5 Kubernetes trends to watch in 2020

As Kubernetes adoption grows, what can IT leaders expect in the year ahead? Look for more "Kubernetes-native" apps, security focus, and smarter resource consumption
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Kubernetes trends 2020

It’s been a busy year for  Kubernetes, marked most recently by the release of version 1.17, the fourth (and last) release of 2019. Many signs indicate that adoption is growing – that might be putting it mildly – and few omens suggest this will change soon.

Organizations continue to increase their usage of containerized software, fueling Kubernetes’ growth.

“As more and more organizations continue to expand on their usage of containerized software, Kubernetes will increasingly become the de facto deployment and orchestration target moving forward,” says Josh Komoroske, senior DevOps engineer at StackRox.

Indeed, some of the same or similar catalysts of Kubernetes interest to this point – containerization among them – are poised to continue in 2020. The shift to microservices architecture for certain applications is another example.

“2020 will see some acceleration by organizations for transformation to a microservices-based architecture based on containers, from a service-oriented architecture (SOA),” says Raghu Kishore Vempati, director for technology, research, and innovation at Altran. “The adoption of Kubernetes as an orchestration platform will hence see a significant rise.”

[ Kubernetes terminology, demystified: Get our Kubernetes glossary cheat sheet for IT and business leaders. ]

Rising adoption is really just table stakes in terms of Kubernetes issues that IT leaders and practitioners should keep tabs on in 2020. Let’s dig into five other probable trends in the year ahead.

Key Kubernetes trends

1. Expect a rising tide of “Kubernetes-native” software

In many organizations, the first step toward Kubernetes adoption to date might be best described as Oh, we can use Kubernetes for this!  That means, for example, that a team running a growing number of containers in production might quickly see the need for orchestration to manage it all.

More organizations will develop software specifically with Kubernetes in mind.

Komoroske expects another adoption trend to grow in the near future: We can build this for Kubernetes!  It’s the software equivalent of a cart-and-horse situation: Instead of having an after-the-fact revelation that Kubernetes would be a good fit for managing a particular service, more organizations will develop software specifically with Kubernetes in mind.

“I expect…not only containerized software that happens to be deployable in Kubernetes, but also software that is aware of and able to provide unique value when deployed in Kubernetes,” Komoroske says.

The roots of this trend are already growing, evident in the emerging ecosystem around Kubernetes. As Red Hat VP and CTO Chris Wright has noted, “Just as Linux emerged as the focal point for open source development in the 2000s, Kubernetes is emerging as a focal point for building technologies and solutions (with Linux underpinning Kubernetes, of course.)”

[ Read Wright’s full post: What’s next for Kubernetes and hybrid cloud. ]

As a subset of this trend, Komoroske anticipates the growth of software branded as “Kubernetes-first” (or Kubernetes-native). There’s a marketplace reason, of course: Kubernetes is a hot topic, and the name alone attracts attention. But there’s substance underneath that, and Komoroske sees some specific areas where new solutions are likely to spring up.

“Software that is released and branded as ‘Kubernetes-first’ will be increasingly common, possibly manifesting as custom resources definitions or Kubernetes Operators,” Komoroske says.

On that topic, if you need a crash course in Operators, or need to help others understand them, check out our article: How to explain Kubernetes Operators in plain English.

[ Want to learn more about building and deploying Operators? Get the free eBook: O'Reilly: Kubernetes Operators: Automating the Container Orchestration Platform. ]

2. Will Federation (finally) arrive?

Vempati notes that there has been interest in better Federation capabilities in Kubernetes for a little while now; from his vantage point, the ensuing development efforts in the community appear to be getting closer to paying off.

“While many features of Kubernetes have acquired maturity, Federation has undergone two different cycles of development,” Vempati says. “While v1 of Kubernetes Federation never achieved GA, v2 (KubeFed) is currently in Alpha. In 2020, the Kubernetes Federation feature will most likely reach Beta and possibly GA as well.”

[ Kubernetes is popular, but that doesn’t mean you should always go with the flow: 7 pieces of contrarian Kubernetes advice. ]

You can access the KubeFed Github here. It’s also helpful to understand the “why” behind KubeFed: It’s potentially significant for running Kubernetes in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments. Here’s more of Vempati’s perspective on the issue:

“Federation helps coordinate multiple Kubernetes clusters using configuration from a single set of APIs in a hosting cluster,” Vempati says. “This feature is extremely useful for multi-cloud and distributed solutions.”

[ Why does Kubernetes matter to IT leaders? Learn more about Red Hat's point of view. ]

3. Security will continue to be a high-profile focus

As the footprint of just about any system or platform increases, so does the target on its back.

As the footprint of just about any system or platform increases, so does the target on its back. It’s like a nefarious version supply and demand; the greater the supply of Kubernetes clusters running in production, the greater “demand” there will be among bad actors trying to find security holes.

“As the adoption of Kubernetes and deployment of container-based applications in production accelerate to much higher volumes than we’ve seen to date, we can expect more security incidents to occur,” says Rani Osnat, VP of strategy at Aqua Security. “Most of those will be caused by the knowledge gap around what constitutes secure configuration, and lack of proper security tooling.”

It’s not that Kubernetes has inherent security issues, per se. In fact, there’s a visible commitment to security in the community. It simply comes with some new considerations and strategies for managing risks. According to Osnat, bad actors are getting better at spotting vulnerabilities.

[ Fingers crossed! isn’t a strategy. Read Kubernetes security: 4 strategic tips. ]

“Our team has seen that it currently takes only one hour for attackers to recognize an unprotected cluster running in the public cloud and attempt to breach it,” Osnat says. “The most common attack vector is cryptocurrency mining, but wherever that’s possible, other types of attacks such as data exfiltration are possible.”

Osnat says it’s incumbent on IT teams to properly harden their environments: “Implement runtime protection to monitor for indicators of compromise and prevent them from escalating,” Osnat advises as one tactic.

Who’s going to help you sort these security issues? Let’s talk Kubernetes talent:

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.