5 Kubernetes trends to watch in 2022

Expect Kubernetes use to continue growing as organizations expand their cloud infrastructure. From hiring to security, here are five areas to watch
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kubernetes trends 2021

Kubernetes is growing up – and so are the teams that have been using it since its younger years.

Those earlier adopters are coming into their own now, able to build on their experience and the growth of the cloud-native ecosystem to extend Kubernetes core capabilities in new ways.

“We will continue to scale and expand our use of Kubernetes to address the hybrid, multi-cloud needs of our business,” says Eric ​​Drobisewski, senior architect at Liberty Mutual. “As we look ahead, the declarative API and strong reconciliation loop that Kubernetes provides will continue to be critical to unify and bring a more consistent approach to how we define, manage, and secure our digital capabilities across public and private cloud environments.”

The Fortune 100 company’s accelerating Kubernetes usage as a platform for its broader hybrid cloud/multi-cloud infrastructure reflects one of the macro trends fueling soaring Kubernetes adoption across industries.

5 key Kubernetes trends

Another macro trend: Plenty of companies are still getting started. And at any stage of their cloud journey, most IT leaders expect to run more containerized applications in production – with Kubernetes as the common choice for doing so.

Gartner predicts that by 2022, more than 75 percent of global organizations will be running containerized applications in production, up from less than 30% in 2020,” says Brian Gracely, senior director of product strategy, Red Hat.

That matches with Red Hat’s 2021 State of Enterprise Open Source report, in which 72 percent of IT leaders said they anticipate growing use of containers in their organizations. They also almost universally (85 percent) see Kubernetes as key to cloud-native application strategies.

This is having cascading effects on Kubernetes capabilities, use cases, skills, and other areas.

“As with any new technology, there is both a maturing of the technology and a learning curve of the users,” Gracely says.

With that in mind, here are five key Kubernetes trends to keep tabs on as we embark on a new year.

[ Want to learn more about building and deploying Kubernetes Operators? Get the free O'Reilly eBooks: Kubernetes Operators: Automating the Container Orchestration Platform and Kubernetes patterns for designing cloud-native apps. ]

1. Kubernetes as the platform for… everything?

Kubernetes goes hand-in-hand with containers. That hasn’t changed, nor will it in 2022. What will continue to evolve in 2022 and beyond are the types of applications teams manage with their Kubernetes-based platform.

“In the early days, users often built their own Kubernetes platforms on-premises, and deployed a more simplified set of applications,” Gracely says. “But as Kubernetes has stabilized, usage patterns have significantly matured.”

Most early applications running on Kubernetes were stateless, for example – but the once-accurate idea that Kubernetes wasn’t great with state doesn’t hold as much water today.

“While we have already seen a wide variety of applications running in containers, we are beginning to see more organizations bring their mission-critical, stateful applications to Kubernetes. Databases, event-driven messaging, and mission-critical applications are expected to move to Kubernetes to take advantage of the scalability, security, and portability that it brings to all applications,” Gracely says.

In a similar vein, Kubernetes is primed to become more than “just” a container orchestration tool. It’s still that, but the Kubernetes control plane in particular is becoming a backbone of multi-cloud and hybrid cloud operations in general.

“The stage is set for the declarative API, control loop, and robust role-based access control (RBAC) model that Kubernetes provides to extend beyond container orchestration to meet the hybrid, multi-cloud needs of many organizations,” Drobisewski says. “This evolution will be centered around the control plane through the extension of the Kubernetes API machinery, to allow the definition, management, life cycle, and security of any resources or infrastructure that aren’t natively tied to the Kubernetes runtime.”

Databases, event-driven messaging, and mission-critical applications are expected to move to Kubernetes to take advantage of the scalability, security, and portability that it brings to all applications.

Drobisewski also expects more experienced teams to extend Kubernetes’ maturity in new ways, including with Kubernetes Operators.

“Organizations will embark on the next step in their DevOps journey and capitalize on the Kubernetes operator framework,” Drobisewski says. “We will see the extension of many of the self-service capabilities that have been built on top of Kubernetes go beyond base-level automation of provisioning and life cycle management to a full auto-pilot mode for their services, enabling deep data-driven insights that drive auto-remediation of events and self-healing capabilities, allowing these services to dynamically adjust to the needs of the workload.”

2. Kubernetes and AI/ML become a star duo

Kubernetes’ maturity and ability to handle increasingly sophisticated use cases is perhaps most evident in AI and machine learning. Kubernetes is becoming a go-to choice for serving artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) workloads in production.

[ Related read: AI/ML workloads in containers: 6 things to know. ]

It’s a powerful pairing that will have dramatic business impacts in the coming years.

“Amongst all the applications running on Kubernetes, one area that stands out is AI/ML,” Gracely says. “As data science becomes a critical role within nearly every company, the ability to improve and enhance many types of applications grows. From improving customer interactions to making better decisions with data to things like modeling autonomous vehicles, AI/ML is impacting nearly every aspect of modern business.”

Just as the benefits of containerization brought with them the need for an effective way to manage everything in production, so too does AI/ML’s significant potential require a rock-solid IT foundation to attain.

“Kubernetes brings the perfect platform capabilities to AI/ML – scalability, access to GPUs, workload portability, and much more,” Gracely says. “We have already begun to see organizations do great things with AI/ML on Kubernetes, and we expect the next generation of applications to completely change industries.”

3. The only thing hotter than Kubernetes? Kubernetes talent

We know, we know – no one really wants to hear about a “talent shortage.”

But there will be white-hot demand for Kubernetes skills – and cloud-native capabilities in general – for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to find a credible person who will tell you otherwise at the moment. And that demand is almost certainly going to outpace supply again in 2022.

“There’s no sign of slowing in terms of Kubernetes – and cloud-native generally – adoption,” says Clyde Seepersad, SVP and GM, training and certification at The Linux Foundation. “I expect to see more organizations continue their move to the cloud and increase their use of microservices, serverless, and other cloud-native technologies. Most significantly, I expect that more organizations will realize the important interplay between Kubernetes, Linux, and DevOps.”

There will be white-hot demand for Kubernetes skills – and cloud-native capabilities in general – for the foreseeable future. And that demand is almost certainly going to outpace supply again in 2022.

Yes, we’ll hear more about a lack of available, affordable Kubernetes talent in the year ahead. There will also be more concerted, creative efforts to build Kubernetes capabilities and related skills.

This will happen on several fronts. First, Drobisewski expects that the same collective enthusiasm evident through the cloud-native landscape will naturally lead to a lot of self-directed learning that, in turn, will translate into marketable skills.

“The globally diverse and open engineering community, which has helped create a vibrant cloud-native ecosystem, will accelerate,” Drobisewski says. “People seeking to build knowledge and skills related to Kubernetes and the cloud-native ecosystem will continue to expand, as will the need for organizations of all sizes to onboard engineers with these skills to enable critical transformational work.”

Second, companies and hiring managers will have to be more proactive. Seepersad notes that the options for dealing with a talent shortage at first seem unappealing. Slow down or mothball critical IT initiatives until the hiring pool fills up? Good luck selling that one to the board. Implement a “blank check” approach to compensation? There are only a handful of behemoth companies that can really afford to do that; it’s not a sustainable strategy for most organizations, even large ones.

Seepersad thinks the needle will move in 2022 on companies becoming more willing to invest – with dollars, not just words – in training on Kubernetes and other cloud-centric technologies (like Linux) among both existing employees and new or future hires. Seepersad has a point of view – Linux Foundation is the big player in the emerging market for Kubernetes certifications and one of the big names in cloud-centric certifications in general.

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

But the trend here isn’t really about certifications. Rather, it’s a philosophical shift inside employers who – let’s face it – say nice things about the wonders of professional development but in reality, expect their people to pursue it on their own time. We’re paying you to work, not learn, the mindset goes. The manager that thinks this way is almost certainly going to come up empty in their search for Kubernetes talent unless they in fact have a blank check to wave around. Companies that make training and on-the-job experience a part of their cloud-native hiring practices are, to underline Drobisewski’s earlier point, going to find a large pool of willing learners.

“This may mean hiring someone with little or even no experience and paying them to learn for the first month,” Seepersad says. “We would argue the financial and time investment is worth it, as the only way we will get out of this talent crunch is to train more talent.”

4. Commercial and managed services will boom

Commercial Kubernetes platforms like Red Hat’s OpenShift, built on top of the open source project, have already become mainstays of enterprise Kubernetes adoption and usage. As more and more success stories from earlier adopters get told, other organizations naturally seek out similar business outcomes, Gracely says. But then they run into issue #3 – and not every company has the desire or wherewithal to build up the internal capabilities needed to run their own platform.

[ Read also: OpenShift and Kubernetes: What’s the difference? ]

“Oftentimes they don’t want to invest in the operational skills to manage and maintain Kubernetes,” Gracely says. “This is where we expect to see rapid expansion of the use of Managed Kubernetes cloud services, such as OpenShift DedicatedRed Hat OpenShift on AWS (ROSA) and Microsoft Azure Red Hat OpenShift (ARO).”

The growth of managed Kubernetes services that run in a public cloud – in addition to commercial platforms that run in any cloud, including in your own datacenter – means there’s pretty much an option for everyone, including organizations that don’t want or need to build out a robust internal team to manage everything.

Rob Faraj, co-founder of Kubecost, expects a separate but related trend that intersects both cloud-native talent and the growth of commercial and managed services: Vendors and internal platform teams will prioritize features that make it easier for developers to work with Kubernetes without needing to grapple with the more complex nuts-and-bolts under the hood.

“Organizations thus need to do everything possible to compete to attract developers, and the developer experience companies can offer around Kubernetes management can – and increasingly will – be a critical differentiator,” Faraj says. “In 2022, I think we’ll see significant demand for simplifying infrastructure sprawl and creating more dev-friendly processes around Kubernetes management.”

5. The Kubernetes community will continue to prioritize security

Kubernetes has significant security features built-in, provided you properly tune (and retune) the right settings. Its thriving ecosystem has also placed a heavy emphasis on the platform’s security – there are 29 different security apps on OperatorHub.io, as one measure.

[ Related read: IT security: 4 issues to watch in 2022. ]

Organizations will use the tools and services available to them to sharpen up their cloud and cloud-native security strategies in 2022. Kirsten Newcomer, director, cloud and DevSecOps strategy, Red Hat, predicts we’ll see a change in how organizations gate applications at deploy time, for example.

“This has already started today with a shift towards a simpler approach in Kube itself called out-of-tree controls,” Newcomer says. “We’ll continue to see growth around policy-based deployment management using tools like OPA GatekeeperKyverno, and Argo CD. Also, be on the lookout for new policy engines we haven’t seen before.”

In general, expect to see continued investment in Kubernetes security across the community – especially in terms of simplifying (without stripping down) security for teams and reducing its budget by embedding it into the tools they use to manage their clusters.

“Kubernetes distros will start adding more security capabilities directly into their distributions,” Newcomer says. “This will help enhance the overall security of the distribution and also help reduce the cost of securing a Kubernetes deployment.”

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

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.