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The Future of IT in a Kubernetes-Infused World

When it comes to teasing out the past, present and future impact of Kubernetes and open source on IT operations, few people are more qualified than VMware’s Chief Open Source Officer Dirk Hohndel and Craig McLuckie, VP of Product for VMware’s Tanzu business unit. The two took on this topic during their virtual keynote for VMUG’s recent online deep-dive into the latest in DevOps and Cloud.

Hohndel, an early Linux kernel developer, has contributed to several dozen open source projects over the last 30 years and even created a few around both business solutions and hobbies. McLuckie worked on the incubation of Kubernetes while at Google, co-founded Heptio, and helped establish the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Hard to challenge those credentials.

The role of open source in IT, and in the data center in particular, is “emerging as a critical part of the way that modern enterprise organizations run,” noted McLuckie early in the conversation.

To tease out the implications of that reality, McLuckie and Hohndel first looked back at how the open source “LAMP” stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) changed not just how data centers are run but also how they’re imagined. That influence deepened as Kubernetes emerged at Google, an effort McLuckie recalled as an attempt to create a technology that bridged the world of cloud with on prem, and ultimately supported the mobility of workloads between the two.

“As we were thinking through the ideation of this technology, it was pretty clear that the only way we’re going to succeed was to create Kubernetes as an open source technology, to create a healthy community round it,” he remembered. “It was about galvanizing this broader ecosystem around it, and motivating folks not just to use the technology, but to build on top of it, to use it as a source of incubation and innovation that would drive all different layers of the stack.”

The extraordinary success of that model has significantly impacted expectations in today’s world of enterprise software. Cooperation across internal and external company silos has delivered more reliable solutions and faster development cycles, for example, and empowered developers to embark on what McLuckie described as “some pretty crazy stuff” that quickly used tools like Kubernetes for tasks well beyond what their original creators had envisioned.

With open source software methodologies now firmly embedded in the data center, they are also underpinning the platforms set to power the next wave of business innovation. These will offer new innovation access points for enterprise organizations, but require a new relationship between developer teams and the IT operations organization.

“That introduces some really interesting challenges,” Hohndel observed. One of the most significant, he suggested, is understanding, and managing, the implications of the move to a commodity compute model of resource consumption.

“That’s one of the things that I’m really excited to be a part of at VMware,” added McLuckie. “We’re figuring out how we make these technologies that fundamentally challenge a lot of the assumptions around how compute is structured, how applications are mapped into it, and what technologies development teams use to get those applications provisioned and deployed into this environment in a fundamentally new way.”

That led the pair to consider how DevOps has factored into this trend and the opportunities that a commodity compute model presents for consolidation, rationalization, and specialization.

Hohndel saw an opportunity to take the best of the freewheeling, fast moving, highly engaged open source culture “into a world where we have much better lines of control – and ultimately giving our existing administrators “superpowers” so that they can offer these technologies up as services to organizations in a specialized way.”

McLuckie looked to his experience with growing Heptio as a guide for bridging enterprise organizations with open source communities – and explained how the decision to fold Heptio into VMware, an industry leader in “disruptive abstraction,” is helping deliver on that ambition.

He also outlined the strategy behind VMware’s Tanzu portfolio that is bringing technologies like Kubernetes into vSphere. That’s making it easier to deliver Kubernetes clusters with traditional IT tools while also introducing capabilities pioneered in the Kubernetes ecosystem into vSphere, enabling not just Kubernetes cluster provisioning, but also a much richer and more coordinated, “natural” style of VM management. And it’s accelerating container integration into the underlying virtualization infrastructure, allowing for high quality, highly optimized Linux application container management.

“It’s not just about creating a clutch that sits between a fast moving, freewheeling open source community and enterprise consumers,” McLuckie said. “We also need to think about the tools and capabilities you need to populate that: How you start thinking about building the applications that run in this environment; How you construct a superhighway that’s well integrated into the set of services that our core IT teams are delivering up to line of business.”

At the heart of that vision, both agreed, is a true hybrid environment that makes it equally easy for users to deploy and run workloads either on prem or in the public cloud.

Of course open source development doesn’t always follow conventional road maps. So what can – or should – we be looking out for next? Where are things headed?

McLukie would like Kubernetes to become just “a natural part of the tool chain that no one has to think about.” At the same time, he noted, we’re facing a more complex, unevenly regulated, and ultimately fragmented business environment that IT must be ready for. We can also expect an explosion of edge computing, where businesses will be seeking to unlock value by placing computational resources close to consumers.

 Every provider of these complex hyper-diversified, hyper-localized future environments will need a clear view into them, and the ability to control, upgrade, update, and manage them. Given the past and current trends in IT, open source technologies will play a central role in making this possible. But VMware has a powerful role too, said Hohndel. 

“Open source is a phenomenal way to innovate and to create great technologies,” he acknowledged. “But, the community can’t fix your problems Sunday morning at 2am. We can enable our customer base to use these technologies, to stitch them together, and to create not only a phenomenal infrastructure, but then to modernize the way applications are built, to accelerate the way applications are built, and to open up these possibilities in a supportive, in a structured, in a manageable way; to me that really is the essence of the value that VMware provide.”

For more on the future of IT in a Kubernetes-infused world and how modern applications impact today’s IT infrastructure, listen to the keynote discussion. What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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