Why Large Organizations Trust Kubernetes

March 11, 2020 Michael Coté

Large enterprises clearly trust Kubernetes, according to our most recent State of Kubernetes survey, and are using it for applications in production. And while there are barriers to adoption, they're worth it for the productivity and resilience benefits that using Kubernetes yields. Among the key highlights from the new survey:

  • 59 percent of large organizations use Kubernetes in production
  • 53 percent of those users have shortened development cycles
  • 40 percent cite lack of internal alignment as a challenge when selecting a Kubernetes distribution
  • 64 percent run Kubernetes on-premises

Check out my analysis for a deeper dive into those findings, and, of course, be sure to get your eyeballs on the full report.

Kubernetes is trusted by many for production apps

"Kubernetes has won" is the sentiment of the day. We may intuitively know that to be the case, but I still like to get some sort of data wrapped around anecdotes such as that. So Kubernetes surveys are especially interesting. And indeed, among the 59 percent of respondents to our latest "The State of Kubernetes 2020" survey that are running Kubernetes in production, 20 percent are running 50 or more clusters, up from 18 percent in 2018.  

Figure 1. Kubernetes in Production

Our survey respondents’ organizations have at least 1,000 or more employees, and over 50 percent have 5,000 or more employees. Those are big enterprises. If we look at production usage numbers from the recent CNCF survey, where only 44 percent of respondents are from similarly sized organizations, we see even larger adoption of Kubernetes in production. The CNCF survey also shows a huge jump in production use, from 58 percent in 2018 to 78 percent in 2019.

Whichever way you slice the company size, there's a high level of trust in—and use of—Kubernetes. Growing production use makes clear that organizations are beyond just kicking the tires, and trust Kubernetes to run their apps.

Kubernetes is good for business

Many executives at large organizations see a direct link between improving applications and improving customer experience. When the world is made of software, application development is the core tool for business and growth. The more efficient and productive you can make your software supply chain, the better it is for business. As our survey makes clear, Kubernetes is contributing directly to these improvements, with over 50 percent of respondents reporting improved resource utilization and shortened development cycles. They're getting more out of each dollar spent and getting software out the door faster.  

Figure 2: Kubernetes Benefits

Kubernetes won't solve your kulture problem

As ever, it's the human machine that will take the longest to transform and improve. When it comes to setting up a platform like Kubernetes, this typically means defining your requirements, building consensus among operations and developers, planning initial projects, and creating business cases to justify the initial spend of time and money. As the DevOps crew likes to say: Containers won't fix your broken culture. This proved out in our survey, with 40 percent of respondents saying that challenges around getting internal alignment slowed down their move to Kubernetes. In the meantime, 83 percent of respondents said multiple teams are involved in selecting a Kubernetes distribution. You know the story, lots of meetings that don't seem to conclude with a decision.

Once organizations get over the hump of selecting a Kubernetes distribution, skills and training become their top problems. Among our survey respondents, 70 percent cited a lack of experience and expertise as the top deployment challenge. This is to be expected for new technologies and points to the need to put in place a deliberate plan to build up in-house expertise. You can't just do a big-bang switchover; it'll take time and you will have to go slowly. “Start small,” says Stephan Massalt, VP of Cloud Labs at Swisscom Cloud Labs. He suggests first taking non-mission-critical apps to Kubernetes-orchestrated containers. “It’s a big change in how they do apps. Give people time to adjust.”

Where's my Kubernetes?

Where you run your applications will contribute to one of the most interesting trends of the next five years. At the moment, I see large organizations running applications everywhere, but it skews heavily towards on-premises, or private cloud. There are many reasons for this, including the desire to own and control the whole stack, the need to integrate with other on-premises services, cost and performance controls, and even interesting edge computing cases that are, well, on the edge instead of in the public cloud.

Keeping in mind that our survey focused on large organizations, my anecdotes play out, with 64 percent of respondents saying they run Kubernetes on-premises. They don’t run it exclusively on-premises, however. Organizations run Kubernetes across all the clouds, with 42 percent running in a single public cloud and 10 percent running in edge locations.  

Figure 3: Kubernetes Locations

Standardizing on a platform is one of the key drivers of developer productivity and operational resilience in production. The less variability you have in how a software is packaged, run and managed, the better. If companies are going to be running in many different locations, as respondents in our survey say they are, having a Kubernetes layer that can support all of them is key to gaining those productivity and resilience benefits. Whereas if you're using different Kubernetes distros in each location—on the public and private cloud, as well as on edge devices—you'll have different skill sets to learn and will have to use different methods for troubleshooting incidents in production, all while having to solve the same security and governance problems each time Application portability is nice for sure, but what you really want is development and operational portability. In other words, you want your people's skills and knowledge to be portable.

Just as with virtualization over the past two years, standardizing on one Kubernetes distro that supports multiple clouds will drive organization-wide productivity and efficiency.

Dig in and start creating your Kubernetes strategy today

There's more to see in the report, like common barriers and additional info about the Kubernetes distro decision process. It will also give you a sense of what's "normal" along with highlighting some of the problems and benefits that your peers have. We at VMware are squarely focused on helping you modernize how your organization uses software to run and grow your business. To get started, I'd suggest that you:

More importantly, though, is starting now. As our survey shows, there's organizational friction right at the start, in just picking a Kubernetes distro to use! After talking with large organizations for the past five years, my rule of thumb is that significant digital transformation and application transformation takes at least a year, and often two . Little of it has to do with the technical aspects, and most of it has to do with organizational and cultural challenges. For as much as boards and executives go on about the need for transformation , the biggest barrier to improvement is deciding to put in the work required to change. As they say, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. But barring that, today looks pretty good.

About the Author

Michael Coté

Michael Coté works on the advocates team for VMware Tanzu. See @cote for more.

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