Knative burst onto the scene less than a month ago with the premise of using Kubernetes as a bridge between enterprises and serverless deployments. That bridge has become increasingly important as enterprises look to plug serverless into their cloud native ecosystem.
A recent Gartner report found that more than 20 percent of global enterprises will have deployed serverless technologies by 2020, compared with less than 5 percent today.
More specific to Knative, T-Mobile is a prime example of an enterprise that has already used Knative in a production environment. Tied to the Knative launch, the telco said it used the platform to migrate its store locator application into the Google Cloud Platform (GCP).
“We did that in just a sprint as Knative provided a lot of platform-level capabilities that our developers did not have to build,” explained Ram Gopinathan, principal technology architect at T-Mobile, in a statement.
Richard Seroter, senior director of product at Pivotal and lead for the company’s work with Knative, explained that the platform was designed as a reaction to what his company and others were hearing from enterprises. He noted that serverless usage in the enterprise space is gaining traction, but there are still a number of concerns regarding ongoing support and how serverless will fit into the larger cloud native picture.
“We are fielding a ton of questions on serverless and seeing a lot of companies that are kicking the tires,” Seroter said. He added that the attention is similar to what Kubernetes was seeing a few years ago. “Serverless is the new Kubernetes when it comes to what enterprises want,” Seroter said. “They at least want a vendor to have a serverless plan.”
Seroter said that Knative is a way for enterprises to use that familiarity with Kubernetes to host serverless in their operations.
Knative is based on Kubernetes and was developed by Google, Pivotal, IBM, Red Hat, and SAP. It’s an open source set of components that allows for the building and deployment of container-based serverless applications that can be transported between cloud providers. Basically Knative is using the market momentum behind Kubernetes to provide an established platform on which to support serverless deployments that can run across different public clouds.
Many of the current serverless platforms are based on and tied to a specific cloud platform, which can lead to vendor lock-in for an organization adopting one of those platforms. Those include Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda, Microsoft Azure Functions, and Google Cloud Functions.
Kubernetes or Bust
While Knative might still be new, there is already a notion that the platform could pave the way as an alternative for building serverless on top of Kubernetes.
James Governor, analyst and co-founder at RedMonk, noted in a recent blog post that, “Knative will almost certainly become the standard plumbing for functions-as-a-service (FaaS) on Kubernetes.”
Governor’s prediction could spell trouble for other serverless platforms that are not based on or at least tied to the Kubernetes ecosystem.
“[Knative] could force some standardization in the serverless space,” said Sirish Raghuram, co-founder and CEO of Platform9. “Serverless on Kubernetes is a real thing, and this could kill off non-Kubernetes FaaS or PaaS (platform-as-a-service) products.”
That might be a tall task initially as AWS Lambda is currently the dominant serverless platform and is not (yet) tied to Kubernetes. Howerver, it should be noted that AWS was one of the last major hold-outs to adopting native Kubernetes support into its cloud platform.
Platform9 last year launched its Fission service platform that uses Kubernetes to run serverless functions on a public or private cloud. Raghuram, in turn, questioned the need and motive behind Knative as being tied to some of those founding companies looking for a way to tie themselves tighter to the Kubernetes ecosystem.
“I don’t fully understand the motive behind Knative,” Raghuram said. “Is this some sort of business-driven move that will give IBM and Pivotal some wind at their backs with the Kubernetes community at large?”
Learning to Crawl
Perhaps the biggest challenge for Knative is that it was launched with such fanfare. Typically, only start-ups cause a stir with the 0.1 launch of a platform in an attempt to strike some market traction.
Joe Beda, co-founder and CTO at Heptio, said that despite Knative having the backing of high-powered companies, the launch hype might have been a necessary evil. “It’s indicative of the hype cycle,” he said, adding that he knows some of the people involved and that they are trying to build a community of support.
Beda was on the original team at Google that developed the container orchestration platform that became Kubernetes. He noted that he is far from an expert on Knative, but he has been conducting some deep-dive work into the platform on Heptio’s YouTube channel.
Beda said that as part of that work he has noted that Knative is still very “raw,’ which is not a bad thing.
“These things take time to bake,” Beda said. “Kubernetes was raw when we open-sourced it and that gave the community time to help build it. You need to have patience to allow for its evolution.”
Pivotal’s Seroter echoed that sentiment, noting that the project was very open to working with a broader ecosystem to help direct its maturity.
“The project is looking for stability, how to support Day 2 operations, monitoring, and troubleshooting,” Seroter said. “It’s early enough that we can make changes.”