Best of 2021 – The Rise of the KubeMaster

As we close out 2021, we at Container Journal wanted to highlight the most popular articles of the year. Following is the ninth in our series of the Best of 2021.

It wasn’t obvious while it was happening, probably because everyone was focused on dealing with a global pandemic, but your IT environment became more complex. Cloud technology continued to evolve, and while that was happening, cloud use grew. Hybrid cloud use, already growing before the pandemic, became much more established with a year-over-year annual growth rate of 17.8%, according to Quince Market Insights. And with more distinct technology advances from each of the major cloud service providers, multi-cloud use also became more established.

This more complex environment encouraged the use of containers, and Kubernetes became the preferred means of managing them. Unfortunately, the great irony of Kubernetes is that the technology created to make the management of modern cloud applications easier is, itself, incredibly difficult to manage. Just to deploy and manage a single application in your own data center requires working familiarity with a Kubernetes distribution and working integrations with a number of supporting systems and enterprise software including code registries, CI/CD, secrets management, storage management, networking, logging and monitoring, service mesh, backup and disaster recovery (DR). That’s just for one environment. In a hybrid infrastructure, perhaps using one of the leading cloud service providers such as AWS, Azure or GCP, you could double this overhead.

This rapid growth combined with immense complexity means not every Kubernetes implementation has been successful, and in the worst cases, misconfigurations have led to security breaches and significant application downtime. Overwhelmed teams with insufficient training only make the problem worse, putting these implementations farther behind as Kubernetes management becomes increasingly difficult. As such, I believe the time is now for a new role to emerge in the enterprise—Kubernetes Manager. This is a job function that more and more companies will need to hire as operating and managing Kubernetes becomes a significantly larger part of the engineering operation than ever before. Let me explain.

Back to the Future

This past year or so isn’t the first time that chaos threatened IT organizations. Late in the last millennium, a similar problem arose as organizations began dealing with the internet and their own websites. As websites became integral to the operation of more organizations, managing them became crucial. Web managers found themselves having to cope with everything from HTML coding to JavaScript, physical and session security, database integrations and a multitude of server configurations. On top of that, they had to deal with an array of different browsers on disparate platforms ranging from desktop computers to laptops to newer smartphones, while also supporting automated web client applications. The result was a job so complex and mission-critical that it required its own specialty and its own job title—the webmaster.

The same sort of intense management environment has arrived with Kubernetes. What’s needed now is an expert in the overall management and operation of a Kubernetes environment; in other words, a KubeMaster. The reality of a KubeMaster is wide-ranging and complex. To be a KubeMaster, a person needs to be an expert in a number of areas related to containers, security, development, management and more. Here’s a list of the minimum requirements for this job. Take a look at your resumé or that of a colleague to see who that person might be (or become in the future):

Application development operations – This person needs to know how developers work and the tools developers use to build and deploy their modern applications. This can include code registries, continuous integration (CI) tools and GitOps-powered deployment best practices.
Kubernetes cluster operations – This involves knowing Kubernetes cold. A Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) certification is a great first step, but on-the-job experience is also critical. KubeMasters need to know how to best manage and organize applications in clusters, provision and upgrade clusters and connect them to the broader ecosystem.
Security – There are multiple levels of security required to make Kubernetes safe. Most are aware of secrets management for applications and their components, but many forget to properly secure the Kubernetes infrastructure itself, including SSO and RBAC for all kubectl commands and other critical Kubernetes components such as the access to the controller and its ability to work with operators.
Compliance – While related to security, compliance includes knowing regulatory and policy issues, knowing how to satisfy protection requirements on both business and governmental levels, and how to meet compliance requirements for all of the entities your IT system interacts with. And of course, it’s necessary to know how to support compliance audits.
Monitoring and logging – Like other IT systems, the entities that make up clusters managed by Kubernetes create vast amounts of logging information. Infrastructure equipment and other parts of local and remote clouds also generate massive amounts of log data. The result is overwhelming if you don’t know how to manage it, and that’s something a KubeMaster must know how to do. Then they must know where to get support for all of the reporting systems when needed.

Welcome to the Future, KubeMaster

There are already sources for Kubernetes certification, and the KubeMaster-to-be must certainly be a Certified Kubernetes Administrator, but that’s just a start. The KubeMaster must also know how to support applications in the real world and how to secure its operations, as well as understand how engineers and developers work so they can collaborate as a nearly seamless team.

It should be no surprise that the KubeMaster is going to hold a critical position in the organization, and it should also be no surprise that there won’t be a lot of these people around or available. But as the need for KubeMasters grows, more qualified people will step up to the plate, ready, willing and able to provide these services to organizations in need. And yes, they will be expensive. But when you see their mission-critical role in the success of the organization, it’s clear that they’re worth it. It probably won’t be long until we see KubeMaster titles begin to show up on business cards and resumés. Hopefully, there will be qualifications to match.

Yousuf Khan

Yousuf Khan is a Partner at Ridge Ventures. Prior to going Ridge, he was the first CIO of several companies - Automation Anywhere, Moveworks, Pure Storage and Qualys. As CIO, he led the global technology function covering applications, information security, data and infrastructure management. Yousuf sits on the board of Kubernetes management company, Rafay Systems.

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