KubeCon 2017: The Application Layer Strikes Back

December 14, 2017 | Ben Sigelman | Market Trends

You know it’s a special event when it snows in Texas.

Several of my delightful colleagues and I just returned from a remarkably chilly – and remarkably memorable – trip to Austin for KubeCon+CloudNativeCon Americas. We went because we were excited to talk shop about the future of microservices with 4,500 others involved with the larger cloud-native ecosystem. We had high hopes for the conference, as you won’t find a higher-density group of attendees when it comes to strategic, forward-thinking infrastructure people; yet even our lofty expectations were outdone by the buzz and momentum on display at the event.

On Wednesday at 7:55am, I emerged from my hotel room and had the good fortune of running into the inimitable Kelsey Hightower on my way to the elevator. I never miss an opportunity to learn something from Kelsey, so I asked him what was new and special in k8s-land these days. His response, paraphrased, was that “the big feature news is that – finally – we don’t have a big new feature in Kubernetes.” He went on to explain that this newfound stability at the infrastructural layer is a huge milestone for the k8s movement and opens the door to innovation above and around Kubernetes proper.

From an ecosystem standpoint, I was also lucky to speak with Chen Goldberg as part of a dinner that IBM organized. It was fascinating to hear how she and her team have architected the boundaries of Kubernetes to optimize for community. The project nails down the parts of the system that require standardization, while carving out white-space for projects and vendors to innovate around those core primitives.

This Kubernetes technology and project vision, along with its API stability, have led us to the present reality: Kubernetes has won when it comes to container orchestration and scheduling. That was not clear last year and was very far from clear two or three years ago, but with even the likes of AWS going all-in on Kubernetes, we have both OSS developers, startup vendors, and all of the big cloud providers bought in on the platform. So now everyone and their dog are going to become a Kubernetes expert, right?

Not really. It’s even better than that: our industry is evolving towards a reality where everyone and their dog are going to depend on Kubernetes and containers, yet nobody will need to care about Kubernetes and containers. This is a huge and much-needed transformation, and reminiscent of how microservice development looked within Google: every service did indeed run in a container which was managed by an orchestration and scheduling system (internally code-named “Borg”), but developers didn’t know or care how the containers were built, nor did they need to know or care how Borg worked.

So what will devs and devops care about? They will care about application-layer primitives, and those primitives are what KubeCon + CloudNativeCon was about this year. As I mentioned in my keynote on Wednesday, this means that devs and devops will be able to take advantage of CNCF technologies like service mesh (e.g., Envoy and Istio) as well as OpenTracing in order to tell coherent stories about the interaction between their microservices and monoliths.

We were humbled to hear existing LightStep customers telling folks who stopped by our booth how our solution has helped them tell clear stories about the most urgent issues affecting their own systems. Because LightStep integrates at the application layer – through OpenTracing, Envoy, transcoded logging data, or in-house tracing systems – it’s easy to connect our explanations for system behavior to the business logic and application semantics, and to steer clear of the poor signal-to-noise ratio of unfiltered container-level data.

Given the momentum behind Kubernetes and microservices in general, KubeCon felt like a glimpse into the future. That future will empower devs/devops to build and ship features faster and with greater independence. With CNCF’s portfolio of member projects fleshing out the stack around and above Kubernetes, we’re all moving to a world where we can stop caring about containers and keep our focus where it belongs: at the application layer where our developers write and debug their own software.

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