May 5, 2022

Kubernetes at scale: do we need a reality check this KubeCon?

Tenry Fu
Tenry Fu
CEO & Co-Founder

Kubernetes seems to have almost unassailable momentum. It has become the de facto platform for container orchestration, just as containers themselves are becoming the de facto model for building and deploying applications anywhere, for developers and in production at scale.

But let's be honest: isn't this what we have been talking about at every KubeCon for years? It's time for a reality check.

As K8s moves further into the mainstream enterprise and becomes a serious part of the production stack for more and more workloads, it seems that for every challenge Kubernetes solves, it creates another. In research we conducted over a year ago, 98% of operations leaders reported challenges with Kubernetes. 87% said it created a new set of problems for their production teams to manage.

Are we (as a K8s community) really ready for prime time? To answer the question, perhaps we need to focus on more on what "prime time" means, or more precisely, what managing K8s "at scale" is all about. And to us, that means collectively defining the answers to four big questions.

1. Are we really all on the same page about what "K8s" really means?

When we talk about "Kubernetes" we're probably not just talking about the CNCF project. We may also be talking about an abstract concept that sits in the tangled field of open source, cloud native, CI/CD, DevOps and infra as code. Or we may be referring to the sprawling and vibrant open source ecosystem of hundreds of integrations and projects springing up.

Depending on who you ask, your role, or who you are buying from (if you are), perceptions vary. One thing's for sure: the average cloud native app requires a dozen of add-on packs (think service mesh, monitoring, logging, CD tools, etc.) on top of K8s to run. And that's what your devs will expect. And while Ops teams may be running the K8s infrastructure, we must all remember it's the devs that are deploying that end-user-facing, potentially revenue-generating code.

So, here's our first challenge: let's agree a fresh, real-world definition of Kubernetes.

2. Is K8s ready to fulfil the revolutionary promise of portability?

If "multicloud" (along with its myriad meanings) and "multi-environment" have been key themes for recent years, the next chapter of K8s might be more than just a deployment model - instead it can shape entire business models.

Let's not forget, the basis of containerization is the promise of true portability and assurance for a runtime environment, and Kubernetes as the container application platform becomes the abstraction layer for multi-environment to enable portability. With more and more organizations now expanding beyond public clouds and data centers, near and far edge locations (centralized and decentralized bare metal K8s servers in essence), are about to revolutionize industries.

But are conventional edge architectures K8s-ready? Think cost-efficiency with single-node configurations, thousands of clusters under management with all the bells and whistles of a production environment - only in the most challenging and remote location.

Our second challenge: Make K8s practicable for the edge and bare metal use cases that enterprises need.

3. Is it really about the K8s distribution anymore?

If the first wave of container standardization was K8s, the second one was CNCF conformant distributions. While in the earlier years opinionated stacks played a role, the open source community - fortunately - "normalized" itself.

What's next? We must get to a phase where the focus shifts away from the distro "up the stack", towards consistent and integrated management of packs, including GitOps and IaC support with exposable APIs, native functionality from best-of-breed open source projects, safe and dev-friendly self-service, and an architecture that enables real scalability everywhere.

And this is our third challenge: Alleviating the friction between the freedom that developers want and the control that IT operations need to maintain.

4. Can humans manage K8s clusters?

For most businesses, K8s usually starts with a cloud managed service and a lot of safe experimentation, DIY stacks and a couple of clusters to play with. But in 2022, moving to production at scale is looking more like hundreds of diverse clusters, across diverse locations, with diverse combinations of packs on top, to support diverse dev projects and diverse teams.

You can't manage this with hand-crafted YAML files, fast fingers in a CLI and endlessly scrolling log files. You get the picture: we need machines to manage machines. And this is where today's idea of declarative template doesn't go far enough. It's all very well adopting a declarative model and defining the end-state in day 1, but have we really reached a point where container orchestration is truly automated, clusters are decoupled from the management plane, can autonomously self-heal and minimize configuration drift and ultimately application downtime?

So our fourth and final challenge: we need capabilities for automation far beyond human scale, desired-state based management all the way, not just a one-time deployment template.

Let's talk about what Kubernetes at scale means for you at KubeCon in Valencia

We could not be more excited to be in Valencia in just a couple of weeks to help collectively shape the next era of K8s. So, join the conversation (with some delicious food) at our panel discussion "K8s after the Honeymoon: It's Complicated" moderated by The New Stack's Alex Williams and Heather Joslyn. We'll talk about the promise of K8s but also engage in a bit of "group therapy" about the hard realities of today!

We are also excited to be diamond sponsors at this year's Kubernetes on Edge Day, with an amazing day full day of keynotes, lightning talks and sessions covering the today and the tomorrow of one of the most challenging use cases and deployment models for K8s and open source application innovation. Finally, don't forget to drop by the Spectro Cloud booth (S57) to say hi and see Palette, our full-stack K8s management platform in action.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

KubeCon 2022

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To learn more about containerized infrastructure and cloud native technologies, consider joining us at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Europe 2022, May 16-20.

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