2017 Container Technology Retrospective – The Year of Kubernetes

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It is not an
overstatement to say that, when it comes to container technologies, 2017
was the year of Kubernetes. While Kubernetes has been steadily gaining
momentum ever since it was announced in 2014, it reached escape velocity
in 2017. Just this year, more than 10,000 people participated in our
free online Kubernetes Training
classes.
A few other key
data points:

  1. Our company, Rancher Labs, built a product that supported multiple
    container orchestrators, including Swarm, Mesos, and Kubernetes.
    Responding to overwhelming market and customer demands, we decided
    to build Rancher 2.0 to 100% focus
    on Kubernetes. We are not alone. Even vendors who developed
    competing frameworks, like Docker Inc. and Mesosphere, announced
    support for Kubernetes this year.
  2. It has become significantly easier to install and operate
    Kubernetes. In fact, in most cases, you no longer need to install
    and operate Kubernetes at all. All major cloud providers, including
    Google, Microsoft Azure, AWS, and leading Chinese cloud providers
    such as Huawei, Alibaba, and Tencent, launched Kubernetes as a
    Service. Not only is it easier to set up and use cloud Kubernetes
    services like Google GKE, cloud Kubernetes services are cheaper.
    They often do not charge for resources required to run the
    Kubernetes master. Because it takes at least 3 nodes to run
    Kubernetes API servers and the etcd database, cloud
    Kubernetes-as-a-Service can lead to significant savings. For users
    who still want to stand up Kubernetes in their own data center,
    VMware announced Pivotal Container Service (PKS.) Indeed, with more
    than 40 vendors shipping CNCF-certified Kubernetes distributions,
    standing up and operating Kubernetes is easier than ever.
  3. The most important sign of the growth of Kubernetes is the
    significant number of users who started to run their
    mission-critical production workload on Kubernetes. At Rancher,
    because we supported multiple orchestration engines from day one, we
    have a unique perspective of the growth of Kubernetes relative to
    other technologies. One Fortune 50 Rancher customer, for example,
    runs their applications handling billions of dollars of transactions
    every day on Kubernetes clusters.

A significant trend we observed this year was an increased focus on
security among customers who run Kubernetes in production. Back in 2016,
the most common questions we heard from our customers centered around
CI/CD. That was when Kubernetes was primarily used in development and
testing environments. Nowadays, the most common feature requests from
customers are single sign-on, centralized access control, strong
isolation between applications and services, infrastructure hardening,
and secret and credentials management. We believe, in fact, offering a
layer to define and enforce security policies will be one of the
strongest selling points of Kubernetes. There’s no doubt security will
continue to be one of the hottest areas of development in 2018. With
cloud providers and VMware all supporting Kubernetes services,
Kubernetes has become a new infrastructure standard. This has huge
implications to the IT industry. As we all know, compute workload is
moving to public IaaS clouds, and IaaS is built on virtual machines.
There is no standard virtual machine image format or standard virtual
machine cluster manager. As a result, application built for one cloud
cannot easily be deployed on other clouds. Kubernetes is a game changer.
An application built for Kubernetes can be deployed on any compliant
Kubernetes services, regardless of the underlying infrastructure. Among
Rancher customers, we already see wide-spread adoption of multi-cloud
deployments. With Kubernetes, multi-cloud is easy. DevOps team get the
benefit of increased flexibility, increased reliability, and reduced
cost, without having to complicate their operational practices. I am
really excited about how Kubernetes will continue to grow in 2018. Here
are some specific areas we should pay attention:

  1. Service Mesh gaining mainstream adoption. At the recent KubeCon
    show, the hottest topic was Service Mesh. Linkerd, Envoy, Istio,
    etc. all gained traction in 2017. Even though the adoption of these
    technologies is still at an early stage, the potential is huge.
    People often think of service mesh as a microservices framework. I
    believe, however, service mesh will bring benefits far beyond a
    microservice framework. Service mesh can become a common
    underpinning for all distributed applications. It offers application
    developers a great deal of support in communication, monitoring, and
    management of various components that make up an application. These
    components may or may not be microservices. They don’t even have to
    be built from containers. Even though not many people use service
    mesh today, we believe it will become popular in 2018. We, like most
    people in the container industry, want to play a part. We are busy
    integrating service mesh technologies into Rancher 2.0 now!
  2. From cloud-native to Kubernetes-native. The term “cloud native
    application” has been popular for a few years. It means applications
    developed to run on a cloud like AWS, instead of static environments
    like vSphere or bare metal clusters. Applications developed for
    Kubernetes are by definition cloud-native because Kubernetes is now
    available on all clouds. I believe, however, the world is ready to
    move from cloud-native to, using a term I first heard from Joe Beda,
    “Kubernetes-native“. I know of many organizations developing
    applications specifically to run on Kubernetes. These applications
    don’t just use Kubernetes as a deployment platform. They persist
    data in Kubernetes’s own etcd database. They use Kubernetes custom
    resource definition (CRD) as data access objects. They encode
    business logic in Kubernetes controllers. They use Kubelets to
    manage distributed clusters. They build their own API layer on
    Kubernetes API server. They use `kubectl` as their own CLI.
    Kubernetes-native applications are easy to build, run anywhere, and
    are massively scalable. In 2018, we will surely see more
    Kubernetes-native applications!
  3. Massive number of ready-to-run applications for Kubernetes. Most
    people use Kubernetes today to deploy their own applications. Not
    many organizations ship their application packages as YAML files or
    Helm charts yet. I believe this is about to change. Already most
    modern software (such as AI frameworks like Tensorflow) are
    available as Docker containers. It is easy to deploy these
    containers in Kubernetes clusters. A few weeks ago, Apache Spark
    project added support to use Kubernetes as a scheduler, in addition
    to Mesos and YARN. Kubernetes is now a great big-data platform. We
    believe, from this point onward, all service-side software packages
    will be distributed as containers and will be able to leverage
    Kubernetes as a cluster manager. Watch out for vast growth and
    availability of ready-to-run YAML files or Helm charts in 2018.

Looking back, growth of Kubernetes in 2017 far exceeded what all of us
thought at the end of 2016. While we expected AWS to support Kubernetes,
we did not expect the interest in service mesh and Kubernetes-native
apps to grow so quickly. 2018 could very well bring us many unexpected
technological developments. I can’t wait to find out!

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