If you’re interested in Kubernetes, chances are extremely high the reason is because you want to support developers, by using Kubernetes to run the applications they write for your organization. There are other use cases, such as data analysis and running enterprise applications, but most Kubernetes workloads are there to help run an organization’s custom-written applications.
So how is Kubernetes helping to reach that goal? Is it actually benefiting developers and the organizations that use it? We just released our fifth State of Kubernetes survey, which has some fresh charts to look at. Why not download it now and follow along?
Before I get to the details, here’s a quick summary of our findings:
Developers are seeing steady growth in benefits from Kubernetes, represented by shortening release cycles. Sixty percent of respondents said that their developers are more productive with Kubernetes. On the operations side, 64 percent said IT operators are more efficient.
Developers are moving away from owning and managing Kubernetes, as more traditional operations roles take on more. In 2021, 48 percent of organizations said their developers managed Kubernetes directly, but in 2023, that figure dropped to 37 percent.
Organizations are starting to report direct business benefits, such as increased revenue and profit, and better customer experience. Twenty-five percent of organizations said they’re seeing growth in market share, and 21 percent said they’re getting new revenue from better customer experience.
Maximizing Kubernetes’ benefits in large organizations
This year, the focus of the study moved toward larger organizations. This is fine with me: those are my people! Organizations of any size—from 1 person to 100,000 people—share many of the good and bad issues with Kubernetes, but large organizations face a unique set of challenges that are driven by their size and age.
The larger and older the organization, the more applications and developers they are likely to have. After decades of mergers and acquisitions, large organizations also have numerous, overlapping silos of IT teams and platforms. As these organizations enter more and more countries, they add more complexity in the form of regional cloud needs, regulations, business models, employees, and so forth.
Things are harder at large organizations, but when you solve those problems, you can scale the benefits of Kubernetes by huge multiples compared to smaller shops. And, of course, most government organizations are massive and suffer from the same, uh, “opportunities.” I like solving software problems for large organizations because all of us interact with big companies (like banks) and government agencies every day. Anything we in the industry can do to make their software better will make our daily lives better.
This year, the State of Kubernetes survey focused on organizations with 1,000 or more employees and included 752 software development and IT professionals. Out of those, 41 percent came from companies of 10,000 people or more, 23 percent from companies between 5,000 and 10,000, and 36 percent from companies of 1,000 to 5,000 people. The industry focus (government, finance, energy, etc.) is even enough, with each industry having between 6 percent or 1 percent coverage.
A breakdown of demographics of those who responded to the 2023 State of Kubernetes report.
When you look at people’s roles, 58 percent have what I’d call an operations and infrastructure focus, while 42 percent have a developer focus. Key to what I care about, software development, all of the organizations surveyed have a significant software development footprint: 34 percent have between 100 and 1,000 developers, 8 percent have 1,000 to 2,500 developers, and 20 percent have more than 2,500 developers.
So, when we look at this survey data, we’re talking about large organizations and we have a good balance between dev and ops, across all types of organizations and companies. Check out the survey for the breakdown.
Developer benefits of Kubernetes
Top benefits to developers, as reported by State of Kubernetes survey respondents.
In our surveys, I’ve been using the software release cycle question to represent developer benefits. For the most part, the faster developers can release software, the better their software will be. There are exceptions, but not many. The sooner you have people using your software, the more feedback you'll get about the quality, usability, and overall usefulness of your software. A week is probably the best release cycle time, maybe two. But if you’re waiting a month, six months, or (even worse) a year to test your assumptions about your software, your business is going to ossify, if not just turn from tasty broth to jiggly chicken slime in the fridge.
When you look at the four years of answers here, you might have a distressing insight: year after year, Kubernetes seems to be slowing developers down. This matches the years of Kubernetes complexity commentary and developer experience discussion we started hearing two or three years ago.
My theory is that as Kubernetes becomes more and more mainstream, many more people are learning to fit Kubernetes into their organizations. The people who were using Kubernetes in 2020 are different from those in 2023. This is a classic diffusion of innovations effect: the first users of a technology are willing—interested even!—to put up with the technology's complexity and (usually tedious) user experience. As you enter the mainstream, the new users are less so inclined to tolerate toil.
This year, there’s been improvement in shortening release cycles, but nothing huge. It’s at least going back in the right direction. Organizations certainly believe that Kubernetes is better for developers, with 60 percent of them saying developers are more productive.
I’m hopeful that these numbers will keep going in the right direction because of another change in survey answers: there's been a 10 percent drop in developers owning and managing Kubernetes:
Kubernetes is most commonly managed by IT operations and DevOps teams, according to the 2023 State of Kubernetes report.
Although Kubernetes wasn’t really intended or built for developers, developers were and are one of the groups of people who use it directly and have driven a huge amount of its success. Developers can’t help themselves when it comes to king making.
However, as we’ve heard for many years and as seen in the charts, developers aren’t the group you really want owning and managing Kubernetes, so this trend of developers moving away from owning Kubernetes is great.
It’s equally encouraging to see the trend of organizations moving from building and managing their own, DIY Kubernetes to commercial distros or managed Kubernetes in the cloud: people building Kubernetes on their own went from 28 percent in 2020 to 16 percent in 2023, according to the survey.
This is the most exciting finding for developers in this year’s survey: developers are getting more and more time to spend on what they like and are good at, writing software.
As developers benefit, so do the organizations they work in. We’re always so focused on developer productivity because it means an organization can become more software driven. When you can change the features in your applications on a weekly basis, you gain business agility and optionality. For organizations that are stuck in decades-old ways of working, this is incredibly beneficial. And for those organizations that compete on customer experience and satisfaction, this is crucial to success.
Kubernetes is helping on that front, according to respondents in this year’s survey. First, as already mentioned, 60 percent of organizations think their developers are more productive, feeding right into those business capabilities organizations need. Respondents also say that Kubernetes is making IT operators more efficient, better able to do their job by keeping apps up and running, in compliance, and for a reasonable cost.
Business benefits of using Kubernetes, as reported in the 2023 State of Kubernetes survey.
This year we started asking about direct business benefits, the “outcomes” and “business value,” if you like business jargon. As you can see in the chart, the responses are not gobsmacking, but they’re encouraging. Things look overall good, though: 90 percent of respondents agreed “that cloud native technology, including Kubernetes, is transforming the way our business operates.” I’m eager to check in next year to see what the answers will be.
Getting the future
The next few years will be critical for Kubernetes’ longer-term success: If the benefits to developers keep going in the right direction, and by more than just a few points, Kubernetes has a good chance. Most people I talk with say "Kubernetes is the future" (that’s usually the phrase they use, word for word), and surveys certainly show this year after year.
Many organizations are running Kubernetes, but very few of them are running a lot of their applications in Kubernetes. That number is growing though, and more applications are moving to Kubernetes. If we use a variant of the diffusion of innovation curve, the Gartner hype cycle, what’s important now is to shore up Kubernetes well enough that it can sail out of the upcoming trough of disillusionment. That is, as more and more “mainstream” developers use it, will they like the experience?
VMware has been working on that extensively. To get an idea, check out what we do for Kubernetes in the VMware Tanzu and VMware Aria portfolios, in particular. We’ve built a set of tools and practices based on years of experience building and managing application runtimes and cloud infrastructure, and helping developers be more productive.
In particular, VMware Tanzu Application Platform is a single, end-to-end integrated platform solution that enables companies to build and deploy more software, more quickly and securely, through a rich set of developer tooling and a pre-paved path to production—all on any Kubernetes or any cloud.
And, there’s a lot more in the full survey, including operational benefits and challenges, security needs and considerations, and multi-cloud usage and motivation. You can also get a snapshot of some of these results in this handy infographic. And be sure to join us for an in-depth look at the whole survey on June 1 at a US-friendly time and June 7 at a Europe-friendly time.
About the AuthorMore Content by Michael Coté