The top eleven CNCF Incubation and Graduated projects of 2021

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is a technological leader in advancing modern, dynamic environments, including public, private, and hybrid clouds. The foundation democratizes standards in cloud computing and hosts open-source, vendor-neutral projects. It promotes and enables the adoption of cloud-native paradigms by organizations all over the world. Kubernetes, Prometheus, Envoy, and Jaeger are some of the most successful CNCF projects in circulation. The foundation continues to expand its repertoire of cutting-edge innovations in container technology.

Each project in the CNCF is assigned a maturity level depending on its rate of adoption, diversity of contributions, and adherence to rigorous standards and processes. Depending on whether a project has passed a certain threshold of checks and balances, the technical oversight committee (TOC) votes it into the Sandbox, Incubating, or Graduated stage. While the CNCF Sandbox includes early-stage projects, projects at the Incubating and Graduated level have met several criteria for maturity. Graduated projects must pass independent third-party audits. What follows is a list of cloud-native technology projects that made the jump to Incubating and Graduated status in 2021.

Graduated Projects

Only two projects achieved Graduated status in 2021: Linkerd and Open Policy Agent.

1. Linkerd

Linkerd became the first service mesh to achieve CNCF Graduated status this year when it was voted up by the TOC. In fact, Linkerd was one of the original tools to be referred to as a service mesh. It provides a host of functionalities ranging from security to observability to reliability. Linkerd is an ultra-light infrastructure layer that facilitates service-to-service communication between microservices in the cloud by acting as a network proxy. Linkerd serves as a cloud orchestration tool. It offers several features including: service discovery, load balancing, adaptive routing, proxy integration, instrumentation, circuit breaking, and failure recovery.

2. Open Policy Agent (OPA)

OPA achieved CNCF Graduated status three years after its inception into the foundation. OPA is an open-source, general-purpose policy engine for cloud-native environments. It offers developers a unified toolset and framework to define policy across their cloud-native stack. OPA decouples policy from code, allowing you to review, analyze, and release policies without compromising the stability or performance of your applications and services. OPA uses a high-level, declarative language, Rego, to promote safe, fine-grained controls. The policy engine makes it easier to implement stringent security standards for Kubernetes clusters — allowing your workloads and projects to quickly meet compliance and audit requirements.

Incubating Projects

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Nine projects have been added to the CNCF incubator in 2021: Cilium, Crossplane, Dapr, Emissary-Ingress, Flux and Flagger, KEDA, Longhorn, and OpenTelemetry.

1. Cilium

The TOC voted Cilium into the CNCF Incubator in October 2021, bringing the open-source Container Network Interface (CNI) and Kubernetes networking layer to the next level. Cilium provides networking capabilities, security, and observability to cloud-native environments. It supports Kubernetes clusters among other container orchestration platforms. At its core, Cilium uses Extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF). eBPF is a new kernel technology that functions as a sandbox virtual machine (VM) within the Linux kernel. It expands the kernel’s capabilities without requiring the kernel’s source code to be rewritten. Cilium has been integrated with Envoy and Prometheus and is consistently expanding its feature set. It is already showing significant promise barely two months into its stint in the incubator.

2. Crossplane

Crossplane is an open-source universal control plane that extends your Kubernetes clusters to compose and orchestrate cloud infrastructure. Through Crossplane, platform teams can put together cloud infrastructure from several vendors and expose self-service APIs to application development teams — eliminating the need to write new code. You can leverage Crossplane to integrate granular resources into higher-level abstractions that can then be managed, versioned, and deployed using your existing toolsets.

3. Distributed Application Runtime (Dapr)

Dapr is a portable, serverless, event-driven runtime that lets you quickly build distributed applications that run on the cloud and the edge. It supports a variety of languages and diverse developer frameworks. Dapr encodes best practices for constructing microservices infrastructure into open-source building blocks. You can use these building blocks to create scalable, portable applications in your preferred language or framework. Dapr helps you build secure and resilient applications by taking care of service discovery, encryption, message broker integration, secret management, and observability.

4. Emissary-ingress

Emissary-ingress, formerly known as Ambassador API Gateway, is an open-source, Envoy proxy-based Kubernetes ingress controller and API gateway for microservices. Emissary-ingress follows a declarative, self-service model and is built on Kubernetes Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs). It offers users several features including: load balancing, security for microservices through authentication, rate limiting, Transport Layer Security (TLS), high availability through sticky sessions, and circuit breaking. Emissary-ingress integrates with Prometheus, Grafana, and Datadog for observability and metrics. It supports service meshes such as Istio, Linkerd, and Consul.

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5. Flux and 6. Flagger

Flux is a range of open and extensible continuous delivery solutions for Kubernetes that enables GitOps for your applications and infrastructure. Often implemented at the end of a CI/CD pipeline, Flux automatically ensures that new container images and configuration changes are deployed to a Kubernetes cluster through atomic and transactional changes. Flux uses a code-centric approach that makes operational changes more transparent and makes it easier to recover from a failed deployment.

Flagger is a project under Flux that functions as a progressive deployment Kubernetes operator. Flagger automates the process of canary deployments to applications running on Kubernetes. It also reduces the risk involved in deploying a new software update in production. Flagger achieves this by gradually moving traffic to the new version while simultaneously running conformance tests and analyzing metrics.


KEDA was moved to the CNCF Incubator in August 2021, and is an acronym for Kubernetes-based Event Driven Autoscaler. As the name suggests, KEDA lets you scale any container in Kubernetes according to the number of events that need to be processed. With great flexibility and security, KEDA can be integrated into your existing Kubernetes applications and frameworks. It extends functionality without overwriting or duplicating standard Kubernetes components such as the Horizontal Pod Autoscaler. You can explicitly define which apps in your infrastructure need event-driven scaling through KEDA, without affecting the performance of other apps.

8. Longhorn

In November 2021 Longhorn was added to the CNCF Incubator. It is a lightweight and powerful cloud-native, distributed block storage system built for Kubernetes. Longhorn leverages containers and microservices to implement distributed block storage. By synchronously replicating block device volumes across multiple nodes in Kubernetes, Longhorn promotes highly available data replication and persistent storage.

9. OpenTelemetry

OpenTelemetry is a distributed tracing tool that gives you critical visibility into the performance and behavior of your software. It is a set of APIs, SDKs, and tools that are used to generate and manage telemetry data such as metrics, traces, and logs for your distributed services and applications. OpenTelemetry’s open-source, vendor-agnostic solutions have found wide adoption across the industry. Cloud vendors and end users alike are leveraging its portable design to power observability frameworks across their cloud-native projects.


The CNCF’s dedication to propagating open-source projects for cloud-native environments has driven innovation in container technology. Simultaneously, CNCF projects have simplified the tools and infrastructure required to migrate to the cloud. It has allowed more and more enterprises to capitalize on the cutting-edge benefits of a cloud-native strategy. Several of its projects are constantly being updated and improved by the community to promote vendor-agnostic solutions and democratize standards in cloud technology. This practice allows organizations to flexibly adapt their toolchains to fit their business strategies. These Graduated and Incubating projects enjoy widespread adoption across the industry. They offer a glimpse into the diverse landscape of the CNCF — and they allow you to explore the possibilities for your own cloud-native workflows.

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