Hot Kubernetes startups Rancher, Kubermatic, and Kublr bring the heat

Kubernetes management is a hyper-competitive space with vendors large and small taking their own approach to simplifying K8s management. It’s clear that organizations want to adopt Kubernetes to simplify their infrastructure management, and to enable cloud-native applications. What’s also clear is that these organizations are aware of the perils of setting up and managing their own Kubernetes clusters on their own. They’d rather offload the risk to a vendor who provides a fully managed solution where the organization can then manage Kubernetes in a self-service model. This puts the onus on the managed service provider to ensure their platforms are intuitive, easy to use, secure, open, and reliable. The market is wide open, with most organizations still running the bulk of their workloads on-premise. In the decade ahead, we will continue to see workloads migrate from on-prem to cloud. In this post, we look at three startups in the managed Kubernetes space and their efforts to innovate alongside cloud computing giants.

1. Rancher acquired by SUSE

Acquisitions are becoming commonplace within the space as there are numerous startups, and some of them enticing enough for the big vendors to look to co-opt. This past month, the biggest acquisition was SUSE’s takeover of Rancher for over $600 million.

Rancher has been one of the frontrunners in the managed Kubernetes space for a long time. An innovator in the space, Rancher has contributed multiple open source projects to the community, including K3s, a lightweight Kubernetes distribution that could find adoption in edge computing scenarios.

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SUSE, most commonly known for its Linux distribution, is one of the largest service providers in the enterprise Linux space. They particularly have a large footprint in the ERP sector and are widely used by SAP customers.

Cloud-native technologies take longer to reach these customers due to their niche use cases, and legacy setups. However, the shift to cloud-native is well underway even there. Most notably, last year’s acquisition of Red Hat by IBM was a clear sign that enterprise Linux customers are now open to containerizing their stack. SUSE is Red Hat’s biggest competitor, and this acquisition of Rancher has the IBM/Red Hat deal squarely in sight.

SUSE hopes to leverage the engineering prowess of Rancher as it looks to stay competitive in the Enterprise Linux space. For Rancher, it’s no more playing in the small leagues. SUSE will open up a huge opportunity for Rancher to gain adoption among enterprises that have been running on Linux for over a decade. These organizations wouldn’t want to risk it with a startup, but would rather adopt complementary solutions coming from their decade-long partner, SUSE.

Other similar deals in the past have been VMware’s acquisitions of Pivotal and Heptio, Oracle buying Wercker, and Red Hat acquiring CoreOS. The space is buzzing with activity. We’re used to looking at the big three cloud vendors, but there is so much happening beyond them. And it’s a healthy rivalry between large vendors who are vying to replace the top three and a lot of promise for startups who focus on innovation.

2. Kubermatic goes big on open source

While AWS was the darling of the cloud about a decade ago, that view is now fracturing as numerous cloud vendors have risen to compete in the new world created by Kubernetes. In this world, the playing field is level as the race has just begun. In fact, when it comes to open-source, AWS finds itself on the wrong foot, having built a walled garden for the most part. One look at the top companies contributing to Kubernetes reveals that AWS is nowhere close to the competition. It sits at the No. 22 spot as of this writing.

One Kubernetes startup, though, that for its small size still manages to make a lion’s share of contributions is Kubermatic. It’s at No. 13 on the list (with its previous name, Loodse). In fact, Kubermatic recently released an open-source tool called KubeCarrier, which seeks to simplify management of services across multiple clusters. It takes advantage of Kubernetes’ CRDs and operators. KubeCarrier allows services to be made available externally where they can be consumed by other services in a self-serve manner. KubeCarrier enables locating, inspecting, and managing services across multiple cloud platforms and regions.

This management of services takes a more granular approach to cloud-native management. It follows the microservices model of decomposing entire monolithic applications into smaller, more manageable chunks. In terms of management, it brings simplicity and unifies services irrespective of which cloud platform they’re run on.

Cloud-native is about distributed infrastructure, distributed services, and decoupling components at every level. When it comes to distributed infrastructure, organizations are pushing for multicloud setups. Though they may have a preference for one cloud vendor, they want to run some workloads on other vendors. This could be for reasons such as cost, performance, or a preference for a particular service or feature that the other vendor provides.

3. Kublr plays the multicloud card well

Another innovative vendor in the Kubernetes startup space is Kublr. They recently announced v1.18 of their platform with some interesting updates. First, they now support in-place platform upgrades. This means that upgrading Kubernetes clusters managed with Kublr is now easier and can be done with just the click of a button. Previously, this process required some support from the Kublr team. While that is still an option, customers want the convenience of a self-serve option like this. Kublr already has the capability of doing zero-downtime upgrades and rolling cluster upgrades, which is a feat in itself. In-place upgrades goes a step further to make upgrades painless. The biggest benefit, of course, is that clusters that are up-to-date are more secure from vulnerabilities.

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Another big update from Kublr is that they now support the management of external clusters that are not provisioned using Kublr. Prior to this, Kublr still supported multicloud management of clusters, but the clusters had to be provisioned by Kublr. Now, even if the cluster was provisioned on GKE, AKS, or EKS, it can be managed by Kublr. This is a big step towards supporting the multicloud way of operating. While customers could have planned ahead to provision only using Kublr, larger companies would prefer to have the freedom to provision natively on their cloud vendor of choice.

In a multicloud world, vendors will need to open up and accept that their customers would choose other vendors alongside them. With workloads running on multiple platforms, the biggest pain point to solve is the management of these workloads. While the big cloud vendors are looking to make their own platform the go-to place to run all workloads, the startups are looking to build the best management plane for these multicloud workloads irrespective of where they run.

Kubernetes startups: Young guns with lots of weapons

In conclusion, the move from on-prem to the cloud to cloud-native is happening slowly but surely. While the big cloud vendors are hoping to cash in on this opportunity, they have stiff competition and future allies in the form of young Kubernetes startups like Rancher, Kubermatic, and Kublr. The big vendors should take a note from their smaller counterparts and forge alliances across the board. They should also throw their brain capital behind open source so the industry as a whole can benefit. As the cloud wars rage on, open-source and multicloud are two defining battles that need to be won for any vendor.

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