How to Measure Your Kubernetes Maturity

Kubernetes, the container orchestrator, has matured. No longer a project, it’s being run in production environments in organizations from SMBs to enterprises. In November The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) published survey results showing that 92% of respondents are now running containers in production environments, with 83% reporting they are also employing Kubernetes in those environments.

It’s great news for organizations looking to embark on digital transformation in 2021 by refactoring applications to work with Kubernetes, or building the next generation of applications based on containers and Kubernetes.

Kubernetes gives organizations freedom to create a platform that meets their unique needs. At the same time, that freedom means it can be hard to know what to expect, how much it’s going to cost, if it will meet both business and technical expectations. There’s plenty of uncertainty on every cloud native journey, as organizations move from trial to launch, dev to production and optimization.

Considering this technology is only six years old, it’s understandable that this uncertainty, and a lack of industry knowledge, exists. The Kubernetes Maturity Model outlines a standard framework of best practices to give reference points to organizations as they plan for, begin or continue their Kubernetes journey.

The goal of the Kubernetes Maturity Model is to move the market forward with a common set of guidelines and expectations, both from a technical standpoint and a business perspective. Engineers can use the model as a step-by-step, how-to guide; technical leaders can use it to identify challenges and set expectations and business leaders can use it to set organizational goals and measure outcomes that impact the bottom line.

Seven Complete Steps to Kubernetes Maturity

The Kubernetes Maturity Model includes seven phases each organization will move through, from preparation to sophisticated optimization.

Phase 1: Prepare for Cloud Native

Organizations new to cloud native, containers and Kubernetes will be in phase one. In this phase, it’s important that teams understand what the technology can do for the business. That includes defining the value the organization wants to obtain, getting buy-in across the organization and accepting that the journey will require heavy investment and trust in new technologies and open source software.

Phase 2: Transform Your Ecosystem

Phase two is where organizations will spend most of their time, as teams implement or migrate to Kubernetes. In this phase of maturity, users must not be fooled by “up and running” articles, because there is a distinct difference between setting up clusters and being production ready. We see a lot of teams flounder in this phase; they are overwhelmed by complexity, afflicted by decision paralysis due to the vast Kubernetes ecosystem and they struggle to implement best practices.

Phase 3: Deploy Kubernetes

When a team gets to phase three of maturity, deploy, they’ll have the basics covered. One app or service now runs in production; the team is comfortable with fundamentals and it’s now time to build on that solid foundation. In phase three, the team is almost over the steep learning curve as they put in place CI/CD pipelines, some monitoring and observability, policy and audit tooling.

Phase 4: Build Confidence in Kubernetes

Building confidence is the next step. Phase four is where teams start to understand the nuances of Kubernetes. Here, teams develop confidence in their Kubernetes clusters through experience, and with help from Kubernetes expert training, professional and managed services, audits and configuration validation. Teams have also implemented standards around Infrastructure as Code (IaC) and configuration, are starting to monitor and understand service challenges and can confidently select add-ons, but run into challenges on deploying and managing all of the tools.

Phase 5: Improve Operations

Reaching phase five, improve operations, is a significant achievement for Kubernetes maturity. This is where it’s time to focus on security, efficiency and reliability. It’s also where the team can start focusing on the business applications and on service instead of simply maintaining Kubernetes. But phase five is not the finish line.

Phase 6: Measure and Control

Phase six, measure and control, is where teams achieve a deeper understanding of workloads through sophisticated monitoring to drive policies. In this stage, teams assert stronger opinions and stricter controls around allowed behaviors, security, configuration and standards. They double down on infrastructure as code and CI/CD driven processes and explore network policy, workload identity and service mesh to lock down workload ability.

Phase 7: Optimize and Automate

The final phase of the Kubernetes Maturity Model, optimize and automate, is where teams employ more sophisticated tooling to remove human error, improve reliability and maximize efficiency. This is a huge milestone to reach.

Kubernetes is still new in the grand scheme of the IT industry, so while an organization might complete a certain phase, it may still need to backtrack and revisit previous phases as new technologies are introduced and developed. Finding experts to help on the journey to Kubernetes maturity, with a focus on ensuring consistency across clusters for security, reliability and efficiency, can make a huge difference in more quickly realizing technology and business objectives. This can be the difference between being first-to-market or playing catch-up with a service or app.

Bill Ledingham

Bill Ledingham is the CEO of Fairwinds, the Kubernetes enablement company.

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