Back in the day, when OpenStack was everything people wanted to hear, I explained its popularity with the analogy: “If AWS was an iPhone, OpenStack would be the Android.” While that comparison may have been a stretch for OpenStack, the analogy may still be relevant when it comes to Google’s plan to win in the cloud.
When Apple released iPhone in 2007, someone at Google must have said “Uh-oh… Samsung and Motorola know nothing about building software; unless we intervene, Apple will own mobile.”
In a way, Android was about Google lending its software prowess to mobile OS incumbents to preclude Apple from ultimately cornering mobile search market. And this following chart shows what happened when Google Android’ed the mobile OS market:
With its open source release of the Kubernetes container orchestration engine, now managed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Google once again showed its intention to use open source as a weapon, this time in its battle for cloud. But what is the plan of attack? A common opinion is that broad use of Kubernetes will drive up usage of Google Container Engine (GKE)… and that’s the end of the plan.
Granted this may be true, I can hardly see GKE popularity making a dent. Moreover, with Microsoft and AWS (and dozens of startups) all launching a hosted Kubernetes offering, the pitch of “my Kubernetes is better than your Kubernetes” becomes less convincing every day.
So I have a more exciting theory. I’d like to postulate that K8S was the first move in a longer chess game to Android AWS: one where the end goal is to destroy costs associated with moving workloads between clouds.
Why would Google care? According to Gartner, in 2016 Google controlled 2.3 percent of the IaaS market. If you own 2.3 percent of a commodity market, investing in destroying switching costs makes just as much (or more) sense as investing in out-innovating the market leader. Conversely, for AWS, with over 40 percent of the market it makes sense to optimize for lock-in and maximum switching costs.
In that vein, just like Android was not mainly about Google’s own mobile phone ambitions, Kubernetes is not about making GKE popular. Kubernetes is about seeding the industry with open source standards for application development and operations that aim to disintermediate workloads from a specific IaaS provider.
In other words, piece by piece, Google is taking charge of redefining the concept of the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) software stack, and Kubernetes is the first building block. And much like Android helped Nokia and Samsung compete with Apple, this GoogleStack PaaS is aimed at helping IBM, Cisco, VMWare and others build a multi-cloud PaaS that developers would actually like.
This year, Google announced its backing for several more open source initiatives: Istio and Envoy, Spinnaker and the Open Service Broker API. All to become pieces of Google Stack PaaS, solving for various aspects of cross-cloud workload portability.
If my line of thinking warrants consideration, Google’s motivation to invest in workload portability should be comparable to its motivation to invest in winning on AI and Big Data fronts. In the next few years Google’s fight for cloud could redefine how we build and run applications, rendering billions in infrastructure R&D dollars and VC investments obsolete. We saw a small preview of it already with EVERY PaaS software vendor throwing away their container orchestration investments to convert to Kubernetes.
But then I stop and read about Docker saying No to Google, or Benchmark backing Linkerd two weeks after Google backed Envoy, and I wonder if the above is just a crazy conspiracy theory, and Kubernetes is merely about growing GKE mindshare.
The New Stack is a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight Partners, an investor in the following companies mentioned in this article: Mirantis, Docker.