AWS Support for Kubernetes: An Inflection Point in the Cloud

The recent news from Amazon Web Services that it will finally support Kubernetes is great news for CIOs, but it’s also a watershed moment for the cloud industry as a whole—one that could finally see Amazon’s seemingly unassailable dominance in the cloud start to be diminished.

AWS announced its long-awaited support for Kubernetes at its re:Invent conference. Many businesses already run Kubernetes on AWS, but it requires them to do a lot of manual configuration to pull it off. As a fully managed service, the Amazon Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes (EKS) will make running the container orchestration system on AWS far easier.

This is a huge validation for Kubernetes as the standard cloud API, and the significance of Amazon’s move can hardly be overstated. With Google’s cloud and Microsoft Azure already supporting Kubernetes, this will be the first time in the history of cloud computing that enterprises have a single abstraction layer through which to deploy and operate cloud-enabled applications across any of the major public clouds.

One effect will be to give enterprises far more leverage against the big cloud operators. Every time an enterprise is concerned about escalating costs from its cloud provider, it can play off the big vendors and use Kubernetes to seamlessly divert workloads to the lowest cost service. From a business perspective, this makes the public cloud providers a lot less differentiated, which could eat into their highly profitable margins.

Moreover, not only will EKS make cross-shopping for cloud services easier, it could dull the value of other high-value services these clouds provide. Consider, for example, the popular AWS Lambda for serverless computing. There are a range of open source alternatives, such as Fission, which provide similar value while being open source and running on any Kubernetes cluster. This is one example of how there could be cascading shifts in value from cloud providers’ own native services to the range of application services in the Kubernetes ecosystem.

As well as reducing the differentiation between cloud providers, Amazon’s move could reduce the perceived gulf between on-premises data centers and the public cloud. The many agile, well-funded venture startups operating in the container orchestration space will (partly out of necessity) focus on providing a great Kubernetes experience for enterprise environments running on-premises, in co-located data centers and across hybrid environments. The result, paradoxically, is that private clouds could be easier to run, likely offering greater control and economics, while providing the same Kubernetes-based ecosystem of services that enterprises want to use in the public cloud. In turn, this will reduce the gulf between today’s public and private clouds.

AWS Embraces Kubernetes

So why did AWS make such a move? In short, it had little choice. The momentum behind Kubernetes is so great that it is now table stakes for enterprises evaluating cloud services. If AWS had not acquiesced, it risked handing future business to its two main rivals.

The impact of commodification won’t be felt only by AWS, of course: Google and Microsoft could also feel pressure. But two factors play in their favor. First, they’ve historically been far behind AWS in market share, so anything that shifts the playing field and could bring them more workloads is a good thing. Second, both Google and Microsoft seem more open to investing in hybrid cloud technologies that could further de-position AWS as the leading enterprise cloud.

For a decade now, AWS has been on winning streak, launching innovation after innovation with breathtaking velocity. Combined with the proliferation of smartphones, the cloud model Amazon popularized has enabled a wave of innovation that transformed consumer experiences across every industry. AWS has benefited from this evolution more than any other company.

But Google’s launch of Kubernetes in 2014 now looks increasingly like a stroke of genius, giving it pole position for developers looking to build modern, cloud-enabled applications. At the same time, ECS has paled in comparison: Kubernetes indisputably has the best feature set, the broadest adoption and the promise of portability across clouds and data centers. Enterprises that recognized the lock-in intrinsic to AWS’ proprietary platform increasingly turned to Kubernetes as a way to build cloud enabled applications that can run just as well on other clouds, or even on-premises infrastructure.

The cloud space just got infinitely more interesting. AWS has successfully negated one of the main reasons enterprises might have turned to its competitors, but it has also made operating in multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud environments far easier. The effects will take time to be felt, but CIOs now have a far more comfortable ringside seat to watch them play out.

About the Author / Sirish Raghuram

Sirish Raghuram is co-founder and chief executive officer at Platform9. Having experienced virtualization, IaaS and cloud-native industry transitions first hand, Sirish believes that open-source represents the future of enterprise hybrid clouds. Prior to founding Platform9, Sirish was an early engineer at VMware who went on to technical and management positions. His work at VMware led to several products, features and patents. Follow Sirish on LinkedIn and Twitter.