IBM Embraces Knative to Drive Serverless Standardization

SEATTLE—Serverless computing is one of the hottest trends in IT today, and it's one that IBM is embracing too.

Serverless computing, also often referred to as functions-as-a-service, enables organizations to execute functions without the need to first provision a long-running persistent server. At KubeCon + CloudNativeCon NA 2018 here this week, multiple vendors including Red Hat, Google, SAP and IBM announced that they are coming together to support the open-source Knative project.

In a video interview with eWEEK, Jason McGee, vice president and chief technology officer of IBM Cloud Platform, explains why Knative matters and how it fits into IBM's plans.

"I'm an old Java apps server guy, and I see a lot of parallels with what we're trying to do with cloud-native, where we're essentially building the app platform for the cloud era," McGee said. "I think we've made a lot of progress in the last two years with containers and Kubernetes, but what has been missing is the app stack and bringing functions and serverless into the community in a way that we all agree on."

There have been multiple efforts in recent years to enable serverless models, often using containers as the core element. Knative functionally runs on top of the Kubernetes container orchestration system, allowing operators to make use of existing Kubernetes skills and infrastructure.

"Projects like Knative are really important because it allows us to really complete the picture of a full application platform that everyone can build on for the next 20 years," he said.


Knative is not the first open-source functions-as-a-service effort that IBM has backed. Back in 2016, IBM announced the OpenWhisk effort, which is now run as an open-source project at the Apache Software Foundation.

"The role that Knative is playing is aligning the community around Kubernetes as the foundation," McGee said. "We can run OpenWhisk on Kubernetes, but Kubernetes itself needs to be extended to understand some of the concepts that exist in the functions landscape."

McGee said that Knative provides a model to extend Kubernetes with the things it needs to be able to support functions in a first-class way. He added that OpenWhisk can still participate and will adapt to benefit from Knative components.

Serverless Standards

While the Knative project will potentially provide a common foundation for serverless, other things are needed to help fully enable an open ecosystem for serverless.

"What developers want is a way to build functions-based systems that have the flexibility to move around. That's what they like about Kubernetes too—you can run Kubernetes anywhere," he said. "Knative is an important step in helping to get us there."

Watch the full video interview with Jason McGee above.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.