The Evolution of Managed Kubernetes Platforms – What Lies Ahead in 2022

While the technology behind the increasingly popular container orchestrator Kubernetes (K8s) has been around since 2003, Kubernetes first started gaining traction after 2014. It has since continued to evolve into an ecosystem of tools, platforms, and open-source technology built around its functionalities, driving the future of cloud computing and container technology. Kubernetes is projected to drive DevOps frameworks in 2022 as containerized infrastructure becomes the de facto standard in software development. 

Kubernetes as a Service (KaaS)

Since Kubernetes is an open-source project, it has evolved so rapidly in recent years that it has become almost overwhelming to manage all its complexity. A significant development that has addressed this issue has been the emergence of several enterprise-grade Kubernetes as a Service (KaaS) platforms. KaaS platforms let you operate Kubernetes as a managed service, with their basic function being to enable the deployment, management, and maintenance of Kubernetes clusters. They also take care of functions such as scaling, upgrades, multi-cloud portability, and self-service deployment.

By relying on your cloud providers’ Kubernetes platforms, you can do away with the need to hire highly specialized domain experts to upgrade and maintain your Kubernetes container clusters. KaaS platforms shoulder the responsibility of patching vulnerabilities, ensuring high availability, and implementing disaster recovery protocols for your containers in production, freeing you up to dedicate resources to other aspects of your digital business strategy.

Leading KaaS platforms

The leading cloud service providers have each developed their own KaaS platforms that are currently leading the KaaS market: Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), and Microsoft’s Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). Other major KaaS platforms in the market include Red Hat’s OpenShift, VMWare Tanzu, Oracle Container Engine for Kubernetes (OKE), and DigitalOcean Kubernetes (DOKS).

In this article, we will take a look at the features of each of these services as well as the directions they are heading in to paint a picture of what Kubernetes platforms may look like in 2022.

1. Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)

At the moment, Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the leading cloud platform in the industry, making Amazon EKS one of the most widely-used managed Kubernetes service in circulation. Amazon EKS simplifies the process of creating and operating Kubernetes clusters across hybrid cloud environments. It automates several key tasks such as provisioning nodes, storing cluster data, and managing app availability, among others. With Amazon EKS, you can choose to run your containers either on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) or on AWS Fargate. It integrates with core elements of AWS infrastructure, allowing you to leverage the best of AWS’s networking and security services as well as its availability, scalability, reliability, and performance.

In September this year, Amazon EKS Anywhere was released, which allows you to run Kubernetes not just on AWS but also in your on-premises architecture, supporting customer-managed infrastructure based on VMware vSphere. In 2022, Amazon EKS Anywhere is planning to expand support for more diverse deployment environments, including bare metal servers.

 

This year, AWS also announced the launch of AWS Marketplace for Containers Anywhere. The new marketplace lets you search for vetted and secured third-party containerized applications that you can then deploy in Amazon EKS in any environment. It is expected to find more widespread use over the next year. 2022 will also see AWS expanding its container threat detection services to Amazon EKS audit logs through Amazon GuardDuty, boosting container security.

2. Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)

Azure may be second to AWS among cloud service providers (CSPs), but it is quickly catching up as the preferred vendor among enterprises. Azure’s fully managed Kubernetes service, AKS, lets you easily deploy and manage containerized applications. Its offerings that appeal to enterprises include an integrated continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) solution for DevOps, serverless Kubernetes, and security and governance services. These features allow you to build enterprise-grade, production-ready applications in a unified platform with agility and scalability.

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The announcement of support for Windows Server 2022 on AKS means that enterprises will be shifting their infrastructure from Windows Server 2019 to the new server operating system that offers enhanced security, cloud upgrades, faster networking, and hybrid cloud integrations. Windows Server 2022 also aligns with the popular container runtime containerd, reflecting the Kubernetes community’s goal of deprecating and eventually removing the container runtime dockershim from kubelet. This will streamline the process of shifting to Kubernetes version 1.24, which is scheduled to release kubelet without dockershim in April 2022.

Microsoft recently announced updates to AKS at KubeCon 2021 that are currently available as opt-in previews, but will likely become production-ready by next year. The first update is support for HTTP and HTTPS proxies in AKS, which allows you to securely control the egress from your network while deploying AKS clusters in isolated networks. This is likely to be incredibly useful as it enables key networking capabilities and also includes certificate management tools that establish a chain of trust across your isolated nodes and clusters. 

The second update is support for using Krustlets in AKS through WebAssembly System Interface (WASI) node pools. WebAssembly is a portable and lightweight alternative to resource-heavy containers, which provides you a sandbox to build and run simple services in resource-constrained environments, such as devices at the edge.

3. Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)

Kubernetes was born at Google, so it is unsurprising that GKE is one of the most evolved KaaS platforms out there. Since 2015, GKE has been used to automatically deploy, scale, and manage Kubernetes in the most user-friendly manner. With GKE you can scale up to 15,000 nodes with the ability to auto-repair. 

In 2021, GKE introduced an autopilot mode that offers you a cost-effective and fully managed solution, eliminating the need for manual configuration and monitoring. This includes auto-scaling and auto-update features. Over the next year, this update is expected to continue to make Kubernetes-native workloads more accessible to enterprises that may struggle to host self-managed Kubernetes.

Google recently announced a preview for Backup for GKE that allows you to manage, protect, and restore your containerized applications running in stateful workloads. This means that GKE will be able to support more applications running in it with more demanding workloads. Google also announced a managed continuous delivery service for GKE called Cloud Deploy that increases the ease, speed, and reliability of making deployments to GKE. Cloud Deploy is expected to become a significant part of existing customers’ CI/CD pipelines in their DevOps workflows.

At the Google Cloud Next’21 conference, the preview of Anthos for VMs was announced along with the Anthos Multi-Cloud API. Anthos is a platform that lets you consistently manage GKE clusters running across on-premises and cloud environments. Anthos for VMs lets you standardize on Kubernetes while running workloads that are difficult to containerize in VMs. In addition, the Multi-Cloud API helps you manage GKE clusters running in Azure and AWS cloud.

4. Red Hat’s OpenShift

OpenShift is a highly flexible and customizable managed Kubernetes service that is hoping to drive the multi-cloud trend. Through OpenShift, you can deploy Kubernetes to any cloud, edge, and even on-premises architecture with support for multi-tenancy, extensive CI/CD tooling through OpenShift Pipelines, and an in-built image registry. Red Hat’s $34 billion acquisition by IBM in 2018 put IBM alongside Google, Amazon, and Microsoft in the upper ranks of cloud vendors, since Red Hat is one of the primary contributors to Kubernetes, while IBM has consistently contributed hybrid-cloud, open-source tooling to the cloud landscape.

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IBM is hoping to draw more customers seeking a unified solution for their hybrid and multi-cloud Kubernetes deployments over the next year. IBM announced a global partnership with MuleSoft this year to extend MuleSoft’s Anypoint Runtime Fabric to run on OpenShift. Anypoint Runtime Fabric is a container service for hybrid and multi-cloud deployments, and with this partnership, the two organizations hope to support increased integrations with IBM products by 2022.

IBM is also looking toward the edge, with the recent release of OpenShift Container Platform 4.9 offering support to single-node architecture that works well within space-constrained environments and reduces your deployment footprint.

5. VMWare Tanzu

VMWare Tanzu is a KaaS platform that lets you build and manage Kubernetes infrastructure, and it comes with a central user interface, Mission Control. Through Tanzu you can run Kubernetes alongside traditional VMWare workloads in vSphere, which is VMWare’s signature virtualization platform. VMWare is aggressively keeping up with the intense competition with powerful support for multi-cloud deployments and enterprise-grade security, backup, and resource management.

According to the VMWare CEO, VMWare is leveraging its existing partnerships with Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM to grow its own infrastructure and develop Tanzu as a leading multi-cloud integrator. At VMworld 2021, the organization announced the launch of VMWare Cross-Cloud services, with one of its features allowing you to use Tanzu to autonomously build and deploy apps on any cloud. In an interview with CRN, the President of VMWare also discussed the new Tanzu Community Edition, a free and easy-to-use open-source Kubernetes platform for learners and users looking to try out the product before investing in Tanzu.

By putting its tools in the hands of developers, VMWare is hoping to extend its reach beyond Kubernetes operation services to capture developers as well and become a crucial part of emerging DevSecOps pipelines, while also aiming for multi-cloud ubiquity.

Conclusion

Several other KaaS platforms are sweeping the market, some of which are making more targeted offerings. For example, DigitalOcean Kubernetes is targeting small to mid-sized businesses and individual users with its low-cost and easy-to-use managed Kubernetes service. However, it lacks support for multi-cloud and can only be deployed within the DigitalOcean cloud. Oracle Container Engine for Kubernetes (OKE) is another managed Kubernetes service, but unlike the competition, OKE is free and does not charge you for cluster management. DevOps engineers running their workloads in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure can use OKE to automate patching and update and also enable application workload portability. As cloud platforms continue to invest in their own KaaS offerings, the future of Kubernetes platforms may see each provider capturing a different share of the market by doubling down on features and capabilities that set them apart from the competition.

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