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Gartner analysts question Kubernetes portability credentials

Written by Wed 9 Sep 2020

Portability shouldn’t be the primary driver for adopting Kubernetes

Kubernetes has become the standard tool for running and developing container-based application applications in the cloud. But according to major advocates, like Red Hat, Kubernetes has a lot more to offer than bolstering application development.

With hybrid and multi-cloud key enterprise trends, Kubernetes is also increasingly being touted as a foundational tool for such strategies. Why? Partly because it allegedly enables portability, allowing organisations to easily move applications between environments and clouds, thus avoiding dreaded vendor lock-in.

On this basis, a large number of organisations are boarding the K8s train. But should “portability” be the primary driver for Kubernetes adoption? Gartner analysts Marco Meinardi, Richard Watson and Alan Waite think not.

“I often discuss with clients in infrastructure and operations on whether their organizations should adopt Kubernetes to make their applications portable. If you also have this question, the answer is: no,” wrote Meinardi, in a blog post summarising Watson and Waite’s document “Assessing Kubernetes for Hybrid and Multicloud Application Portability” (paywall).

Organisations should not make portability a primary driver for adopting Kubernetes, Meinardi explains, as the likelihood that an application, once deployed, will move to a new infrastructure provider is actually very low.

This is simply because databases and data lakes are expensive to move, weighing down applications. The truth is that most organisations don’t think moving this data is worth the hassle so end up sticking with the same provider.

Portability tax

The analysts also laid out some side effects of pursuing Kubernetes for portability’s sake, which they call the “portability tax”.

The first problem, they say, is that the abstraction layer of Kubernetes that removes vendor lock-in actually becomes a lock-in of sorts itself. Being a servant to abstraction is a problem as abstraction layers often mask or distort the underlying services they abstract, hamstringing functionality.

Another downside of decoupling applications from the infrastructure provider is missing out on that provider’s native cloud services. “Often, these services provide the capabilities that drove us to the cloud in the first place,” writes Meinardi. In other words, portability comes at the expense of performance.

Lastly, the analysts point out that organisations often need to tap a range of third-party tools to make applications Kubernetes-ready. Applications need to be re-architected as a result, creating a management overhead that must be weighed up against portability’s benefits.

If you’re adopting Kubernetes for agility, scalability and for modernising your application architectures, go for it, the analysts say. But don’t make portability your primary strategy, rather decide if portability is worth the ‘portability tax’ on an app-by-app basis. For some applications, the benefits outweigh the costs, but for many, you may as well keep things as they are.

“Make sure to pay it only for applications that truly need it and that are likely to switch infrastructure provider at some point. For all the others, don’t choose Kubernetes on the basis of a universal portability principle, just because it ‘sounds right'”

Written by Wed 9 Sep 2020


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