How Kubernetes’ fifth year is leading to a shift in enterprise IT

As Kubernetes turns five, the Cloud Native Computing Forum (CNCF) plans to make containerisation simple

In his opening keynote at Kubecon-CloudNativeCon, discussing the CNCF’s support of Kubernetes, CNCF executive director Dan Kohn (pictured above) discussed how Kubernetes has been built up from previous cloud native breakthoughs.

“Developments in technology depend on the ubiquity of other technology,” he said. “Many technologies had to be developed before cloud native could evolve.”

Although it was originally developed by Google, Kohn said Kubernetes has been built on a decade of learning and incorporates a host of technologies from other companies. “There is no vendor lock-in,” he said. “Google has encouraged developers from other companies to take part.”

Thanks to Kubernetes, a complex IT system can be split into distinct containers, each of which can be orchestrated independently. But is it now ready for mainstream enterprise adoption?

Google first began work on container orchestration in an internal project called Borg that supported its own internal architecture. This later evolved into Kubernetes.

Why Kubernetes?

Cheryl Hung, director of ecosystems at the CNCF, used to work as an engineer at Google. She said: “When I left Google in 2016, I found that not everyone developed and deployed software like Google.”

In effect, Kubernetes provides an IT architecture that shares the same DNA as the architecture Google itself uses to achieve web scale.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Aparna Sinha, director, product management for Kubernetes at Google, said large enterprises are adopting Kubernetes at scale. “I am in discussion with large banks, larger insurers, all of the retailers, healthcare, and I am starting to see interest in Kubernetes in heavy industries too,” she said.

Although no one likes change, containers lead to much greater efficiency compared with server virtualisation, said Sinha. “When I talk to users about why they adopt Kubernetes, they say it made their application more reliable. If your machine goes down, Kubernetes reschedules your application to a machine that is running. It also auto-scales.”

Discussing the use of Kubernetes in retail, Sinha said: “We had a very successful Black Friday on GKE [Google Kubernetes Engine]. We are known in the industry as the place to run your e-commerce site.”

The system scales up and down, she said, and creates high efficiency, enabling multiple workloads to be compacted, enabling up to 90% improvement in utilisation, she claimed.

Managed Kubernetes services

As Computer Weekly has previously reported, Kubernetes can be incredibly complex. Companies such as Google and IBM offer managed services for Kubernetes as part of a hybrid cloud service.

A container can hold everything needed to run a workload. This enables the enterprise to develop a platform for building applications cloud natively. The workloads become portable across different infrastructure-as-a-platform (IaaS) providers.

Sinha said: “Typically in the enterprise, a platform team provides GKE and a set of tooling. We have created Anthos to provide a more integrated platform, so that the enterprise platform team no longer has to piece things together.”

This is available in the Google cloud and on-premise, which is where enterprise IT needs to pull together a host of different open source tools.

Dan Berg, distinguished engineer at IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service, said: “We are redefining the IBM cloud business around Kubernetes.”

IBM’s vision is to enable its customers to run workloads either on-premise or on its managed Kubernetes platform in the cloud. In time, said Berg, every part at IBM will be delivered through this platform.

Transport and logistics firm Maersk is one its customers. The company’s “always on” platform uses microservices for building cloud native applications that are deployed in containers and orchestrated by Kubernetes. Maersk started off using the IBM Bluemix cloud, but this year it began to move into the public cloud.

Martin Bower, cloud platform architect at Maersk, said the goal is to have a common platform everywhere. “We have a number of businesses and 80 terminals across the world. We would like to have the same IT deployed across the world,” he said.

Read more about Kubernetes

  • Price comparison site MoneySupermarket.com has used container orchestration to split its machine learning data pipeline into parallel processes.
  • Rob Greenwood, CTO at Manchester-based cloud and DevOps consultancy Steamhaus, sets out why the emergence of Amazon’s managed Kubernetes service is such good news for enterprises.

The IT used to be standalone, but is now on Kubernetes, said Bower. This enables Maersk to achieve a high level of availability and to roll out features a lot faster than was previously possible, he said.

Describing how Kubernetes is being used to support a more dynamic IT architecture, Bower said: “It is a living, evolving thing. We are learning from failure. Everything is pluggable and we can drop things in and out as new features become available.”

Asked about the benefits of using IBM’s managed service, he said: “We are not best placed to manage Kubernetes. It’s about how quickly we can deliver value to the business.

“Everyone strives for simplicity. Our deployment is identical across the organisation. Once Kubernetes is everywhere, it removes so much complexity.”

Mastercard has used the idea of deployment patterns to simplify the way it runs Kubernetes. In a presentation at KubeCon, Fabio Giannetti, director of cloud engineering at Mastercard, said: “We are dealing with how we manage clusters.”

Mastercard worked with OCI (Oracle Cloud Infrastructure) to develop deployment patterns for containers that could be managed using the Git repository, through what the industry dubs GitOps.

Great power and responsibility

Allison Richardet, a software engineer at OCI, said: “Kubernetes comes with great power and responsibility. When a change is initiated, how can we balance similarities with uniqueness?”

OCI used GitOps to enable Mastercard to create a source of the truth for every containerised environment being deployed by the company in order to manage container deployments more effectively.

The Git repository provides a way to check a manifest that documents whether a given container matches what has actually been deployed. The continuous deployment tool, Argo, is used to read the declared definitions of containers in Git, and then automates their deployment. 

From the people Computer Weekly spoke to at Kubecon-CloudNativeCon, there is a sense that Kubernetes is breaking out of the open source developer space into the enterprise.

Maersk has created an always-on architecture that enables it to puts the entire IT stack needed to operate at shipping terminals into a container that can be deployed automatically using Kubernetes. And Mastercard is starting to use GitOps to enable it to manage the orchestration of containers at scale.

As Kubernetes turns five, enterprises are starting to see the benefits of a highly automated, programmable IT infrastructure.

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