KubeCon Europe 2023: the cloud native landscape in bloom
In case you missed it (how could you?!), this week has been KubeCon Europe 2023. Along with several other Spectronauts, I was there all week, helping on the stand, attending talks and having conversations.
I tweeted my experiences at https://twitter.com/woueb, and Spectro was very active at https://twitter.com/spectrocloudinc if you want to get a sense of the vibe and see some demos.
But here I want to share my thoughts about the event and what it tells us about the state of cloud native today (and perhaps reflect on a few of the predictions we made before the show).
Amsterdam showed a community firing on all cylinders
This year’s event was held in the beautiful city of Amsterdam in the state-of-the-art RAI. In response to attendee feedback, it was a shorter week than previous KubeCons, but still an absolutely exhausting riot of activity from start to finish.
All tickets sold out, so there were 10,000 people on site, and it showed: every session and keynote was packed, no matter how big the conference room, and the whole show buzzed with a great atmosphere and lots of side conversations.
My last time attending KubeCon was perhaps five years ago, and what a difference this event was. Back then there were just a handful of CNCF projects, and less than half as many attendees.
“Beautiful chaos” — yes, but is that sustainable?
Even three to five years ago, people were commenting that the cloud-native landscape or ecosystem was complex and sprawling. Joe Beda, one of the co-creators of Kubernetes, described the CNCF landscape as “beautiful chaos” way back in 2020 — and the intervening years have only intensified the chaos. It’s crazy to see year after year how many new projects and solutions are appearing.
This complexity is more than just great fodder for memes. It’s a real challenge for users. So many times this week I had conversations with attendees who have been doing Kubernetes DIY, picking and choosing the projects they need for their particular use case, and are now starting to look at more enterprise-style solutions that come with proper support and a better out-of-the-box experience.
Developers too are daunted by the complexity of Kubernetes and all the options available to them. I talked to several developers that are feeling frustrated, and for all the talk of “shift left”, just want to develop and run their code easily, and in a secure way.
It’s clear that the CNCF is aware of this perception and the effects it could have on the community’s effectiveness, and making efforts to tackle the pain. For example, on the training front, new cloud native and GitOps certifications were announced.
But more generally there was a lot of emphasis around holding the community together as it expands — the conference motto is “Community in Bloom” after all — and the CNCF was actively looking for more people to contribute/help.
One keynote was particularly illuminating on this issue, a talk from Emily Fox at Apple about Saving Knowledge through Succession. She used a great analogy about gardens and glaciers, comparing the community to a garden going through multiple seasons: you have to take care of the garden to make it bloom again. It was a clear warning about the turnover of people across the increasing number of CNCF projects and the induced risk of losing/forgetting the knowledge that has been learned.
“Unless we take steps to preserve and transfer information, the more knowledge we lose with each generation of technologists as those lessons learned (like surviving day two operations) are lost to history.”
Hot topics show cloud-native is maturing
For all the chaos and complexity of the landscape, KubeCon showed some definite clusters of activity around a few hot topics — many of which show an increasing degree of maturity in how organizations are looking to apply cloud native.
Security was perhaps the biggest topic. It’s interesting to note that there was a security track and a security village at the event, so this wasn’t a purely organic growth. The security conversations focused a lot on software supply chain, and topics like SBOM. Kubernetes itself may be at the heart of the CNCF landscape, but it’s important to remember that everything in the world of infrastructure only exists to host applications!
Two security talks particularly stood out to me:
- From Guillaume Sauvage de Saint Marc (Cisco), Total Clarity on your Application Security: we need total clarity on application security and was presenting about the OpenClarity project. He used a great analogy with a blurry picture: if you’re only spotting some bits of it, everything looks OK…it’s not enough to understand what’s really going on. It’s only when you unblur the complete photo that you see the complete picture (a thief was robbing a girl’s purse).
- From Frederick Kautz: Trust No System: The Unsettling Reality of Zero Trust. What is our goal with security? Confidentiality? Integrity? No, it’s about trust. “Trust is not a property of a system, trust is an assessment, trust is a decision”. He provided examples where in the past we were trusting a system too much, or not enough. Trust is asymmetric. Build a culture about trust. He closed with: “Even if you’re not in security, you should think about trust. Not only about building systems, but also about trust in relationships”.
Other hot topics included:
- Observability, which is of course critical to delivering application availability and performance, and particularly challenging in complex stacks at scale
- Cost visibility and control, no doubt rocketing up the priority list given some economic concerns, and led by KubeCost’s announcement of predictive features and growth of its OpenCost community.
- Sustainability, a clear harbinger of cloud native having a greater impact on overall IT, and a natural offshoot of the cost discussion. We noticed a few talks and announcements covering carbon-aware autoscaling and other overviews of green IT in Kubernetes. For example, Kepler is making a play to become a CNCF Sandbox project.
Edge is the experimental frontier
As ‘core’ Kubernetes in the enterprise matures and scales, you could say that the fun stuff is now happening at the edge.
If you know Spectro Cloud at all, you’ll know that edge Kubernetes is dear to our hearts.
At KubeCon, we were again a Diamond Sponsor of the packed EDGE DAY colocated event, where we announced our SENA framework with Intel, and had our customer Tevel present to a packed hall about its autonomous flying robots, which use AI/ML on Kubernetes to pick fruit:
What we love about edge is that these use cases are so diverse, and every one has complexities that challenge engineers: airgap environments, unique security risks, hardware limitations, remote locations. And, of course, they’re mission critical. So we were again surprised that so few vendors on the show floor were truly focused on edge.
My personal highlights
If you didn’t get a chance to attend, or if you’re on your journey home and kicking yourself for missing sessions, the CNCF uploads all the recordings to its YouTube channel. Aside from Spectro Cloud’s own sessions, I’d highly recommend you check out the following half a dozen presentations:
- Kelsey Hightower on ‘From community to customers’
- CERN on the nightmare scenario, ‘The day we deleted production’!
- Adnan from ING on why ‘Resistance is futile’
- An informative talk from Thomas Graf of Isovalent on troubleshooting K8s networking, ‘Surviving day 2’
- A growth area for sure from Christophe at Nutanix, on ‘Airgap in a cloud native world’
- An irresistible topic from ControlPlane: ‘Hacking and defending K8s clusters: we’ll do it LIVE!!!’
One thing you won’t get from the replays is all the true community and social activities organized at the event, everything from chair massages to early-morning group runs and creative things like painting. A lot of effort goes into making KubeCon welcoming and accessible — I even saw people bringing their kids along. Truly the next generation of cloud native!
See you in Paris?!
Today my feet are sore, my back hurts, but I’m smiling from all the great conversations and I have a ton of new ideas swirling in my head. Time to look ahead!
Here in Europe, I’m proud to say that the next KubeCon Europe will be in my home country, France. I hope to see many of you in Paris! So save the date: 19–22 March, 2024.
And if you can’t wait that long, me and the Spectro Cloud team will be popping up at all kinds of community events in the months to come. Say hello if you see us.
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