2022 was a big year for cloud-native technology, especially for Kubernetes. The open source container orchestration platform saw a tremendous surge in adoption. Developer experience with Kubernetes steadily improved to the point that it’s now within reach for small-to-medium enterprises. We also witnessed many new K8s-native tools emerge, from open source packages for the edge and bare metal to enterprise-grade solutions for implementing stateful storage and recovery. That’s a lot of progress in a small window of time! So, what will the following year hold?
In short, cloud-native leaders forecast that 2023 will see engineers overcoming many of the remaining hurdles to Kubernetes adoption. We’ll see more investment into platform engineering as well as a mature cybersecurity response to increasing cloud-native threats. Developer experience around Kubernetes will continue to improve and the platforms and tools that wrap it will grant new features, such as better management for the edge and AI-driven capabilities.
Below, I’ve culled some predictions on where Kubernetes is heading in 2023. These projections are informed by a handful of experts working in the field with ample experience around containerization and Kubernetes. So, as we enter this holiday season, let’s see what the ghost of cloud-native future foretells for the year ahead!
1. DevOps will be displaced by platform engineering.
“With the rapid development of Kubernetes and cloud-native applications, organizations realize the inadequacies of their IT teams to leverage DevOps practices,” says Tobi Knaup, CEO and co-founder of D2iQ. As a result, he predicts platform engineering will soon phase out traditional DevOps approaches, aided by an internal development platform that provides a “golden path” to “more easily deploy, manage and scale Kubernetes and applications on top.”
2. Security best practices will respond to cloud-native threats.
2023 will be the year that enterprises thoughtfully respond to rising cloud-native security issues. Red Hat’s 2022 State of Kubernetes Security report finds that 93% of respondents reported at least one security incident in their Kubernetes environment in the past 12 months, with 31% saying this led to revenue or customer loss. “Because engineers are still simply trying to get up to speed with Kubernetes, security is typically taking a back seat because they just need to get the environment up,” says Kubernetes consultant Michael Levan. “This will change as more engineers implement security best practices and tools/platforms to help with this.”
Tenry Fu, CEO and co-founder of Spectro Cloud, agrees that, in 2023, security will no longer be a “nice to have” factor. He predicts the edge will be a driving force in a lot of these newfound security issues.
“In 2023, security will be high on the list for customers practicing cloud-native, and their wishlist will be very long indeed. Anything that helps assure the integrity of the software supply chain and the trusted software bill of materials (SBOM) as it lands in a running cluster, for starters,” Fu says. “Then there’s the security of Kubernetes and the ‘full stack’ that makes up the cluster: This encompasses everything from hardened distros to zero-trust access controls, as well as closer examination and criticism of conventional practices like relying on namespaces to provide isolation and core manageability requirements like security scans and the ability to promptly patch multiple clusters.”
3. Engineers will get up-to-speed with Kubernetes.
Today, there is a mix of users with wide-ranging skill levels attempting to wrangle the complexity of Kubernetes. But in 2023, engineers will finally be getting up-to-speed with Kubernetes, predicts Levan. “There’s a huge gap and shortage of engineers that truly understand the platform,” he says. “This will begin to change as Kubernetes and containerization become more relevant.” And going deeper into the platform will help avoid the aforementioned misconfigurations.
“Engineers will need to start thinking about what’s happening underneath the hood. Because of the level of abstraction in the cloud, people typically think you can press a few buttons and a Kubernetes cluster is up and running,” Levan says. “However, per the 2022 State of Kubernetes Security Report, 46% of people worry about security issues due to misconfigurations. I believe that a lot of these misconfigurations are due to far too much abstraction and engineers not going deep enough into the platform.”
4. Organizations will prioritize easy-to-maintain technology to bridge the skills gap.
On the flip side of the coin, in response to the skills gap, some stakeholders foresee increased investment into technology and tools that impact the business’ bottom line.
“Although there are many benefits to using Kubernetes in hybrid and multi-cloud environments, Kubernetes is a complex technology that requires deep technical skills to deploy and manage,” Knaup says. “Because Kubernetes is a relatively new technology, the talent pool of skilled Kubernetes engineers is limited. This is why we expect to see organizations gradually abandon DIY Kubernetes projects and put their budgets toward training and technology for their Kubernetes deployments and projects.”
5. Developer experience will be in the spotlight.
Much recent effort has been applied to increasing the developer experience associated with platform tooling. Because when it comes to DevOps tools, the developer is essentially the customer. “We see this realization coming through in the refocusing from DevOps to platform engineering, expressed as platform teams building products for their internal customers, complete with user testing and other rituals,” explains Fu. “There’s an encouraging degree of introspection about what experience developers are currently getting from Kubernetes and whether it’s good enough,” he continues. “It’s a safe bet that in 2023 we’ll see more automation of repetitive tasks and more of an ‘as-a-service’ model for accessing cluster resources, with significant effort paid to speeding up and simplifying all touchpoints.”
6. More K8s on the edge.
We will certainly see more interest in running K8s at the edge in 2023. Research from Spectro Cloud found that 35% of production Kubernetes users are already deploying Kubernetes at the edge, and many more plan to do so in the next 12 months.
“Kubernetes may have gained popularity as the operating system for the data center, but its real value may prove to be at the edge, where its portable and resilient application workloads can power an almost infinite variety of digital business processes and customer experiences,” Fu says. “But the challenges are equally immense, from manageability to security. 2023 is the tipping point when the challenges get hit head-on and the edge truly goes mainstream.”
7. The landscape ‘big bang’ will slow.
Recent years witnessed a massive influx of new cloud-native projects — as evidence, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation landscape now includes 1,1000 cards. But keeping up with all this vibrant evolution is challenging for enterprises that need to maintain stability. As a result, we may see a tipping point in 2023 as the landscape “big bang” slows down.
“We think the 2021/2022 acquisitions and mid-2022 layoffs were important, but a distraction from the real story: K8s is now seven years old and maturing fast,” Fu says. “In a maturing market, the balance shifts toward consolidation. In 2023, we expect to see more stabilization and more emphasis on interoperability, support, LTS releases and standards as K8s heads toward wider adoption.”
8. Pressure mounts to wrangle runaway cloud-native costs.
Although economic uncertainty likely won’t stifle Kubernetes’ growth, it might tighten the IT belt and influence managers to wrangle runaway cloud costs. “The days of firing up new clusters and adding new experimental tools into the stack will be gone,” says Fu.
“Enterprise platform teams will be expected to have a full view of their holistic K8s costs, including cloud costs across multi-cloud. They will look to new paradigms like virtual clusters to bring spending down without compromising security. Kubernetes TCO—including team-time cost, hardware, bare-metal overhead, license costs, support costs and more will start to be reported and tracked more aggressively,” he explains.
Furthermore, organizations will likely leverage AI to help optimize their cloud-native footprint and reduce ballooning costs. “AI will come to the rescue and reduce costs by understanding customers’ workloads over time and automatically right-sizing their deployments for optimal cost and productivity tradeoffs,” says David Meyer, SVP of product management, Databricks.
9. The data platform will emerge as the central driver of the multi-cloud strategy.
Hybrid multi-cloud is becoming the new normal as enterprises seek to match computing environments to the unique scenario at hand. “As enterprises consolidate all of their data-oriented use cases on a data lakehouse, they will prioritize their cloud vendor decisions based on data workload needs, including ease of use, performance, regulatory compliance and unified management across clouds,” predicts Meyer.
10. CIOs attempt to consolidate data and simplify their architecture.
Technical executives are struggling these days, including with multi-cloud management headaches, growing technical debt, persistent toil and siloed teams—not to mention the varying technical stacks adopted by various departments. So, it makes sense that some CIOs will seek to consolidate some of their IT strategies to increase consistency and align their data strategies. As Naveen Zutshi, CIO, Databricks, describes, “Speaking with other CIOs, I’ve noticed that companies are growing exponentially without a plan to organize their data. For a company to truly move forward with digital transformation, they need to combine data science and data analytics and draw from a single source of truth. We’ll see more CIOs cutting back on vendor spending to simplify their data architecture. Companies that implement an architecture that combines hindsight and predictive analytics to deliver efficient and intelligent solutions will win in the end,” he says.
Final Thoughts: K8s Security Necessary for Cloud-Native Maturation
2023 is poised to be a big year for cloud-native technologies. As one commentator puts it, “Kubernetes isn’t done yet.” We will undoubtedly see even more Kubernetes adoption in 2023 as it becomes an integral core infrastructure. This movement fits today’s distributed, multi-cloud paradigm quite well. “Accelerated digital transformation has led to more distributed IT infrastructures, with Kubernetes becoming the de facto standard for managing containerized environments,” says Knaup.
But continued cloud-native maturation will require stable, secure deployments. In short, 2023 is when the industry gets serious about Kubernetes in the enterprise—and this will require increased security. “When a technology moves out of the proverbial playground and into serious production use, it’s no longer OK for it to be untrusted, unstable and, most importantly, insecure,” says Fu.