Kubernetes is less than a decade old as an open source project, but it’s already grown up in tech years.
“Kubernetes as a base platform is quite mature,” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist at Red Hat. “That’s not to say that change isn’t a constant in and around the platform.”
Indeed, while Kubernetes might seem like old news, the orchestration platform – and the IT pros and teams who use it – still has plenty of new tricks in store.
[ Peer into another crystal ball: 13 tech predictions for 2023. ]
So what’s in store as Kubernetes approaches the eighth anniversary of its 1.0 launch (in July 2015)? We asked Haff and other IT leaders and experts to share what they’re seeing in their crystal balls.
Here’s what they had to say.
1. Focus will sharpen on usability and simplicity
While IT pros generally recognize Kubernetes’ considerable capabilities, they also acknowledge its complexity – too many teams and users struggle with the learning curve, even with straightforward use cases.
This was a visible theme at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America in October, according to Haff, who recalled a media roundtable event on developer experience where Dave Zolotusky, principal engineer at Spotify, said, “Kubernetes is way too complicated today. A focus on user experience is what Kubernetes is missing.”
But that might be about to change. Haff adds: “A common refrain with respect to both developer and operator experiences was that, while specific situations may require lots of buttons and knobs, 2023 will hopefully see more of a focus on making basic use cases simpler to implement.”
Usability and simplicity are good goals on their own, but there might be even more urgency if economic headwinds pick up and teams are stretched thin as a result of hiring freezes or headcount reductions.
“Kubernetes migrations and scale aren’t going to slow down, but devs and engineers are going to be asked to do more with fewer resources in the coming year,” says Stacy Tumarkin, head of operations at Kubecost. “Kubernetes automation and optimization plans and processes will be in the spotlight more than ever.”
Tumarkin expects growing interest in internal developer platforms (IDPs) as a means of making it easier for devs to use and manage Kubernetes resources, as well as more robust governance around Kubernetes as well.
“By providing more precise guidelines and policies for managing Kubernetes resources at scale, organizations can better set up developers to navigate the complexities of the platform and avoid common pitfalls,” Tumarkin says.
2. Kubernetes goes to the edge
Kubernetes adoption has typically followed container (and microservices) adoption in its earlier years, and that pattern hasn’t changed.
A similar pattern is emerging with another form of distributed architecture: edge computing. Kubernetes isn’t just for server clusters and clouds. It’s also a great fit for the highly distributed nature of edge environments, in which IT teams may be supporting hundreds or thousands of new nodes.
Enterprise IT teams need a means of extending the same automation and standardization they apply in their cloud and data center environments out to the edge. Kubernetes, right-sized for edge devices, is going to be one of the major means of doing so.
“Kubernetes will see more traction on the peripheral edge devices with the growing availability of optimized variations better suited for them,” says E.G. Nadhan, global chief architect leader, Red Hat.
3. Service mesh? Try service meshes
The service mesh became a trend within the trend several years ago, a “glue” for the highly distributed cloud-native world. The underlying value hasn’t changed dramatically.
“Service meshes provide a number of features like observability, service discovery, and security without requiring code changes from an app,” says Alex Meijer, infrastructure lead, Corsha. “These features are lost when exiting the service mesh onto the open internet to a third-party or separate network.”
As a result, Meijer anticipates the service mesh getting the federation treatment – meaning the mesh gets, uh, more meshed.
“There will be a lot more utilization of federated service meshes: Company A’s mesh interacting with Company B’s mesh directly,” Meijer says. “A number of the leading service mesh implementations are offering support at various levels for multi-mesh and even some meshes that span different ownership domains.”
4. Industry verticals turn to Kubernetes as a transformation agent
There aren’t many industries immune to disruption – which is why there aren’t many industries where digital transformation isn’t on the C suite’s radar.
Sectors with significant legacy IT stacks and investments – which is to say, most industries – will begin to see the value of Kubernetes as a key cog in their digital transformation strategy in the year ahead. This is no longer the sole domain of cloud-native unicorns.
[ Also read 5 digital transformation metrics to measure success in 2023. ]
Take retail: It’s an ever-changing business, says Iain Boyle, Red Hat’s chief architect for retail. It’s an arena in which digital transformation isn’t a buzzword – it’s a mandate.
“With decreasing profit margins, rapidly increasing costs, and more complex supply chains, retailers are constantly looking for ways to better serve their customers,” Boyle says. “Digital transformation of IT systems using Kubernetes is a fundamental aspect of any retailer’s transformation, allowing them to deliver improvements quickly, reliably, and safely.”
5. Community battens down the supply chain security hatches
Software supply chain security has been in laser sights for a while now – most software gets made from other software (and all of the bits and pieces it’s composed of), after all.
As Kubernetes’ link in that chain has grown, so is the need to ensure its strength.
There will be a lot more emphasis on Kubernetes supply chain security in 2023, according to Meijer. “I think that people are becoming more aware that Solarwinds-type breaches can happen almost anywhere.”
Meijer hopes to see more container image signing and verification – like the cosign feature that went alpha in Kubernetes 1.24 – and signing of helm charts, as well as more attention to hardening/securing the underlying cluster/node.
Thinking back to #1 – usability and simplicity – this priority will get a boost from tools that make security easier. Robert Batson, infrastructure engineer at Corsha, points to tools like the admission controller from sigstore, as an example.
“[These tools can] extend supply chain security to the clusters hosting the applications, [and] will join the list of tools we bootstrap clusters with to handle things like observability and security in the traditional sense,” Batson says.
6. Kubernetes and … Java?
Java might be the low-key most polarizing debate in software: It has been a programming mainstay forever, but is it flourishing or fading?
You can decide for yourself, but it still occupies a significant place in enterprise IT portfolios – even though Java-based typically gets the “legacy” tag relative to newer languages like Go, Rust, or Python. As such, Kubernetes (itself written primarily in Go) and Java don’t often get mentioned together.
Kim Weins, VP of products, Vaadin, thinks that is shifting, as more organizations begin to become more specific in their cloud rationalization strategy.
“I expect that organizations will increasingly migrate these Java applications to run in Kubernetes, with a focus on cloud-native capabilities such as horizontal scalability, high availability, and rolling updates,” Weins says.
There are definitely contexts where containerizing Java applications (and managing them with Kubernetes) make sense. Not every workload is a fit, and Weins stresses the importance of being intentional in your modernization choices.
“Companies [need] to remain disciplined in how they approach Java modernization with Kubernetes,” Weins says. “The many organizations pursuing this strategy in 2023 will need to understand whether their Java workloads are a good fit for Kubernetes and containerization, what the specific goals of the modernization initiative are, and a strategy for the best migration path to get them there.”
7. 2023 and beyond: Kubernetes and quantum
As long as we’re playing the predictions game, then let’s close by going long. Here’s one for 2023 and the indefinite future, courtesy of Nadhan from Red Hat: Kubernetes will play a role in making quantum computing a reality.
“With quantum being at the core of the future of computing, Kubernetes will be used to better access quantum acceleration on the cloud through an open source co-processor model,” Nadhan says. “This will open up newer classes of hard problems that quantum has the opportunity to solve.”