Why Kubernetes May Be Big Business For Solution Providers


Kubernetes has stormed the industry over the last two years, becoming something close to a standardized layer for deploying cloud-native applications at scale.

The rapid ascent of the open source container orchestrator initially developed at Google has caught the attention of partners that deliver application services, but many don't know what to make of the hype, or how to get in on the action.

"There's a pretty meaningful business opportunity out there for a lot of customers. And a huge market opportunity on the other side," said Dan Kohn, executive director of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, the organization that oversees the Kubernetes project.

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"Nearly every enterprise is looking at when and how they should containerize applications, how to deploy them as part of a hybrid cloud strategy. Being able to offer services to those companies can generate a lot of value," Kohn told CRN.

But for legacy solution providers, embracing Kubernetes, and with it the universe of cloud-native software development and micro-services, can be an intimidating proposition.

Kubernetes is more accessible than many of them think, Kohn said, especially those already well-versed in Linux.

"Every major company in the industry, every cloud provider, dozens of startups have all been able to jump into this space," he said. "And not just at a disadvantage, but also being able to leverage all the work that has come before and add in their own capabilities."

That applies equally as well to the channel, Kohn said.

Many partners have gained Kubernetes proficiency simply by studying documentation provided by Kubernetes.io, or published tutorials like Kubernetes The Hard Way.

But for those that want more guidance, the CNCF has introduced an instructional course that prepares firms to be accredited through its Kubernetes Certified Service Provider program.

One solution provider that's demonstrated how to transition to a container practice is Capstone. The Omaha, Neb.-based cloud consultancy's transformation was spearheaded by Glen Tindal when he joined four years ago as cloud computing principal.

At the time, as an avid technologist, he was reading a lot about containerization and micro-services, and began to realize how disruptive the technology could be, and the size of the opportunity if it was adopted, Tindal told CRN.

Capstone, in business for roughly two decades, focused on custom application development and consulting. But the world of containers and Kubernetes was a leap from building Java and .NET apps.

Capstone's foray into the technology started by working on simple containerized web apps and evaluating how they performed as far as ease-of-use, ease-of-change, and enabling DevOps processes.

After forming a partnership with Docker, the natural progression was to orchestration.

Capstone first explored Docker Swarm, a rival orchestrator to Kubernetes, and started deploying clusters in Microsoft's Azure cloud. The benefits in deployment and workload mobility were immediately obvious, Tindal said.

"As we were going around this process, the whole momentum of Kubernetes started to emerge," Tindal told CRN.

Capstone started looking closely at the container orchestrator and how it could enable cloud federation –connecting multiple clouds and facilitating interoperability between those providers.

That was important, Tindal said, because another trend he was reading about suggested average enterprise customers would soon work with four to six cloud providers.

"When you look at this whole concept, take an app, containerize it, leverage Kubernetes, especially in a federated model, the ease with which I can move workloads between one provider and another, it was almost an epiphany," Tindal said. "We realized this was the true power of containerization."

But to seize the opportunity, the whole company had to go through a journey, starting with intellectual and hands-on buy-in.

"One of the real focus areas inside the company was around better understanding the technology, getting a better feel for the pace of adoption, how the technology would mature and degree to which we would begin to see customer adoption," Tindal said.

Capstone started engaging with customers on modest assessments and proof of concepts. The speed with which its staff picked up the skills, and the benefits customers saw, proved the significant impact a container practice would have for its practice.

"It's fair to refer to it as intimidating," Tindal said, especially for those picking up a book, or perusing online documentation through Kubernetes.io.

"If you try to digest it that way, you start to think to yourself this is going to be immensely complicated," he said. "And you think if you get it wrong, what are the ramifications?"

A crucial step was "putting a lot of sharp minds together" to white board use cases to demonstrate the power of the technology "in a manner that didn't feel like we had to eat the elephant in one fell swoop."

The company carved out pieces of container technology, put demos together, created lessons for small groups and listened to podcasts and videos to increase know-how.

"The knowledge started to emerge," Tindal said. "We began to figure out the essence of it, the elegance of it, then started to add more people to the discussion and build more complicated use cases."

Now most of Capstone's team is highly proficient with Kubernetes and Swarm, and is embracing related emerging technologies, like Helm charts and Netflix OSS.

The solution provider's partnership with Microsoft has also played a big role in advancing its capabilities, with Azure serving as a platform for establishing sandboxes in the cloud, running use cases at scale, and pursuing infrastructure-as-code, he said.

While Capstone partners Docker and Microsoft offer their own accreditations around the technology, the company is now considering working toward the Kubernetes Certified Solution Provider certification offered by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation as well, Tindal said.

Kohn, of the CNCF, said with the surge of interest in Kubernetes over the last year, the organization has focused on simplifying the educational process to create a path for more partners to enter the ecosystem.

The Foundation's training course—free at the introductory level—was designed to enable companies to demonstrate Kubernetes expertise, and launch practices, in a simple, cost-efficient way. The curriculum is geared for passing the CNCF's Certified Kubernetes Administrator exam, Kohn said.

The exam involves a human proctor observing through a webcam three hours of practice problems such as spinning up clusters, installations and debugging and configuration.

"We think for $300 bucks a pretty fantastic value," Kohn said, adding those that fail get one free retest.

An organization that has three employees that pass can become a Kubernetes Certified Solution Provider.