Today’s Microsoft is not the Microsoft of five years ago, and no difference between the two is more substantive than the embrace of open source technologies like Kubernetes by the current version of the company.
Since taking the helm in 2014, Satya Nadella has quickly transformed the company from PC-centric to cloud-centric and removed any corporate barriers to open source, embracing technologies like containers and supporting languages like Python. Building highly modular cloud-native applications requires some type of orchestration tool to manage the different instances at scale, and Kubernetes has emerged as the go-to tool for doing that: "automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications." Microsoft has recognized this trend and recently decided to deprecate its Azure Container Service in favor of the new Azure Kubernetes Service. AKS works in conjunction with Azure Container Instances, which provide on-demand container provisioning without the need for a host VM.
Walking the Open Source Walk
Microsoft joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, steward of Kubernetes, as a platinum member in the summer of 2017. It also hired Brandon Burns, who helped start the Kubernetes project as a Google employee. Today, Microsoft has a dozen or more active contributors to the project – something that would have been unthinkable for the Microsoft of old.
The launch of AKS and related services on the Azure platform has further increased Kubernetes’ viability and credibility. It will help facilitate the accelerated development and deployment of cloud-native and hybrid cloud applications for many current and new customers. And, Kubernetes being an open source project makes AKS a true vendor-neutral solution available on a Microsoft platform.
Advancing the Cloud-Native Strategy
It's no secret that Microsoft has been pushing its cloud-native strategy to the developer community for quite some time. Containers are at the core of this approach, and Kubernetes is the glue that holds everything together. Microsoft has made other strategic partnerships (with Docker for example) to cover the desktop and server space as well. Making it easier to develop and test applications locally will help accelerate this overall cloud-native strategy.
Draft is another open source project Microsoft started to simplify the process of building applications to run on top of Kubernetes. The initiative is another indicator of the company’s newfound openness and willingness to participate in the open source community. Of course, making it easier for developers to build solutions to run on AKS is a good move commercially as well.
Adapting to the Market
Microsoft has demonstrated willingness to redirect efforts based on market trends and user feedback. Kubernetes has captured a big part of the cloud orchestration market share, while Microsoft doesn't seem to be losing any mindshare. Its deprecation of ACS may require some effort to be expended by its early adopters but shouldn't be a big event in most cases. It has also given enough notice to allow plenty of time for any needed migration.
The long-term outlook for cloud orchestration continues to be Kubernetes, which should be at the top of the to-do list for any organization that’s not already investigating and investing in this technology. It makes sense from the developer perspective and from the DevOps side of the house. Docker is another must for developers and IT administrators alike.
Microsoft intends to be the go-to solution provider for building and deploying Kubernetes-based applications in the cloud. It also wants to make it dead simple for anyone to get started. Using the proverbial drug-pusher model, it offers trial Azure subscriptions so users can try out these technologies before sinking any real money.