Cloud Native / Kubernetes / Open Source / Contributed

SUSE’s Rancher Labs Acquisition: Is Consolidation Killing the Cloud Native Promise?

15 Jul 2020 11:25am, by

SUSE’s pending $600 million acquisition of Rancher Labs was big news. It is also yet another enterprise software vendor acquiring an independent Kubernetes provider. These frequent acquisitions are a clear indication that this industry is very much alive, Kubernetes is a technology even the big players are betting on and we can expect a dynamic market in the years to come.

But what does this mean for the users? After all, one of the key value propositions of cloud native technologies is its modularity, interoperability, and overall flexibility.

Paradigm Shift: Long (Short?) Live Modular, Flexible Architectures

Catherine Paganini
Catherine Paganini leads Marketing at Kublr. From the strategic to the tactical, Catherine helps Kublr evangelize the limitless power of cloud native technologies, shape the brand, and keep pace with the growth. Before joining the tech startup, Catherine marketed B2B services at Booz Allen Hamilton and The Washington Post.

Across enterprise technology, we’ve witnessed a paradigm shift from:

  1. All-in-one enterprise solutions that lock companies in (typically provided by companies like IBM, Microsoft, or Oracle) to
  2. Modular, flexible IT systems, composed of multiple interoperable cloud native modules or platforms that bundle them together, ideally in a technology-agnostic way (such as Rancher or Kublr).

While the cloud native option increases implementation complexity, it also offers unprecedented flexibility. You may get the same or similar flexibility with independent vendors if (that’s a big if) they deliver on the cloud native promise. Flexibility is key, because it literally is the only business requirement you’ll need tomorrow and every day thereafter. All other requirements are difficult to foresee — the landscape is changing too quickly.

These consolidations mean that platforms that have embraced a more agnostic approach are being merged into more traditional business models, negating the very benefit of cloud native. Although they generally promise not to do so, history tells us, they ultimately do. Why else would they purchase those startups for so much money. Their investors expect an ROI, and that generally means leveraging it to sell more of their own products.

While SUSE aims at being a true open source company, it is under pressure to grow quickly, after all it’s been almost two years since it was acquired by EQT, who must be expecting ROI in the next few years.

As to how this can play out, Rancher users may be tied to a certain OS, as Red Hat does. After all, SUSE’s CaaS and App platforms run only SUSE products. So will SUSE be able to keep their cloud native promise? We’ll have to wait and see.

Keeping Vendor Independence Despite the Consolidation

What are the options for enterprises who now face this possible reality, yet want to keep vendor independence?

First and foremost, make sure the Kubernetes distribution you select doesn’t lock you in. There are multiple distributions on the market, some of which will tie you to a tech stack or infrastructure that makes it really difficult to switch (do your research).

While there is no guarantee that a vendor won’t be acquired or even disappear from the market, make sure the platform itself doesn’t lock you in. If truly open, you’ll be able to migrate to a different platform should any of the two happen.

Four Key Kubernetes Distro Lock-in Warning Signs

Here are four warning signs to keep in mind when selecting a distro that doesn’t lock you in:

  1. Forked Kubernetes: in this case, the platform includes proprietary features that aren’t compatible with upstream Kubernetes or other vendors. If used, the apps are locked-in.
  2. Vendor provisioned Kubernetes cluster reliant on vendor platform: that’s when the Kubernetes clusters cannot “survive” and/or be used without vendor-specific additional components or active licenses.
  3. No portability in terms of target environment (e.g. only one cloud for managed Kubernetes from cloud providers) or target OS (e.g. only a special OS from the vendor is supported)
  4. Lack of cluster deployment uniformity throughout different environments: in this case, a vendor leverages managed clusters provisioned by other tools.

In summary, while you can’t control market dynamics, you can pursue a strategy that will allow you to remain flexible and pivot with your own market demands without being held hostage. Cloud native technologies offer a huge opportunity to finally move away from vendor lock-in. The gained flexibility is too critical to let it slip away. That’s why, at Kublr, we built a platform that is fully customizable, uses plain upstream vanilla Kubernetes components, and works with any Kubernetes-compatible toolkit. Whether you select Kublr or any other Kubernetes platform, make sure it won’t lock you in.

Feature image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay.

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