In April, Microsoft paid an undisclosed sum for Deis, a startup that builds software on top of Kubernetes — a key cloud computing technology, originated at Google, that’s very popular amongst Silicon Valley programmers.
The acquisition itself was noteworthy: Despite its recent steps toward opening up, Microsoft still has a reputation for not playing nicely with technology it didn’t build itself. And Deis literally billed itself as “The Kubernetes Company” in its marketing, firmly establishing itself as part of that Google-led open source software movement.
Plus, Deis had actually been bought in 2015 by Engine Yard, a well-known maker of software development tools, before getting sold to Microsoft, meaning that the startup has had two owners in as many years.
Now, a little more than a month later, former Deis CTO Gabe Monroy is leading Microsoft’s strategy around “software containers,” the bleeding-edge market that Kubernetes has largely conquered. Furthermore, Monroy and his ex-Deis engineering team are launching Draft on Wednesday, a new tool to help programmers use Kubernetes to build their software.
Monroy says that the release of Draft, which has been planned before the acquisition, actually allays some of the fears he and his team had coming into Microsoft: Promises had been made, but the team was “naturally sceptical.”
“There was this commitment that we were going to continue to succeed in open source,” says Monroy. And Microsoft apparently delivered.
The tale of containers and Kubernetes
At the most basic level, “containers” let a programmer break their software down into a whole mess of little packages, all of which are self-contained (get it?) with all of the files, utilities, and tools it needs to run. Developers love it, because it streamlines the process of taking software between computers, servers, and data centres.
The market was all but created by Docker, a $US1 billion startup that’s sparked a major movement: Companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all been tripping over themselves to provide first-class support for Docker containers in their cloud computing services, in a bid to win over developers.
The problem is that, even once your software is packaged into neat little containers, you then need the tools to shift them around between computers, servers, and data centres. Which is where Kubernetes, based on code that Google has been using to manage its own containers, comes into the picture. It’s created a thriving ecosystem of companies like Deis, working with and alongside Kubernetes as a platform.
This leaves Microsoft in the position of needing to support Docker, Kubernetes, and other outside container tech like Mesosphere, which Microsoft actually once tried to buy, in order to attract developers. If Microsoft can’t offer Kubernetes support, then Kubernetes-loving developers will simply to go Amazon, Google, or elsewhere.
Monroy says that the Kubernetes community has actually been wide open to Microsoft’s overtures to the Kubernetes and container worlds. Microsoft has its reputation, sure, but most developers in the real world already rely on Microsoft products to some degree, and it’s heartening to see the company support their preferred technologies.
“People really want [Microsoft] to do well,” says Monroy.
The idea behind Deis’ tech is that it lets you write software, and have it automatically “containerized” as you go. You don’t need any expertise in Docker or Kubernetes to get started. The new “Draft” tool makes it even easier, taking your code and letting you transfer it from wherever it is onto an existing Kubernetes system.
This ties into his larger vision for Microsoft and containers, says Monroy. In a bigger-picture way, putting aside the code, Monroy says that there are complexities and confusion with containers that his team at Microsoft is well-suited to solve — while still supporting that wide array of preferred developer tools.
If you mention Kubernetes to a developer, he says, they’re into the idea. But once they actually sit down to work with the code, they “get this deer in the headlights look,” says Monroy. Tools like Draft can make it easier to get started. And once it’s easier to get started, containers can really take off.
That’s the future that Monroy wants to shape, making containers a core building block of new-age app development.
“I write code and all of that too, but I’m really passionate about seeing this stuff get adopted,” says Monroy.
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