TL; DR: The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) serves as a vendor-neutral home for open-source projects, including Kubernetes, Prometheus, and Envoy. The organization fosters increased collaboration between developers, vendors, and end users with a focus on education, certification, and software conformance. Through a community-centered approach that includes worldwide networking opportunities and outreach, CNCF empowers businesses to build and deploy agile apps in public, private, and hybrid clouds.
The Great Recession of 2008 devastated global markets, sent foreclosure rates soaring, and robbed millions of their financial well-being. But even the darkest clouds have a silver lining, which, in this case, came in the form of increased acceptance of open-source software.
As the financial storm gave way to a sunnier horizon, businesses that adopted open-source software as a cost-cutting measure had become increasingly aware of the technology’s additional advantages, ranging from scalability to community support. Post-recession, these companies had no intention of returning to proprietary solutions.
And today, even major tech companies are hopping aboard the open-source bandwagon. In 2014, for example, Google released the code for Kubernetes, a platform for managing containerized workloads, in an effort to combine the company’s vast experience with best practices from the open-source community.
To ensure success, the company took things a step further. “Google realized that open governance would make Kubernetes truly independent, and thus able to properly flourish and grow,” said Chris Aniszczyk, CTO/COO at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). “So they built a neutral foundation from scratch to bring cloud-native computing to the masses.”
Thus, CNCF was born. Founded in 2015 with only 20 members, CNCF quickly grew into a unique consortium for open-source, cloud-native projects around the world, including Kubernetes. Today, the organization empowers more than 375 members to build and run a scalable ecosystem of applications in multicloud environments using containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative APIs. Through a community-driven approach, CNCF allows developers, vendors, and end users to collaborate in a setting focused on education, certification, and software conformance.
A Gathering of Open-Source Projects, Including Kubernetes
CNCF’s members include leading public cloud and enterprise software organizations, such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, and Alibaba, and more than 100 startups. Membership is divided into platinum, gold, and silver member companies, as well as end-user supporters and academic and nonprofit members.
“It’s become a really unique community in that we are the only open-source organization out there that has literally all the cloud providers sitting at the same table,” Chris said. “These folks collaborate on building technology that not only natively runs in the cloud, but on any cloud, public or private.”
CNCF, a subdivision of The Linux Foundation, is governed by a board of directors that is wholly independent of the technical side of the organization. “There’s a nice separation of concerns — essentially, there’s no way to buy your project a seat into CNCF,” Chris said.
Participation is on a rapid incline, with 195 new members joining in 2018 at a growth rate of 130%. Following the U.S. and Germany, China is the third-largest contributor to CNCF, representing 10% of the total membership.
Benefits include membership events, training, marketing activities, education, and certification opportunities, among other valuable resources. Because CNCF strives to enhance the welfare of the foundation as a whole rather than focus on individual projects, there is no fixed investment allocated to each project.
“Any CNCF project is entitled to request funding for training, conferences, etc.,” Chris said. “For example, we help to coordinate PromCon for the Prometheus Community and KubeCon for Kubernetes.”
Spurring Collaboration Between Top Developers, Vendors, and End Users
CNCF conferences and events provide valuable networking opportunities between developers, cloud providers, and end users, fostering an ever-expanding community of professionals.
Since its inception in 2015, KubeCon + CloudNativeCon has grown from 500 attendees to more than 8,000 at last year’s KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Seattle event, making the event one of the largest open-source conferences ever. These days, Chris said it’s common for companies to leverage multiple clouds when undergoing digital transformations, making CNCF’s approach even more valuable.
“If you’re, say, State Street Corporation, Bloomberg, or Bank of America, and you need to send your engineers somewhere to learn about how to deploy modern applications on multiple clouds, we’re basically the only game in town,” Chris said. “Yes, you could go send them to AWS re:Invent or Microsoft Build, but why not just send them to the one event that covers all the clouds?”
And it’s not just early adopters using technologies like Kubernetes. Ironically, Chris said Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, is using the platform to manage containerized workloads in their digital infrastructure — which supports the company’s overall mission to transport real-life shipping containers across oceans via its fleet.
“The company that ships containers on boats all over the world is now running digital containers in production,” Chris said. “We’ve seen this all over — later stage adopters digitally transforming their organizations — and CNCF projects and technology tend to be a huge part of that.”
CNCF is committed to protecting these companies from digital threats with robust independent security audits on most projects. “We’re unique among open-source foundations in that we actually pay for these audits and publish them publicly,” Chris said.
Focused on Education, Certification, and Software Conformance
The foundation also provides self-paced and instructor-led training opportunities covering CNCF technologies to help organizations either educate their current employees or hire from an experienced talent pool.
For example, CNCF partnered with edX to provide a free Kubernetes Massively Open Online Course (MOOC). The 14-week MOOC guides students through setting up and accessing a Kubernetes cluster, running applications on a deployed environment, accessing deployed applications, and engaging with the Kubernetes community. “Educating the world and the industry on Kubernetes has been an important role for the foundation,” Chris said.
The foundation also offers Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) and Kubernetes Certified Service Provider (KCSP) certifications to ensure attendees attain proficient levels of expertise in operating or developing Kubernetes clusters. In May 2018, CNCF also announced the availability of its Kubernetes Training Partner (KTP) program, which offers certain educational providers experience in cloud-native technology training.
“A lot of companies that want to become cloud-native have their seasoned engineers go through CKA or CKAP, or include certification as a hiring requirement or part of the hiring boot camp,” Chris said. “It’s been pretty amazing to see.”
In addition to educational and training opportunities, CNCF’s Certified Kubernetes Conformance Program enables software vendors and cloud computing providers to demonstrate that Kubernetes implementations are interoperable and conformant in terms of compatibility.
“We built this program to prevent forking through a basic set of rules to ensure workload portability,” Chris said. “It was a Herculean effort that resulted in one of the most unique certification programs out there — one that is truly owned and run by the community.”
A Community-Centered Approach: Worldwide Events and Outreach
Moving forward, Chris said CNCF plans to extend its global outreach. Last November, the foundation wrapped up KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Shanghai, its first conference in China.
The event, which intended to bridge the disconnect between open-source developers in China and the rest of the world, attracted a diverse set of attendees, 17% of whom came from outside of China. Chris said the foundation will build upon this success by hosting KubeCon + CloudNativeCon + Open Source Summit in Shanghai on June 24-26, 2019.
In a world where open-source software is now widely accepted — and appreciated — a global approach is increasingly necessary.
“We’ve been investing in translations and establishing a team out there to ensure that we don’t bifurcate the community,” he said. “I’m very proud of the work that we’re doing to ensure that CNCF is truly a global community.”