The secret to Kubernetes’ success

It’s hard to believe Kubernetes didn’t hit 1.0 until mid-2015 (a year after its first commit), given that the container orchestration platform is now in production at 78 percent of enterprises surveyed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). That’s crazy fast adoption. 

And if we’re going to talk about “crazy fast adoption,” it’s worth pointing out that just a year ago, 58 percent of enterprises were running Kubernetes in production, according to the CNCF’s 2018 report.

This speaks to the power of containers as enterprises look to improve how they develop applications. It also underscores just how critical open source has become to broad-scale technology adoption.

The Kubernetes kommunity

The secret to Kubernetes’ popularity is no secret: community. As I wrote in 2016, Kubernetes wasn’t first to market (Mesosphere and Docker get that honor). Nor was it the only open source container orchestration tool on the market. What it was, however, was open. It’s possible to be open source but have closed governance, thwarting would-be contributors (and competitors). Google, however, took a different tactic, as I wrote then:

What accounts for these wildly disparate community results [between Kubernetes, Docker, and Apache Mesos]? In a word: Google—or rather, the relative lack of Google. While each of the other orchestration projects comes with a heavy dose of single-vendor influence, Kubernetes benefits from Google’s hands-off approach to ongoing development, as well as its original engineering.

Five years in, Google remains the single-biggest contributor to Kubernetes, followed by VMware and Red Hat (measuring by last year’s contributions). But Kubernetes is no longer all about Google. Not even close. There are more than 35,000 contributors spread across more than 2,000 companies, yielding over 1.1 million contributions. It’s incredibly impressive.

That success didn’t come because Google invented cool container orchestration technology. After all, the company had been managing containers using an equivalent (Borg) for a decade. “In a world in which k8s wasn’t open source,” notes RedMonk analyst Steve O’Grady, “it’s a niche product and many, many more workloads are welded to AWS than is the case today.”

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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