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How Customers Are Really Using Kubernetes

Chris Gaun

By Chris Gaun

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Even after zipping past every comparable container orchestration solution, the momentum for Kubernetes continues to build. There will soon be more than 7,000 people with Kubernetes skills listed in their LinkedIn profiles and more than 1,000 matches for jobs on Indeed. A few months ago those metrics were half of what they are today.

In a Kubernetes webinar we hosted recently, one of the most popular questions concerned how organizations are using Kubernetes in practice. We know there is groundswell among developers and IT. We know there are large case studies like the planetary scale Pokemon Go that added 1,000 nodes to a cluster after a 50X spike in traffic.

Based on many conversations I’ve had with people using Kubernetes in production, here is a brief outline of the most popular use cases in the field.

DIY Application Platform

Before the advent of docker containers and Kubernetes container management, a few large organizations would build their own self-service application platform from modifications of open-source PaaS frameworks. These frameworks have highly coupled components that were mostly designed for public PaaS and do not use next-generation technologies. Most organizations that took that route (and new ones looking into DIY) are actively researching next-generation container management engines to replace what they currently have.

The effort to build a DIY platform should not be underestimated. It can take a small army of full-time developers close to two years to get into a production state. However, once they do, the intellectual property used to build that application platform is owned by the organization. That’s the main reason a select few large organizations choose this option. The main downsides are cost, management, and challenging upgrades. Plus, you are locked into a software company with one customer: yourself.

Component for Apps

Most often, the starting point with Kubernetes comes after containerizing one or a few applications. The starting point for building a new application is never, “Let me spin up 35 virtual machines.” Minikube is an extremely lightweight way to get started on a single EC2 instance, Digital Ocean virtual machine, or a laptop. The engineer does not need to manage tens of associated components attached to their cluster, which often turns debugging from an identifiable source into a murder mystery.

Once the developer has used Kubernetes for their application, it has to be supported by IT. In large organizations, this means the shared centralized IT. Operations will decide the best way to support this single application but there is an inflection point where the number of Kubernetes applications increase and it becomes natural for IT to offer it as a self-service cluster.

Container Management Owned by Operations

Not all container solutions need to be self service. There will be a number of organizations that want to keep control of production environments in the hands of IT. In these cases, the container orchestration and management solution becomes similar to classical VMware tools, but more efficient and not as coupled to infrastructure.

While some might snicker at this antediluvian attitude, the benefits of doing container orchestration are not completely encapsulated in the self-service model. Operations will spend less money on virtualization, middleware, and operating systems (savings and efficiency not achieved by virtual machines). Beyond the savings, IT will need to support Kubernetes and containers soon. That age is coming quickly, so if they are not able to transition to a self-service model soon then this is a great option.

COTS Apps and Frameworks

Hosting off-the-shelf applications and purpose-built Kubernetes frameworks is still in its early years, but it is a highly desirable future state as Kubernetes guru Kelsey Hightower makes clear:

Those interested in this movement should join the Kubernetes Apps SIG.

Above is a relatively short description of prominent use cases I’ve seen from talking to hundreds of Kubernetes customers. Given Kubernetes’ wide berth, it’s apparent why we see no shortage in momentum from the latest statistics below:

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Chris Gaun
Chris Gaun

Chris Gaun is a director at Apprenda. He formerly worked as an analyst at Gartner covering public IaaS. Before that, he was a physicist that did computational modeling in quantum chemistry. He lives in Brooklyn with his dog Panda. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chris_Gaun.

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