What Is Kubernetes? 7 Fast Facts from the Founders

What is Kubernetes? According to the project site:

Kubernetes (K8s) is an open-source system for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.

The Kubernetes Authors

In practical terms, “organizations have a lot of computers and a lot of things they want to run on those computers. It’s like playing a game of Tetris, figuring out which things to run on which computers,” says Joe Beda, principal engineer at VMware. “Kubernetes is this idea of making it easier for application developers to ship applications faster, more reliably and in a way that benefits end users.”

Beda would know. He and Craig McLuckie, vice president of research and development at VMware, were part of the team that created Kubernetes. The two later co-founded Heptio— acquired by VMware in December 2018—a startup offering products and services that help enterprises make best use of Kubernetes. Now part of VMware, Craig, Joe and team are working to reinforce VMware’s reputation as a leading enabler of Kubernetes and cloud-native operations.

Get up to speed on the technology that’s transforming business with seven fast facts from Beda and McLuckie.

1. Kubernetes started at Google.

Internally, Google managed container clusters with its own system called Borg—a name from a group of aliens on “Star Trek.” A group of Borg engineers realized “that containers were the future of computing—they’re scalable, portable and more efficient.”

“We could bring a new way of thinking about organizing and managing enterprise applications, inspired by the internal technologies of Google, to the broader outside world,” McLuckie says. “It became clear that was the right thing to do for the business and the right thing to do for the customers.”

After they pitched the idea, Google went public with the open source software in 2014.

2. Kubernetes is a Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) project.

When the team announced Kubernetes 1.0 in 2015, they contributed it to the new CNCF, a project dedicated to promoting cloud-native technologies and practices like containers.

“Our highest priority was to disrupt the industry, and the only practical way to do that was with a strong and open community around it,” says McLuckie. “One of the really powerful things about open source technologies is that you can galvanize a community that will bring a unique set of perspectives, capabilities and attributes to the project. The alloy that emerges is stronger than any of the constituent pieces.”

3. Kubernetes enables cloud-native development.

“There is a difference between cloud and cloud native,” Beda says. “Cloud is like running on somebody else’s computers … outsourcing some of the burden of running and using systems.”

On the other hand, cloud-native computing is about taking advantage of the unique aspects of cloud—API-driven, self-service, elastic—to reinvent IT and software development, he says. “The most nimble, innovative companies really know how to harness those capabilities.”

Containers are a lightweight, easy method to transport applications from one environment to another, using fewer resources. That’s why containers, and container orchestration like Kubernetes, are popular for cloud-native apps development.

Kubernetes is this idea of making it easier for application developers to ship applications faster, more reliably and in a way that benefits end users.

Joe Beda, Principal Engineer, VMware

4. Kubernetes is one of the top open source projects on Github.

Github, a leading platform and community for software development, tallied 6,500 unique contributors to Kubernetes in 2018. The Enterprisers Project also notes that Kubernetes returns thousands of results on popular job sites and is starting to pop up in job titles.

“As Kubernetes developed, we saw this explosion of people getting involved,” says Beda. “Another proof point of success was when I saw the first job application that listed Kubernetes.”

5. Kubernetes is supported by top cloud providers.

Major players in the cloud market, including Amazon, Microsoft, Google and IBM, offer services and solutions to run Kubernetes on their cloud platforms.

“With Amazon’s support of Kubernetes with EKS, we got the trifecta of the three major cloud providers leaning into and supporting Kubernetes,” Beda says. “I think that, for so many people, really catalyzed that Kubernetes was going to be here for the long term.”

6. Kubernetes is available in a variety of models for businesses.

“There’s a lot of different ways to consume Kubernetes,” McLuckie says. “You may want to consume a relatively lightweight rendition of Kubernetes that tracks very closely to the upstream community. You may want to consume a version of Kubernetes that is packaged with some proprietary extensions and capabilities that solve problems in a unique way, and that’s entirely acceptable. Or you may want to consume Kubernetes as a managed service that’s provided to you by a cloud provider.”

“We want to make sure that our customers are able to get the best of each of these consumption models and never find themselves locked into one mode of consuming Kubernetes that doesn’t necessarily grow with their needs over time,” he explains.

what is kubernetes logo

7. The number seven has a special meaning for Kubernetes.

The name “Kubernetes” stems from an ancient Greek word for “helmsman,” (someone who steers a ship, like a container ship) which explains the ship wheel logo. The ship wheel has seven sides, in homage to the original name for the project. Beda, McLuckie and team originally intended to call the Kubernetes technology “Project Seven”—named after Seven of Nine, a friendly “Star Trek” character hailing from the Borg group.