methods and tools to reimagine orchestration, data persistence, networking and operations — in any cloud or on the edge — keeps accelerating. Service mesh is taking the spotlight right now.

“KubeCon 2020 showed that the service mesh is becoming a great platform for tackling persistent delivery issues like security and customization. Now, we can trust the K8s ecosystem with production workloads,” said Matt LeRay, chief technology officer of Speedscale Inc. “Over the next couple years I think some focus will shift towards automating the delivery pipeline — not just traditional CI/CD [continuous integration/continuous deployment] functions, but also things like quality and performance. K8s rewards automation, and delivery pipelines deserve reimagining.”

Observability and security joining the DevSecOps workflow

Vendors and contributor energy are coalescing around making OpenTelemetrya merger of OpenCensus and OpenTracing projects, into a commonly shared observability instrumentation set between Dev and Ops teams, with installable collectors that can transform and export data to any backend systems for analysis and alerting.

“This is the moment of observability,” said event co-chair and Principal Software Engineer Constance Caramanolis of Splunk Inc. “As we build more complex systems, we need to better understand our systems, and so it is time for a project that merges multiple telemetry formats: metrics, traces and eventually logs.”

I was a bit surprised at my first KubeCon 2018 by how security teams were largely on their own and using pre-cloud measures or proprietary tools to monitor ephemeral Kubernetes pods and clusters. Many DevOps teams were creating vulnerabilities through misconfiguration that could expose things like keystores and private data at egress.

DevSecOps has come a long way now as a unification of all of the best practices the community can deliver, along with better network control, isolation of workloads and secrets management.

“We’ve seen DevSecOps grow beyond a niche strategy into a mass movement, which will certainly drive the shape of solutions and solution providers that are involved with the Kubernetes landscape,” said David Van Everen, vice president of marketing at StackRox Inc. “This goes hand in hand with the maturity of cloud native adoption and the ability to achieve continuous and declarative security, which has facilitated a strong leftward shift of security in the DevOps lifecycle.“

The Intellyx take

Even with so many enterprises now leveraging Kubernetes as the reference architecture of the future, infrastructure will never be any more important than the applications running on it, nor the end users and customers who depend on those applications.

It was a fitting tribute to Dan Kohn, former CNCF executive director and leading open-source champion, that the event began with CNFC General Manager Priyanka Sharma (pictured) and Vice President of Ecosystem Cheryl Hung celebrating his legacy by talking about making diversity a top priority of the CNCF this year. They’re starting with the action of removing noninclusive terminology such as “master/slave” and “whitelist/blacklist” from the core container operating system, all the way to end-user application code.

Indeed, for this ecosystem to thrive, it will require a continued culture of inclusivity to bring the capability of all potential collaborators to bear. Diversity in software development isn’t just a matter of demographics. It’s about fostering the mental diversity and different perspectives needed to craft beautiful solutions to the world’s complicated problems.

Jason English is principal analyst and chief marketing officer at Intellyx LLC, an analyst firm that advises enterprises on their digital transformation initiatives, and publishes the weekly Cortex and BrainCandy newsletters and its Cloud-Native Computing poster. He wrote this article for SiliconANGLE. (*Disclosure: At the time of writing, New Relic is an Intellyx subscriber. None of the other companies mentioned here is a current Intellyx customer.)

Photo: CNCF

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