The long-held belief in the IT industry is that enterprises are risk averse and they prefer battle tested versions of software over bleeding edge latest release. Traditional enterprise software companies have, in fact, built their business based on this belief and it continues even today. One of the interesting conversations that are happening among the cloud-native practitioners is about whether one should stay close to the latest release of Kubernetes or rely on the battle-tested versions. Among the vendors, you have startups like Weaveworks making a case for staying close to the latest release and traditional vendors like Red Hat making a case for battle-tested versions.
The Change is happening
As enterprises embrace agile and transform themselves to a Continuous Innovation mode, their developers clamor for features available in the most recent release of Kubernetes. But IT Operations face the dilemma of whether they should embrace the latest release and empower the developers or go with their risk-averse mindset and put constraints in front of their developers. It is not a problem with just Kubernetes alone but the debate becomes important because Kubernetes is the defacto standard for modern application deployments. The key question in front of any Modern Enterprise IT is “Whether they stay closer to the edge or not?”.
Till 2-3 years back, enterprises were still completely risk-averse and they preferred only battle-tested software versions or cloud services in production. But, in the past year or so, a subtle change is happening and it is driven mostly by the developers wanting to use the features they read in a blog or heard in a meetup. This is pushing IT departments in some of the enterprises to rethink their strategy and embrace cutting-edge technologies. I was at the Rancher Labs analyst event a few weeks back. I heard from their customers directly on this topic. Some of the traditional enterprise customers, including those in traditionally risk-averse verticals, are preferring Rancher’s Kubernetes Distribution over Red Hat OpenShift because they wanted to stay close to the latest Kubernetes release. I also heard the same from some other Kubernetes enterprise users who are taking a DIY path. Let us be clear here. This is not a major shift in the enterprise thinking. Many are still conservative but, slowly, a new trend is emerging which is going to reshape enterprise software business in the years to come.
Four distinct type of vendors in the Kubernetes ecosystem
Let us take a brief look at how vendors are responding to this trend
- Vendors like Red Hat and Docker offer battle tested versions of Kubernetes with the hope that enterprise users are risk-averse. They are still sticking on to Kubernetes 1.9 in their enterprise version (Red Hat OpenShift Origin, their open source project, is closer to latest Kubernetes release than their enterprise version)
- Most public cloud providers and distributions like Pivotal Container Services (PKS), Rancher Labs, Canonical, Heptio, VMware’s newly launched Kubernetes Engine, etc. are not at the bleeding edge but they stay much closer to the recent release. Most of the distros are in version 1.10. Even among this group, there are differences among the vendors. Heptio and Canonical want to be as close to the recent release and their pitch is that they offer vanilla Kubernetes without any modifications. Pivotal’s philosophy is to stay close to Google Kubernetes Engine (and VMware Kubernetes Engine?). Rancher Labs focusses on the simplicity in user experience while staying as close as possible with the recent release
- A handful of companies like Weaveworks and SAP are even closer to the latest release and they are on 1.11. Weaveworks is definitely targeting the DevOps focussed users with their GitOps approach and helping them take advantage of latest release as soon as possible
- Then there are companies like Nirmata who bundle a battle-tested version to the enterprise but give the users flexibility to use any version through their management platform. They are targeting both ends of the spectrum with this approach
At Rishidot Research, we see a trend that more and more enterprises will move from a more conservative risk-averse approach to application platforms to working closer to the latest release. The trend is partly shaped by the cloud-driven continuous innovation model and also by the younger generation of developers entering the enterprise workforce. We have planned a report on Container Platforms for Q3 and we will focus on this topic in the report in more detail.
Update: The article incorrectly stated that Red Hat offers LTS for their OpenShift Container Platform. Red Hat OpenShift is updated every 3-4 months. I would also like to clarify that this article doesn’t imply that vendors who are one or two release behind the latest release are laggards. I specifically chose the term “battle tested” to imply the risk-averse nature of most enterprises. This article is about a new trend we are spotting and the version numbers may be different based on the release cycles of different vendors. We will be doing a deeper research on various container platforms in our research report coming out later in the year.