Beyond Kubernetes: A report card on the Cloud Native Computing Foundation's open source efforts

Kubernetes is the CNCF's poster child, but how do its other projects stand up to open source scrutiny?

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While the talk in open source land has lately revolved around AWS, real open source happens at the community, not corporate, level, and some communities do it much better than others. Some of the best open source projects achieve community success through foundations, and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is a standout. Digging into CNCF commit stats shows a foundation that keeps getting better at nurturing single-vendor projects into full-blown community endeavors.

The Kubernetes example

Like, for example, how amazing Google has been with Kubernetes. As I've noted before, Google has done just about everything right in its stewardship of the open source container orchestration engine. The easiest way to see this, however, is in Google's declining share of Kubernetes commits.

Kubernetes sees lots of community involvement, with 3,505 committers and 18,167 contributors making up the Kubernetes community over the past year. Google, the originator of Kubernetes, not surprisingly dominates its development. Importantly, it "dominates" less and less each year. Whether you measure "known commits authors" (34% last year, but 29.5% in the last three months) or other measures of corporate involvement, Google's share of the Kubernetes commit pie is down from last year (and down even more from the year before), with Red Hat and others stepping up to contribute more.

SEE: Open source vs. proprietary software: A look at the pros and cons (Tech Pro Research)

Given the importance of Kubernetes, it's hard to overstate just how impressive Google's community leadership has been. The fact that Google is willing to truly make Kubernetes a community standard that it doesn't have to control is almost unprecedented in open source. At least, at this scale.

Small wonder, then, that Kubernetes scored a whopping 6,778 contributors over the past six months, while ranking in the 85th percentile of projects in time to respond to issues, and also improving its rate for merging pull requests. This is an active, growing community. Google can claim lots of credit for that.

Signs of community life

Other CNCF projects show similar health. Prometheus, a monitoring system and alerting toolkit born at SoundCloud, now struggles to top the lists of "known commits authors" (Red Hat gets this at 25.5%), percent of "known commits from top committing company" (Robust Perception at 30%), and more.

SEE: Vendor comparison: Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and Google Cloud (Tech Pro Research)

Or what about Envoy? Born at Lyft, the ride-sharing company still dominates contributions (with 87.8% of "all commits pushers" in the last three months). But Google is also increasingly active with Envoy, and now accounts for 13.3% of all commits authors in the last year.

Those are the bigger projects. Other smaller, still incubating projects, like CNI (Red Hat), containerd (Docker), Helm (Microsoft), etc., haven't seen a changing of the guard within them. But CNCF seems to be a good place for fostering that kind of deep community engagement that doesn't favor single-vendor open source projects. At least, not for long.

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By Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.