Data Centers

Why DIY Kubernetes projects could be a really bad idea for your business

Kubernetes is the heart of digital transformation, but there are very good reasons you shouldn't undertake a do-it-yourself effort on the container platform.

Yes, you need Kubernetes. No, you probably don't need to download, install, and build an application platform around it. I mean, you could, but that would be cray cray. Or, as Ashesh Badani, general manager of Red Hat's cloud business, more politely put it, "undifferentiated heavy lifting for most companies."

So—cray cray.

Making hard stuff (much) easier

As enterprises get serious about containers, invariably they're turning to Kubernetes, the Google-spawned community darling, to help them manage containers at scale. While Kubernetes makes container orchestration easier, that's not the same as saying it's easy. It's not. For Google-trained propellerheads? Sure. For mere mortals that inhabit most of enterprise IT? Nope.

Indeed, the smart companies are "the ones that realize that they should not be building their own application platform," whether based on Kubernetes or something else, Badani told me. While "Kubernetes is a great foundation for an application platform," he said, "It's still undifferentiated heavy lifting for most companies to integrate storage, networking, security, application frameworks, etc....as well as to keep them updated on a quarterly basis."

Which isn't to say that companies don't try.

SEE: Why containers are critical to successful DevOps projects (Tech Pro Research)

Having been involved in open source for over 15 years, I've watched as enterprises have embraced an open source project and tried to take on the full burden of supporting it themselves. Sometimes it works, but more often they have the same experience Badani described to me: "We often see that with our customers go through the same process: Tinker with open source projects for an initial proof of concept but then realize that it's far too much effort and not their business to customize and integrate everything with their own processes and tools."

This is particularly true with something as complex as Kubernetes.

Hence, Red Hat packages Kubernetes up and delivers it as part of OpenShift: "Kubernetes, without all the hassles." This approach allows an enterprise to get started immediately, without large capital outlays, and without having to worry about operations. They can just focus on building their applications.

New tricks, old dogs

While Kubernetes grabs the attention of the cool kids, the reality, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst told me, is that most enterprises "have a huge inventory of existing, traditional applications that they're trying to modernize." In other words, they may watch enviously as the Google Go kids quickly embrace next-generation architecture, but they're still forced to lumber away on Java, and will be for some time.

Whitehurst said: "For enterprise Java apps, we're seeing customers move away from proprietary, monolithic and expensive app servers towards open source solutions that are higher performing and offer new capabilities like microprofile."

SEE: Special report: Riding the DevOps revolution (free PDF)

In the Red Hat world, this balance of old and new apps centers on OpenShift. According to Badani, OpenShift allows developers to "build new, cloud-native capabilities in a hybrid/multi-cloud environment, and containerize existing apps." Not too shabby.

Red Hat built a billion-dollar business making Linux safe for enterprise adoption. Red Hat's next $10 billion in business, however, isn't about "finding the next Red Hat Enterprise Linux," Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst said, but rather about "a portfolio of products that align to communities that are helping customers drive digital transformation." The next RHEL, in short, isn't about one product, but several, with one common goal.

In other words, whether you're a SoMa hipster or a Fortune 500 enterprise, Kubernetes can be the heart of a true digital transformation. The difference between these two user profiles, however, is that most Fortune 500 enterprises will be smart enough to realize that they may not want to tackle Kubernetes head on, preferring to off-load the burden of packaging it and supporting it to a company like Red Hat.

Less cray cray, and more success.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/diego_cervo

About 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.

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