The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) might not be the largest open source organization or even the largest group under the broader Linux Foundation umbrella, but it has been one of the fastest growing thanks to such hosted projects like Kubernetes, Prometheus, and Envoy.
CNCF was established within the Linux Foundation in mid-2015. Its initial backers included 22 vendors and organizations, including AT&T, Cisco, the Cloud Foundry Foundation, Goldman Sachs, Google, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Red Hat, Twitter, and VMware. Its focus was on supporting the adoption of open source technologies for building cloud native applications and services.
CNCF really took off in early 2016, when its technical oversight committee (ToC) accepted Google’s Kubernetes container orchestration platform as CNCF’s first hosted project. That move was followed by the acceptance of the Prometheus monitoring platform.
Today, CNCF houses five “graduated” projects, which are those that have hit a level of maturity and stability that provides confidence to vendors that want to integrate the project into their commercial platforms. These include Kubernetes, Prometheus, Envoy, CoreDNS, and Containerd. CNCF also hosts more than a dozen “incubating” projects that are theoretically working toward graduation status, and another dozen-plus “Sandbox Projects” that is an “entry point” into CNCF for early stage projects.
As for community support, CNCF recently surpassed 375 organization members, including the addition of 59 new members just last month. And, its most recent KubeCon + CloudNativeCon event in North America drew a venue-limiting 8,000 attendees.
Dealing With Growth
Most of this growth has been overseen by Dan Kohn, who joined CNCF as executive director in mid-2016. Kohn brought an extensive history in the computing and telecom space. This included his founding of NetMarket in 1993, which the following year conducted the first secure online transaction, and later he worked for satellite-based ISP Teledesic that was funded by Craig McCaw and Bill Gates.
Kohn explained that he has always been involved in open source software, and that joining CNCF was just an extension of that involvement.
“I think we have seen a realization by many organizations that open source is the right way to build infrastructure,” Kohn said. “There’s no business that can do all of that low-level work as well as the entire ecosystem can combined. And those that are adopting these platforms don’t want to be locked into a single vendor. Even if they pay a vendor for support, they don’t want to locked in.”
However, managing the organization’s level of growth has been and remains one of his bigger challenges.
CNCF has a nine-member ToC that is charged with maintaining the technical vision for the open source group and for approving new projects. That group recently went through its greatest overhaul since its inception that saw six new members elected.
Kohn said that CNCF’s charter established clear independence for the ToC to steer an independent direction for the open source group.
“The charter was very concerned about not allowing companies with the most money to decide the direction of CNCF,” Kohn explained.
That charter and the ToC’s independent nature also helps CNCF deal with governing the organization’s growth.
“Definitely one of our bigger challenges is in dealing with scaling for our governance needs,” Kohn said. He explained that as an organization, CNCF has a set governance model, but that it’s really up to the projects themselves in how they implement that governance.
“We don’t come in and tell the projects how to run,” Kohn said. “We just recommend that they have a governance process in place so they can focus on reaching graduation status within CNCF.”
This management is becoming increasingly important for CNCF as many of its core projects are central to the growing cloud-native push. This push includes a numerous vendor-founded open source projects looking to slide those efforts under the CNCF umbrella.
Kohn explained that while there is indeed a lot of interest in adding more projects to CNCF, the organization does not feel any pressure to become the main repository for all open source work. “It’s really up to the ToC to figure out what makes the most sense and what projects can prosper and add back to community,” he said.
Kohn explained that Kubernetes will be a central component to CNCF’s plans moving forward, especially as a growing number of telecom-based operators look to use the platform to control larger parts of their networks.
He said the move would tap into CNCF’s partnership with the Linux Foundation Networking (LFN) group that was launched in early 2018. That group includes a half-dozen projects that form the basis of a networking stack from the data plane to the control plane, to orchestration, automation, and end-to-end testing.
CNCF earlier this year also worked with LFN to launch of a new Cloud native Network Function (CNF) Testbed that could speed the rise of Kubernetes as a test platform. Its purpose is to show the ability to run the same networking code running as virtual network functions (VNFs) on OpenStack and as CNF’s on Kubernetes.
Kohn said this move also sets up a future where “Kubernetes will be the universal platform that can abstract the bare metal and any cloud.”
“And on top, all functions can be cloud native functions,” Kohn said. “This allows for an efficiency advantage in that all OSS and BSS can also run on the same cluster that is running the networking code.”
This expansion is likely to spill over into CNCF’s events. Kohn recalled that for its North America Kubecon + CloudNativeCon event, CNCF has seen attendance grow from just over 1,000 attendees in 2016, to more than 4,000 attendees in 2017, and hitting capacity at 8,000 attendees last year. Last year’s event in Seattle also had 1,000 people on a waitlist to attend.
Due to that growth, Kohn mentioned that CNCF was looking to add some form of mental health help to its upcoming Kubecon events.
“It can definitely be a bit overwhelming with that many people and ideas in such a short amount of time,” Kohn explained. “Plus you are meeting a lot of people that you have only known through email or Twitter, so it’s a lot to take in and something that we take very seriously.”