Here at Spectro Cloud, we have long argued that it’s time for Kubernetes at the edge. We believe that, with the right edge architecture, Kubernetes can drive world-changing, new use cases for businesses in every industry.
But how real is this vision today?
While last year our research focused a lot on getting a clear picture of the size and shape of clusters in use, and how organizations got started with their Kubernetes journey, this year, we’re diving into different topics, including edge.
We surveyed a healthy sample of 308 respondents, representing operations, developers and DevOps roles, from practitioner to senior executive, at businesses ranging from 250 employees to large enterprises. The one key criteria: They have to be using Kubernetes in production. In other words, they have to be talking from experience.
The data we’re about to share with you is as fresh as it can be. The survey was conducted this month (by some measures, Kubernetes’s birthday month!), and TNS readers are hearing the news first before we’ve even published the report.
So, let’s get started.
Edge Is Gaining Momentum as a Strategic Business Differentiator
The headline figure: 35% of K8s production users say they use Kubernetes at the edge today.
If that sounds high to you, it’s worth checking against tangential surveys like this or this. We think it’s on track, and it’s certainly indicative of a much earlier stage of maturity than Kubernetes in public clouds, which 89% of respondents said they use in production.
Our survey makes the case that edge is not just another location chosen for technical and operational reasons. As we’ll see, it’s a business enabler that can create real competitive differentiation.
Of all our respondents, 81% said that there are “compelling” use cases for edge in their industry, and those who are already using Kubernetes at the edge were more likely to report seeing strategic business benefits from Kubernetes, not just IT operational benefits.
Sixty-seven percent of edge users said Kubernetes made them a more innovative and competitive company, compared to 54% of all surveyed, and 50% said it created opportunities for revenue generation, compared to 34% of all surveyed. As a result of these more significant benefits, 25% of edge Kubernetes users were more likely to say they were “highly satisfied” overall with their experience of Kubernetes, compared to 18% of all respondents.
Of course, when you’re looking at innovation and revenue generation, every business and every industry has different use cases. One example that’s close to our heart is what GE Healthcare is doing with its Edison platform (presented at KubeCon EU here), putting Kubernetes at clinical sites to support computationally intensive — and lucrative — medical imaging workloads. But if you need some inspiration, why not check out the broader edge computing “State of the Edge” reports that the Linux Foundation publishes?
The Future for Edge Is All about Growth
So that’s today. What about tomorrow?
As we saw, edge Kubernetes is a minority pursuit today, with 35% doing it in some form. Fifty-five percent of our respondents said they expected to grow in edge Kubernetes in the next 12 months — and naturally, that means many expect to be starting their journey for the first time.
Looking at only those who are already doing edge today, the confidence is even greater. Sixty-six percent said they expect their edge Kubernetes use to grow in the next 12 months, and only 3% expected a decline. In other words, once you start, you probably won’t stop.
But despite this momentum and the benefits, the path to edge is not smooth.
Learning from Experience: Edge Is Hard
Overall, the Kubernetes community is daunted by edge. Seventy-two percent of all respondents said it’s too challenging to deploy and manage Kubernetes on edge devices.
As for those who use edge, they’re more likely to “strongly agree” that edge is challenging: 23% of edge users vs. 15% of all respondents.
Naturally, the next question is, “What do you find challenging about it?” And here’s where the data gets really interesting. We asked which of a series of edge-specific challenges respondents expected to see.
Looking at the respondent base as a whole, the top challenge is security and compliance, chosen by 51% of respondents. In today’s IT world, security is almost always a top concern, but it’s easy to see why security and compliance are concerns when thinking about edge compute. Unattended devices that are vulnerable to physical tampering; remote devices that are hard to monitor and patch; lots of potentially sensitive, regulated data captured in distributed locations: It’s a CISO’s nightmare.
But when we look at the responses from those who have used edge K8s, those who have encountered these challenges in practice, the story is surprisingly different. Take a look at the chart below. For us, a few things leap out.
First, edge users are much more likely to say they have experienced almost every challenge. Limited performance? Picked by 41% of edge users vs. 21% of all respondents. Costly field engineering visits? Picked by 37% of edge users vs. 18% of all respondents. In other words: Everyone believes that edge Kubernetes is challenging, but once you try it, it’s even harder than you expected in lots of ways.
Second, and perhaps most striking, the top challenge cited by those who use edge K8s is “too many clusters to manage when scaling to many edge devices.” This jumps security and compliance to take the top spot. Manageability at scale is hard, and doubly so in distributed environments.
It’s clear that, for all the compelling use cases for edge computing in general and edge Kubernetes specifically, early adopters are facing a bumpy road. Edge is challenging as an environment to deploy and manage technology, and it magnifies any challenges relating to scale.
How do you provision in low-touch environments? How do you perform non-disruptive upgrades on single-device clusters? How can you enforce policy at scale in low-connectivity environments? How can you ensure security when devices are out there, exposed in the field? These are all real and thorny challenges for architects working on edge deployments — and if they can’t be solved efficiently, they could compromise the ROI of those “compelling” edge use cases.
Centralized Control Is the Key to Managing Edge Locations
How users are managing Kubernetes provided some more interesting insights. Across the whole respondent base, 34% said they use a commercial management platform today (other options include DIY custom scripts, open source tools or cloud dashboards). But for edge users, that number goes up to 46%. What made them take the leap?
We asked what benefits our respondents look to get from a management platform. Those with investments in edge said they valued a range of capabilities (see the chart below), but the most attractive benefit of a management platform, cited by 56%, is having a single tool to deploy and manage all Kubernetes clusters across multiple environments — a direct hit to the pain point we discussed above.
It also seems that those that used a commercial K8s management platform feel more confident about their edge future. They are twice as likely to say they expect strong growth in edge Kubernetes over the next 12 months and are three times as likely to say they are highly satisfied with their experience of Kubernetes overall.
Dive into the Full Survey
There’s a lot of rich data in our 2022 “State of Production Kubernetes” survey — about edge and much more. If you’d like to delve into all the findings, the full report will be available in a few weeks, and we plan to devote our September Spectro Cloud webinar to discussing the findings. Sign up here to get the report in your inbox.