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VCs are betting big on Kubernetes: Here are 5 reasons why

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Ben Ofiri

Contributor

Ben Ofiri is the co-founder and CEO of the Kubernetes troubleshooting platform Komodor. He previously worked at Google, where he served as product lead for the company’s flagship conversational AI project, Google Duplex.

I worked at Google for six years. Internally, you have no choice — you must use Kubernetes if you are deploying microservices and containers (it’s actually not called Kubernetes inside of Google; it’s called Borg). But what was once solely an internal project at Google has since been open-sourced and has become one of the most talked about technologies in software development and operations.

For good reason. One person with a laptop can now accomplish what used to take a large team of engineers. At times, Kubernetes can feel like a superpower, but with all of the benefits of scalability and agility comes immense complexity. The truth is, very few software developers truly understand how Kubernetes works under the hood.

I like to use the analogy of a watch. From the user’s perspective, it’s very straightforward until it breaks. To actually fix a broken watch requires expertise most people simply do not have — and I promise you, Kubernetes is much more complex than your watch.

How are most teams solving this problem? The truth is, many of them aren’t. They often adopt Kubernetes as part of their digital transformation only to find out it’s much more complex than they expected. Then they have to hire more engineers and experts to manage it, which in a way defeats its purpose.

All of this means there is a great opportunity for DevOps startups to come in and address the different pain points within the Kubernetes ecosystem. This technology isn’t going anywhere, so any platform or tooling that helps make it more secure, simple to use and easy to troubleshoot will be well appreciated by the software development community.

In that sense, there’s never been a better time for VCs to invest in this ecosystem. It’s my belief that Kubernetes is becoming the new Linux: 96.4% of the top million web servers’ operating systems are Linux. Similarly, Kubernetes is trending to become the de facto operating system for modern, cloud-native applications. It is already the most popular open-source project within the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), with 91% of respondents using it — a steady increase from 78% in 2019 and 58% in 2018.

While the technology is proven and adoption is skyrocketing, there are still some fundamental challenges that will undoubtedly be solved by third-party solutions. Let’s go deeper and look at five reasons why we’ll see a surge of startups in this space.

 

Containers are the go-to method for building modern apps

Docker revolutionized how developers build and ship applications. Container technology has made it easier to move applications and workloads between clouds. It also provides as much resource isolation as a traditional hypervisor, but with considerable opportunities to improve agility, efficiency and speed.

Where you see containers, you see Kubernetes to help with orchestration. According to Datadog’s most recent report about container adoption, nearly 90% of all containers are orchestrated. By using an orchestrator to automate aspects of container deployment and maintenance, organizations can not only deploy faster, they can also ensure that their applications run reliably at scale.

The Kubernetes ecosystem is rapidly maturing

All public clouds have already adopted Kubernetes and offer their own distributions, such as Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) and Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). Last year, the Steering Committee launched a new contributor-focused website, Kubernetes.dev, which brings contributor documentation, resources and project event information into one central location.

The Certified Kubernetes Security Specialist (CKS) certification program was also recently launched, joining the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) and Certified Kubernetes Application Developer (CKAD) programs.

Security is the canary in the coal mine

Security is a top priority for organizations and is becoming more of a focus for developers with the rise of DevSecOps. Twistlock and Bridgecrew were acquired by Palo Alto Networks, Alcide was bought by Rapid7, and Acquasec is now a unicorn. These are extremely successful security companies who have hyperfocused on modern cloud environments.

Now that the security market for Kubernetes is saturated, we’ll see a second wave of startups that can focus on Kubernetes performance, ease of use and troubleshooting. We’ve already seen Pixie Labs being acquired by New Relic and there will be many similar stories in the coming years.

Digital transformation of financial services

A good indicator of the long-term potential of a technology is its adoption within the financial industry. Financial firms deal with highly sensitive data and can’t afford to use technology that hasn’t proven to be secure and reliable. Yet, we continue to see banks adopting cloud technologies and building modern applications.

According to PwC’s COVID-19 CFO Pulse Survey, when they asked finance leaders which programs they wanted to protect and which they were more likely to cut, “digital transformation” fell firmly within the protect camp, along with customer experience and cybersecurity/privacy. Many fintechs and mobile-app-based challenger banks have taken advantage of modern application architectures and DevOps practices that are associated with cloud native technologies such as microservices and Kubernetes.

Open source is past the hype curve

Open-source projects have a well known and often analyzed hype cycle that has been documented extensively by Gartner and other industry analysts. It takes open-source projects quite a few stages and years to reach a level of maturity and productivity to deliver on their promise and be truly enterprise-ready.

But once open-source projects reach this plateau of productivity, you’ll find that many tools, projects and complementary capabilities are built on top to make them even more production grade. If we can take cues from other open-source projects, many times this is in the form of technology distributions or pre-built plug-and-play stacks.

There are many examples of behemoth tech firms supporting and building upon open-source projects. Some of these include popular Linux distributions such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Suse, Ubuntu/Canonical, production-grade Apache projects such as Kafka and Spark from Confluent and Databricks, respectively, and even smaller platforms such as Logz.io, built upon the Elastic “ELK” stack — Elasticsearch, Logstash and Kibana.

Kubernetes has matured to an extent where it is being adopted in the largest organizations, and exciting new tooling is being built upon it that also has the potential to reach greater than billion-dollar valuations. Now is an excellent time to bet on Kubernetes.

With its Kubernetes bet paying off, Cloud Foundry doubles down on developer experience

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