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Amazon Web Services joins the Cloud Native Computing Foundation – what does it mean?

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Today Amazon Web Services (AWS) joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) as a Platinum member, giving it a seat on the board, and an opportunity to blunt potential competitive threats. While other major cloud players are a long way behind AWS, the Anyone But Amazon Club has been establishing a solid technical center of gravity, notably around the Kubernetes container orchestration stack, which is hosted by the CNCF.

Kubernetes is interesting because while it is a project with a growing number of contributors it is still evolving very quickly. So far it has avoided the fate of OpenStack, which exploded, but then slowed down, held back by Big Vendor inertia and competitive dynamics. AWS is not container native – it was built before the container wave broke, on foundations of more traditional virtualisation technology. Amazon has significant engineering work to retool for containers. From that perspective joining the CNCF makes perfect sense. We’re not used to AWS playing catchup, but in containers at least it has some work to do.

Adrian Cockcroft, ‎VP Cloud Architecture Strategy announced AWS participation in this post.

In terms of CNCF technology that clearest initial commitment is not actually about Kubernetes but Container Networking Initiative (CNI)

“we expect CNI to be the basis for all container-based networking on AWS”

AWS will also continue to make contributions around Containerd, the open container runtime in the near term.

Saying AWS is not container native, and that Anyone but Amazon is a thing, is certainly not to say that customers aren’t deploying Kubernetes workloads to AWS Infrastructure. A recent CNCF survey reports that 63 percent of respondents host Kubernetes on Amazon EC2. The CNCF cites end users including NCSOFT, Ticketmaster, Vevo, and Zalando.

The real question is how and when Amazon chooses to offer Kubernetes as dialtone. Those details are no clearer from the announcement.

In my Anyone but Amazon Club post in 2016 I said:

“There is no doubt that Amazon EC2 Container Services is going to gain wide traction. Amazon can afford to be magnanimous about Docker’s rise in a way other vendors can’t. Docker is an implementation detail rather than a potential existential threat to AWS.”

To a large extent the same is true of the CNCF – AWS has seemingly nothing to lose by joining the CNCF if it drives workload, especially if it has a seat at the table.

One obvious question for the CNCF is how to avoid the fate of OpenStack with AWS on board. What began as a Google-led initiative, saw enthusiastic support from IBM, Red Hat and Microsoft Azure, and now AWS is on the board. Will competitive engineering dynamics begin to hobble the project. Certainly we’ll now see the mettle of the foundation and it’s ability to govern. It’s easy to be “the lightweight foundation” alternative when you have fewer technologies to manage and fewer competing interests.

Perhaps most interesting to me in the news was the way the story was told. The CNCF is the first big move by Cockcroft and his Open Source team. Cockcroft as usual told a story, and he pointed to some intriguing possibilities for a far more reaching engagement with open source than we have seen by AWS, that goes far beyond the announcement of supporting the CNCF. Cockcroft started with the Netflix story.

“Some of us had learned how to automate deployments at scale from time spent working at eBay, Yahoo, and Google. We also learned new ideas from Werner Vogels and the AWS team. The result was a new set of fundamental assumptions that we baked into our architecture. In 2010, we started talking publicly about our cloud migration, and in 2012 we got the bulk of the platform released as a set of open source projects, collectively known as NetflixOSS.

While we didn’t invent most of these patterns, the fact that we gathered them together into an architecture, implemented it at scale, talked about it in public, and shared the code was influential in helping define what are often referred to as cloud native architectures.”

Given community concerns that AWS doesn’t contribute to open source as much as competitors, but makes the lion’s share of money from services around commercial open source, joining the CNCF is a no brainer in terms of public relations But AWS could go much further than it has in educating the market as a whole about why and how it does what it does, packaging and sharing the patterns, codified as, well code.

“Cloud native architectures take full advantage of on-demand delivery, global deployment, elasticity, and higher-level services. They enable huge improvements in developer productivity, business agility, scalability, availability, utilization, and cost savings.”

When AWS hired Cockcroft it was an interesting move. What would he be doing exactly? If the answer is truly making AWS more like Netflix then that could herald a step change for the industry at large, in terms of understanding how to build and manage distributed systems at scale. Cockcroft is one of the best educators in the industry. Package and scale a more Netflix-like education approach as a vendor play. Open source is not just about code, it’s about education and pushing the state of the art forward. Game on.

[quick update: in talking about moving the state of the art forward, I am talking about digital transformation. As I wrote recently, Pivotal has created a unique market position with its approach to organisational transformation. There is an opportunity for others, perhaps including AWS, to start packaging best practices and making them more consumable by enterprises – AWS would be a notable beneficiary of such efforts]



full disclosure: all of the vendors mentioned in this post are clients, as is the Linux Foundation, parent organisation of the CNCF.


  1. > The real question is how and when Amazon chooses to offer Kubernetes as dialtone.
    > Those details are no clearer from the announcement.

    Agreed. But then, maybe as early as next week in NYC?

    See https://aws.amazon.com/summits/new-york/

  2. […] combat competitive threats, James Governor, founder of the developer-oriented analyst firm RedMonk, said in a blog post. “While other major cloud players are a long way behind AWS, the Anyone But Amazon Club has […]

  3. […] Amazon Web Services joins the Cloud Native Computing Foundation – what does it mean? […]

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