What’s behind Linux’s new Cloud Native Computing Foundation?

Google, IBM, Intel, Joyent Docker and others hop on board to create an infrastructure stack just for containers

Today a group of 19 companies, led primarily by Google, created a new open source foundation that aims to specify how clouds should be architected to serve modern applications.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation is housed in the Linux Foundation and includes big names such as Google, IBM, Intel, Box, Cisco, and VMware, along with a variety of smaller companies like Docker, Cycle Computing, Mesosphere and Weaveworks.

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+MORE AT NETWORK WORLD: Linux Foundation gathers heavy hitters for container orchestration body | Google releases v1 of cloud and container manager Kubernetes +

 One of the foundation’s headlining responsibilities is to set the direction for Google’s open source container management software named Kubernetes. But there’s a lot more to this announcement beyond that.

What’s actually happening?

This group of 19 companies hopes to create a reference infrastructure architecture for  applications hosted in the cloud.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) wants to put together a blueprint of what components are needed and how they should be assembled to support distributed, scale-out applications. The foundation also wants to allow vendors and users to plug in their own components to that architecture too.

It’s sort of like creating instructions to build a Lego set, but saying you can use whatever colored pieces you want to actually construct it.

The initial parts of the project include Google’s Kubernetes and Mesosphere’s data center operating system, named DCOS, both of which are open source projects.

Didn’t they just create a new open source container project?

To astute observers of the cloud and container market, the creation of the CNCF may sound like déjà vu. It was less than a month ago when Docker announced the Open Container Initiative. The focus of that project is deliberately narrow and focuses on standardizing what a container is (it’s runtime and format, in technical terms), says Bryan Cantrill, CTO of Joyent and a member of the CNCF’s technical committee.

The CNCF has a broader goal of defining what an entire infrastructure stack looks like that supports cloud-native applications and containers.

In the Lego example, the Open Container Initiative (OCI) is getting everyone to agree on what size the Lego blocks are, while the CNCF is creating the instructions of how to build the Lego set.

Why should I care?

Containers are all the rage nowadays, but as people have started to use containers they are realizing shortfalls in the technology. The CNCF is trying to fix that.

It’s one thing to create a container – but it’s a whole other thing to manage clusters of them. Stuart Miniman (@stu on Twitter) wrote about this in a post describing the components that are needed to run containers. It includes things like container networking, service discovery, scheduling and security. The CNCF is arguing that a whole infrastructure blueprint should be designed to support containers and cloud-native applications.

The CNCF is advancing the discussion to consider how containers should be managed, not just how they’re created. That’s a good thing for the industry, and for end users. Big enterprise buyers aren’t going to really use containers until there are are mature platforms for managing them.

Who’s in, who’s out

To really drive home what the CNCF is trying to do, it’s telling to examine which vendors are part of this collaborative effort and which are not. The OCI had 21 members. Today’s CNCF has 22 members.

The OCI included members like Amazon Web Services, EMC and Microsoft. But those three vendors are NOT in the CNCF. Why? Because the CNCF is attempting to create a reference architecture for running applications and containers, and Google’s Kubernetes will likely play a big role in that. AWS and Microsoft already have a reference architecture for running containers and they’re not looking to support competitor Google’s. Amazon CTO Werner Vogels came out this week with a detailed explanation of the Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS), which is AWS’s way of managing containers. Microsoft supports both Linux and Windows containers in its Azure cloud. But, AWS and Microsoft are on board with the OCI’s effort to standardize what a container is.

Most CNCF members are not tied to a specific infrastructure stack. Companies like Box, Cycle Computing and Twitter, want to advance the cause of cloud-native applications, but they don’t necessarily care where those applications run.

Meanwhile, there are a group of 10 vendors that are in both the OCI and CNCF. These include Cisco, Docker, Goldman Sachs, Intel, Red Hat and VMware. These companies are looking to strategically support both open source initiatives.

This story, "What’s behind Linux’s new Cloud Native Computing Foundation?" was originally published by Network World.

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