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Mesosphere's Kubernetes pivot sets stage for IT vendor attrition

Mesosphere becomes D2iQ, and affirms that Kubernetes is eating the world. Is IT entering a golden age of interoperability, or on the verge of mass consolidation?

Mesosphere is dead, and from its ashes this week rose a new company, called D2iQ, squarely focused on Kubernetes.

Mesosphere's Kubernetes pivot began in early 2018, when Mesosphere DC/OS version 1.11 rolled out Kubernetes support alongside the Marathon container orchestrator the company had previously marketed as a competitor. Mesosphere Kubernetes Engine followed in October 2018, which offered full parity between Marathon and Kubernetes, along with the ability to mix Marathon and Kubernetes workloads in the same cluster.

Now reborn as D2iQ, the company will maintain Marathon and DC/OS, but its focus will shift to emphasize two additional product lines, Ksphere and DataSphere, both based on Kubernetes and adjacent open source projects.

Ksphere includes D2iQ's freshly released Kubernetes distro, Konvoy, and a project now in alpha for Konvoy users called Kommander, which adds lifecycle management, observability and configuration management for multicluster Kubernetes environments.

DataSphere is meant to capitalize on Mesosphere's success with enterprise deployments of data-driven applications such as Kafka, Apache Spark, Cassandra and Jupyter. DataSphere is an add-on to Ksphere that bundles in an early stage D2iQ project dubbed Kudo, which offers a new spin on the Kubernetes operators popularized by CoreOS, now owned by IBM Red Hat. A Kafka operator package is available in beta under Kudo this week, with the rest still on the D2iQ Kudo roadmap.

"Konvoy is focused on Day 2, which is in our new name," said Tobi Knaup, CTO at D2iQ, who also co-founded Mesosphere and served as its CTO before the pivot. "It's a distribution of Kubernetes that includes tools for logging, monitoring and metrics for production, geared toward customers who are starting with their first Kubernetes project."

Tobi Knaup, D2iQTobi Knaup

As with many packaged Kubernetes distributions, Konvoy's default configuration is easy to install, but its differentiation comes from what happens next, according to Knaup.

"What you get [at install] is not a toy cluster but something secure and hardened, that has monitoring, that you can put into production as well," he said.

D2iQ officials acknowledge they face stiff competition amid the IT vendor feeding frenzy around Kubernetes. Nevertheless, Knaup said the company will appeal to enterprises based on its expertise and experience building large-scale container infrastructures for blue chip customers such as Deutsche Telekom and Verizon, which it will offer as professional services with Ksphere and DataSphere.

"Cloud-native projects fail not because companies don't have the right tech or because they don't have the right skills, but because they're complex," Knaup said. "It's important to pair products with the right services, training and support to make sure customers are successful."

D2iQ's Kubernetes secret sauce -- data services

If this pitch sounds familiar, it's because Red Hat has used it for years with OpenShift, and other competitors such as VMware and Microsoft have joined the chorus. That's where DataSphere and Kudo will add further value, according to Knaup.

"We've used our experience with lifecycle automation for data services on DC/OS to the Kudo toolkit, which contains Kubernetes operators for data-driven applications, along with services and training on how to create data pipelines," he said. "These toolkits also support version upgrades, backup and recovery and configuration changes."

Red Hat is already out in the market with its Operators API, but Kudo takes its own approach to creating controllers that tie those operators to various applications, analysts said.

"You have to create YAML files to build a specific controller, which still requires expertise," said Simon Richard, analyst at Gartner. "That's where [D2iQ] has a niche."

Kudo, in version 0.2.0 in June 2019, provides a universal controller that can be configured via declarative specs in YAML files to run any workload, potentially sparing IT operators from having to write thousands of lines of code, according to a D2iQ blog post.

Teeming Kubernetes market creates confusion, portends consolidation

Mesosphere's Kubernetes pivot is the latest among many IT vendor capitulations to the container orchestration juggernaut.

The first IT vendor to jump onto the Kubernetes bandwagon, Red Hat, saw that move pay off with a $34 billion exit via IBM that officially closed last week. IBM will embed Red Hat's OpenShift Kubernetes platform throughout the IBM Cloud product line.

Docker, which put Linux containerization on the map, also has bowed to Kubernetes. Docker Enterprise version 2.0, released in the spring of 2018, offered the option of Kubernetes alongside the Docker swarm mode orchestrator, and version 3.0 this summer shipped with Kubernetes available by default.

Cloud Foundry, and with it commercial backer Pivotal, has also been swept up in the wave of Kubernetes mania. However, its initial hesitation to blend its application deployment platform with Kubernetes container orchestration has slowed both entities' momentum as an open source foundation and a publicly traded IT software company, respectively. VMware, which also markets the Cloud Foundry-Pivotal flavor of Kubernetes, has integrated Heptio to ease Day 2 operations for enterprises and capture industry cachet.

Meanwhile, all the cloud platform vendors now boast their own Kubernetes managed services with significant momentum. Google, the inventor of Kubernetes, has strong name recognition with the Google Kubernetes Engine. Microsoft Azure, which hired Kubernetes luminaries such as Brendan Burns away from Google, brings Kubernetes to the Microsoft Azure install base in Azure Kubernetes Service. And 800-pound cloud gorilla AWS was fashionably late to the Kubernetes party with Amazon EKS, a fact which hasn't seemed to put much of a dent in its uptake among cloud computing devotees.

The list goes on. Independent Kubernetes management vendor Rancher continues to hold its own with its approach to managing disparate Kubernetes clusters on disparate platforms, which has proved to be ahead of its time as the industry moves toward a multi-cloud status quo. Networking giant Cisco has also thrown its hat in the ring with the Cisco Container Platform, and partnered with Google Cloud Platform.

In recent months, the lines between what had been two major Kubernetes fiefdoms -- on-premises-hybrid cloud tools and public cloud services -- began to blur. Google launched Anthos, a hybrid and multi-cloud vehicle for GKE; Microsoft has developed Azure Stacks in a similar vein; and even AWS has launched Outposts to snag a piece of the on-premises and hybrid cloud pie.

If prospective enterprise IT buyers' heads are spinning at this array of choices, and the diminishing differentiations between them, analysts don't blame them.

We're entering a new generation of open source businesses, where it's easy to get clicks and downloads, but more difficult to translate that into dollars.
Gary ChenAnalyst, IDC

"If someone asks me whether they should look at D2iQ, OpenShift or GKE, I'm not sure anyone will operate Kubernetes on premises in another five years, so I'd say to look at cloud first. But if you're not happy with that or it doesn't meet your needs, try something else," Gartner's Richard said. "But [on-premises], while Red Hat is ahead with OpenShift, should they wait for GKE Anthos as well? It's not clear."

With Kubernetes officially reduced to table stakes, vendors must scramble to compete on broader terms. Here, container and infrastructure orchestration specialists and relative middleweights such as D2iQ have their work cut out for them against broad platform vendors such as Microsoft, AWS, Google and VMware that can just add containers as an option for already-vast install bases, said Gary Chen, analyst at IDC.

"Everyone seems to be saying the same things, and standardization is great for the industry, but is everyone sort of solving the same problems [among IT vendors]?" Chen said. "We're entering a new generation of open source businesses, where it's easy to get clicks and downloads, but more difficult to translate that into dollars."

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