Kubernetes Usability with Joe Beda

Docker was released in 2013 and popularized the use of containers. A container is an abstraction for isolating a well-defined portion of an operating system. Developers quickly latched onto containers as a way to cut down on the cost of virtual machines–as well as isolate code and simplify deployments. Developers began deploying so many containers that they needed a centralized way to manage the containers.     

Then came the rise of the container orchestration framework.

A container orchestration framework is used to manage operating system resources. Twitter had been using the open-source orchestration framework Apache Mesos to manage resources since 2010. So when developers started looking for a way to manage containers, many of them chose Mesos. Meanwhile, another container orchestration system came onto the scene: Docker Swarm. Swarm is a tool for managing containers that came from the same people who originally created Docker.

Shortly thereafter, Kubernetes came out of Google. Google had been using containers internally with their cluster manager Borg. Kubernetes is a container orchestration system that was built with the lessons of managing resources at Google.

The reason I recount this history (as I have in a few past episodes) is to underscore that there were a few years where there was a lot of debate around the best container orchestration system to use. Some people preferred Swarm, some preferred Mesos, and some preferred Kubernetes.

Because of the lack of standardization, the community of developers who were building infrastructure in this space were put in a tough position: should you pick a specific orchestration framework, and go all in, building only tools for that one framework? Should you try to build tools to be compatible with all three frameworks, and attempt to satisfy Kubernetes, Mesos, and Swarm users? Or should you sit out altogether and build nothing?

The fracturing of the community led to healthy debates, but it slowed down innovation because different developers were moving in different directions. Today, the container community has centralized: Kubernetes has become the most popular container orchestration framework.

With the community centralizing on Kubernetes, developers are able to comfortably bet big on open source projects like Istio, Conduit, Rook, Fluentd, and Helm, each of which we will be covering in the next few weeks.

The centralization on Kubernetes also makes it easier to build enterprise companies, who are no longer trying to think about which container orchestration to support. There is a wide array of Kubernetes-as-a-service providers offering a highly available runtime–and a variety of companies offering observability tools to make it easier to debug distributed systems problems.

Despite all of these advances–Kubernetes is less usable than it should be. It still feels like operating a distributed system. Hopefully someday, operating a Kubernetes cluster will be as easy as operating your laptop computer. To get there, we need improvements in Kubernetes usability.

Today’s guest Joe Beda was one of the original creators of the Kubernetes project. He is a founder of Heptio, a company that provides Kubernetes tools and services for enterprises. I caught up with Joe at KubeCon 2017, and he told me about where Kubernetes is today, where it is going, and what he is building at Heptio. Full disclosure–Heptio is a sponsor of Software Engineering Daily.

For the next two weeks, we are covering exclusively the world of Kubernetes. Kubernetes is a project that is likely to have as much impact as Linux. Whether you are an expert in Kubernetes or you are just starting out, we have lots of episodes to fit your learning curve. To find all of our old episodes about Kubernetes, download the Software Engineering Daily app for iOS or for Android. In other podcast players, only the most 100 recent episodes are available, but in our apps, you can find all 650 episodes–and there is also plenty of content that is totally unrelated to Kubernetes!


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