Is the Kubernetes Development Pace Leaving Enterprises Behind?

Few platforms in the cloud-native space were surrounded with as much hype last year as Kubernetes.

Initially spun out of Google in 2015 into the open source community as a way to orchestrate container deployments, Kubernetes went from an interesting option alongside established orchestrators from Mesosphere and Docker, to basically being called on to orchestrate the world.

No pressure.

The Kubernetes ecosystem has been aggressive in supporting that hype. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which houses the open source Kubernetes project, spent last year maintaining a quarterly update pace for the platform. The most recent update – Kubernetes 1.9 – launched before the year ended.

Cloud providers and container platform vendors have also been jumping on board the hype train. Most at some point last year threw significant support behind Kubernetes, either deferring to the platform as their orchestrator of choice or placing it alongside their own native option.

While all of this innovation is impressive and a boon for developers, it appears to also be leaving behind an important reason for its existence: enterprise customers.

Enterprises have historically had multi-year purchase cycles that while woefully outdated still exist. For these companies to even move from a three-year cycle in procuring networking equipment and software to a one-year cycle is a monumental task.

With Kubernetes enhancements hitting the market multiple times per year, it’s probably a bit much to expect those that pay the bills to be very excited about the current pace of change.

“Enterprises, even the most forward-looking, are somewhat conservative – and as such are generally going to be running at least one release behind (in areas such as operating systems we frequently see upgrades, beyond security patches, running out at least 18 months and beyond),” noted RedMonk analyst Fintan Ryan, in a recent blog post on the evolving container ecosystem.

During the recent KubeCon event, Platform9 conducted a survey of attendees. One of its takeaways was enterprise concern over “the complexity of operating Kubernetes in production.”

Obviously, this is where the container distros come into play. These are the vendors that provide the buffer between the lightning pace of development and providing platforms that enterprises can actually use in a production environment.

But, even many of these players are struggling to keep up. CoreOS, for instance, just last month added the 1.8 version of Kubernetes to its Tectonic platform. That Kubernetes iteration was launched two months prior.

You can’t blame a vendor like CoreOS for the delay, as it explained the need to make sure the platform it supplies is something its paying customers can use without concern.

Highlighting that tenuous nature, Reza Shafii, vice president of products at CoreOS, said the company found a “major issue” with Kubernetes 1.7 that forced the vendor to alter the release plans for the 1.7 version of its Tectonic managed Kubernetes platform. I am sure its enterprise customers were happy with that delay.

Joe Beda, who had a hand in the development of Kubernetes at Google and is now CTO at Heptio, noted in an interview with SDxCentral that maintaining accessibility continues to be a tall task.

“Across the container and cloud native market I think the biggest challenge that we face is making this technology accessible to a much wider set of users,” Beda explained. “We need to do that by focusing on solving problems versus focusing on any single technology.”

Trust me: I am all on board with the Kubernetes community rolling out flashy new features four times per year. Heck, I am OK if they want to do it four times per month.

However, I just need to write about these updates and do not have to worry about actually implementing them across a fiscally fickle organization.

It’s great that the Kubernetes ecosystem is being aggressive in terms of creating a platform that will allow enterprises to glean greater efficiencies from their cloud investments. But, let’s hope it does not lose focus on what customers actually want and can use.