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Kubernetes tools vendors vie for developer mindshare

Developers in the cloud-native industry running Kubernetes environments say they need more and better Kubernetes tools to get around some of the complexity of the platform.

SAN DIEGO -- The notion that Kubernetes solves many problems as a container orchestration technology belies the complexity it adds in other areas, namely for developers who need Kubernetes tools.

Developers at the KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2019 event here this week noted that although native tooling for development on Kubernetes continues to improve, there's still room for more.

"I think the tooling thus far is impressive, but there is a long way to go," said a software engineer and Kubernetes committer who works for a major electronics manufacturer and requested anonymity.

Moreover, "Kubernetes is extremely elegant, but there are multiple concepts for developers to consider," he said. "For instance, I think the burden of the onboarding process for new developers and even users sometimes can be too high. I think we need to build more tooling, as we flush out the different use cases that communities bring out."

Developer-oriented approach

Enter Red Hat, which introduced an update of its Kubernetes-native CodeReady Workspaces tool at event.

Red Hat CodeReady Workspaces 2 enables developers to build applications and services on their laptops that mirror the environment they will run in production. And onboarding is but one of the target use cases for the technology, said Brad Micklea, vice president of developer tools, developer programs and advocacy at Red Hat.

The technology is especially useful in situations where security is an issue, such as bringing in new contracting teams or using offshore development teams where developers need to get up and running with the right tools quickly.

I think the tooling thus far is impressive, but there is a long way to go.
Anonymous Kubernetes committer

CodeReady Workspaces runs on the Red Hat OpenShift Kubernetes platform.

Initially, new enterprise-focused developer technologies are generally used in experimental, proof-of-concept projects, said Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT in Hayward, Calif. Yet over time those that succeed, like Kubernetes, evolve from the proof-of-concept phase to being deployed in production environments.

"With CodeReady Workspaces 2, Red Hat has created a tool that mirrors production environments, thus enabling developers to create and build applications and services more effectively," King said. "Overall, Red Hat's CodeReady Workspaces 2 should make life easier for developers."

In addition to popular features from the first version, such as an in-browser IDE, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol support, Active Directory and OpenAuth support as well as one-click developer workspaces, CodeReady Workspaces 2 adds support for Visual Studio Code extensions, a new user interface, air-gapped installs and a shareable workspace configuration known as Devfile.

"Workspaces is just generally kind of a way to package up a developer's working workspace," Red Hat's Micklea said.

Overall, the Kubernetes community is primarily "ops-focused," he said. However, tools like CodeReady Workspaces help to empower both developers and operations.

For instance, at KubeCon, Amr Abdelhalem, head of the cloud platform at Fidelity Investments, said the way he gets teams initiated with Kubernetes is to have them deliver on small projects and move on from there. CodeReady Workspaces is ideal for situations like that because it simplifies developer adoption of Kubernetes, Micklea said.

Such a tool could be important for enterprises that are banking on Kubernetes to move them into a DevOps model to achieve business transformation, said Charlotte Dunlap, an analyst with GlobalData.

"Vendors like Red Hat are enhancing Kubernetes tools and CLI [Command Line Interface] UIs to bring developers with more access and visibility into the ALM [Application Lifecycle Management] of their applications," Dunlap said. "Red Hat CodeReady Workspaces is ultimately about providing enterprises with unified management across endpoints and environments."

Competition for Kubernetes developer mindshare

Other companies that focus on the application development platform, such as IBM and Pivotal, have also joined the Kubernetes developer enablement game.

Earlier this week, IBM introduced a set of new open-source tools to help ease developers' Kubernetes woes. Meanwhile, at KubeCon this week, Pivotal made its Pivotal Application Service (PAS) on Kubernetes generally available and also delivered a new release of the alpha version of its Pivotal Build Service. The PAS on Kubernetes tool enables developers to focus on coding while the platform automatically handles software deployment, networking, monitoring, and logging.

The Pivotal Build Service enables developers to build containers from source code for Kubernetes, said James Watters, senior vice president of strategy at Pivotal. The service automates container creation, management and governance at enterprise scale, he said.

The build service brings technologies such as Pivotal's kpack and Cloud Native Buildpacks to the enterprise. Cloud Native Buildpacks address dependencies in the middleware layer, such as language-specific frameworks. Kpack is a set of resource controllers for Kubernetes. The Build Service defines the container image, its contents and where it should be kept, Watters said.

Indeed, Watters said he believes it just might be game over in the Kubernetes tools space because Pivotal owns the Spring Framework and Spring Boot, which appeal to a wide swath of Java developers, which is "one of the most popular ways enterprises build applications today," he said.

"There is something to be said for the appeal of Java in that my team would not need to make wholesale changes to our build processes," said a Java software developer for a financial services institution who requested anonymity because he was not cleared to speak for the organization.

Yet, in today's polyglot programming world, programming language is less of an issue as teams have the capability to switch languages at will. For instance, Fidelity's Abdelhalem said his teams find it easier to move beyond a focus strictly on tools and more on overall technology and strategy to determine what fits in their environment.

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