April 28, 2017

Do we need more Kubernetes as a service? Platform9 thinks so. This week, the company introduced what it calls the first implementation of Kubernetes as a managed service.

Kubernetes, of course, is a popular open-source orchestration engine for containers. It’s already widely used, suggesting that the DevOps teams who have adopted it don’t face too many obstacles in deploying the platform.

Kubernetes for the Masses

But Platform9 thinks Kubernetes could be made even simpler. Sirish Raghuram, the company’s CEO, says that by offering Kubernetes as a managed service under the SaaS model, Platform9 aims to make “Kubernetes accessible to a much larger audience at a time when many development teams are committing to microservices as their cloud-native development paradigm.”

The company could be onto something. While Kubernetes may be easy enough to set up and manage for developers who are already familiar with microservices, it might be an intimidating beast for people coming from different technical backgrounds. Even if an admin has used orchestrators in other contexts, container-specific orchestrators require knowledge that people who have not worked with containers may not have.

For example, you have to understand topics such as overlay networks and the complexities of persistent data storage for containers. Those are not necessarily things you would know about if you’re used to running clusters of traditional virtual machines or bare-metal servers.

Enabling the Container Migration

Platform9’s move is also smart because an orchestration tool is more essential for containerized infrastructure than it is in most other environments.

You could get away with running a fair number of virtual servers without having a central orchestration tool. The number of servers you’d be dealing with would be in the dozens, and the servers would not be ephemeral in the way containers are. You could manage that by hand if you really wanted to.

But if you’re running a container cluster, you could easily have hundreds or thousands of containers to manage, each spinning up and down at different times. You can’t manage that without an orchestrator that will automate most of the provisioning for you.

For this reason, Kubernetes as a managed service could help more IT teams break into the container market by allowing them to get past the orchestration hurdle.

A Crowded Market

On balance, it’s a stretch to say that Platform9’s Kubernetes SaaS offering is the first of its kind. VMware claimed to be doing a very similar same thing when it built Kubernetes into Photon last fall. And in a way, all of the cloud-based containers-as-a-service (CaaS) platforms that are built on or support Kubernetes also essentially provide Kubernetes as a service.

After all, there’s a reason why the acronym for Google Container Engine, which is based on Kubernetes, is GKE rather than GCE—and it’s not because Google is bad at spelling. It’s because Google wants to emphasize the Kubernetes part of its managed container service.

So the Kubernetes-as-a-service market that Platform9 is entering is actually more crowded than the company let on in its announcement. On the other hand, since Platform9 specializes in delivering open source platforms and tools as a service, it has an angle—a focus on pure-play open-source software—that other Kubernetes providers lack.

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.