Bryan Cantrill is a busy man these days. The CTO at cloud infrastructure provider Joyent is a member of the Technical Steering Committee of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, formed last summer to promote the development and adoption of container technologies.
He also spends a lot of time on the road evangelizing containers and the rise of the developer in the cloud-native world. I caught up with Bryan following the Container Summit at Interop in Las Vegas.
What is driving the growth of interest in containers and microservices, especially within the traditional enterprise?
We are in this stage where cloud computing is no longer about reducing cost but about enabling developer velocity. [Payroll processing company] ADP traditionally has been as conservative as you can imagine and has been around since the dawn of computing. Yet, they are now very aggressively trying to disrupt themselves before they get disrupted. They are thinking in really novel ways—thinking, How do we get to a software development culture?
It seems paradoxical that so much is in flux around containers, yet we are seeing lots of enterprises embracing it on their own and succeeding. How do you explain that?
There’s confusion but it’s not paralysis. What people are doing now is that even if the system is so big and vast, they want to try something and start making progress. This is different from previous technological revolutions where there was a holding back, letting other people get blood on the floor, not being an early adopter. No one is saying that now. They realize they have to change. They have to get to this model because they are seeing developers being able to develop new software quickly.
Give me an example of how the transformation is happening.
As recently as 2008 companies were still trying to outsource everything, especially software development. I was talking to a big hospitality company, which at one point outsourced everything. But they had a [terrible Website] and a simple change request would take weeks. And their outsourcers had outsourcers that would outsource to other outsourcers. They couldn’t get anything done. They couldn’t move. In the world of 2005, maybe this feels smart to the CFO who makes his quarter by cutting a big outsourcing deal. But when Airbnb … and your hotel competitors are [beating you soundly], it’s not okay to blame it on the outsourcing. So they started redoing the Website in-house and are now chewing through the enterprise, developing microservices and doing it 100 percent for agility. As people begin to change their disposition toward information technology, they are seeing it not as a cost to be cut, but as a mindset to how I can weaponize my information—how I can develop software to compete faster and better.
How is the cloud-native world going to change IT itself?
You can’t think of yourself as a “systems administrator” any more. The whole idea is that you don’t administer systems. You are not a bureaucrat for the systems. You are an operator, yes, but you are also part of the software creation process. It means taking you out of your comfort zone. If people are allowed to resist change they will, but the change is happening and it’s really not optional. If you don’t inflict this change on your way of doing business, somebody will do it to you.
How has Joyent adapted to the cloud-native world?
Joyent CTO Says Enterprises Supporting Cloud Apps to Avoid Disruption
We have been doing container-native infrastructure for a very long time. But it was on an island that we inherited from the Solaris legacy. The world was running Linux binaries and with the explosion of Docker we realized we needed to combine the best of both worlds. And we did that by adding a Linux substrate to the top of SmartOS that allows you to run Docker containers on top of SmartOS.
Are your customers changing along with that?
We have lot of retail customers. Most retailers will not deploy on [Amazon Web Services] as a point of principle, so retail is a big area. But we have had many transformations the last year and a half, relying less on startups [as customers]. One of the challenges of the cloud is that most of the customers we had four years ago are now out of business. We have more established customers now because those enterprises are no longer viewing the cloud as something for startups. They are no longer viewing the cloud as “public.” Our belief is that you should be able to run on-premises and still have cloud infrastructure. You shouldn’t have to choose between the public cloud and blades and SANs.
How are feeling about the progress of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation?
It’s getting there. We have done a bold thing. We have all the significant voices in the room and on the technical oversight committee, people who are rivals. Everyone is trying to be polite. We have generated the UN Security Council of containers: We have Docker, Mesosphere, Kubernetes, Cisco and Joyent and others, and so if we have things that all of these folks agree on, then it’s probably “the truth.” If we keep the group focused on areas of consensus, we can make forward progress.
What is the end game of the CNCF?
To improve the industry, to reduce the level of confusion, to provide a home for projects that are cloud-native. I have been likening this to the IETF, and what the Internet Engineering Task Force did for the Internet, we want to serve that role for cloud-native computing. It was slow to get started and some folks mistake deliberation for stagnation. We have to know where we are going and why first. But the upshot is we have the right voices in the room, we have a budding foundation of true consensus and we can really start moving forward.
What is going to be the next piece added after Kubernetes?
The next project for incubation is likely a project called Prometheus. It’s a monitoring framework started by SoundCloud by some ex-Google engineers. It has a broad base of support. They are looking for a foundation to support it and it’s a great fit. So Prometheus will be the next one, I think.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.