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Cloud-native community is what really makes it great

Katie Gamanji, Senior Kubernetes Field Engineer at Apple and former Ecosystem Advocate at the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), talked to Ambassador Labs about what it takes to succeed with real-world, cloud-native implementations, the importance of collaborative teams and education, and the critical nature of the community and how the strong foundations of open source enable it all.

Centralizing cloud-native development: Kubernetes in the real world

"With a very clear business goal and timeline in mind, centralizing a platform and its development, drives the need to adopt tools that have already proven to be somewhat standard within the industry, such as Kubernetes." -Katie Gamanji, Ecosystem Advocate, CNCF.

Success with cloud-native implementations, though built on inherently decentralized and distributed technologies, often relies on the ability to create a centralized platform from multiple pieces. In a sense, creating a “paved path” for the developers and engineering teams working on delivery and release. When Katie worked as a cloud platform engineer at Condé Nast in 2018, the goal was to create a centralized platform using cloud-native technologies and define how to build a unified, single solution that would deliver a cohesive customer experience. They had to bring together multiple (32+) content management systems, visual identity profiles, and hosting platforms across global Condé Nast markets and harmonize them in a single, centralized platform.

But the only way this could realistically be done was by working with the most battle-tested, cloud-native tech. Tool sprawl and ways of achieving different outcomes are many, but for a business-critical, production implementation of a fairly straightforward media platform, well-accepted standards were needed.

Beyond tools: The importance of collaborative teams.

"A certain amount of upskilling is required, and critically, developers and operations need to collaborate and communicate, and we needed to have procedures that were clear and that made sense." -Katie Gamanji, Ecosystem Advocate, CNCF.

When work on the Condé Nast platform began, Kubernetes was already well-known and "strongly and firmly asserted its ownership of the way we deploy containers". Being able to adopt relatively well-known tools and take a standard approach to everything from managing clusters and packaging applications removed a layer of complexity from development. But one of the critical success factors was less about tools and more about people.

The team working on the Condé Nast implementation was a brand-new team, which empowered them to forge their own culture and procedures. In the beginning there were 12 developers managing everything, all with the end goal of launching the new platform. Eventually it became clear that a successful migration would require a team focused on delivery, i.e., how exactly the application is delivered to the cluster. This led to the creation of two teams: the core platform team and the application delivery team, or “devops”. Collaboration was key, and developers continued to learn through close interaction with the devops team, which made sure developers knew how to, for example, create Docker containers, work with and interrupt CI/CD tooling when deploying applications or debugging, and so on.

A third team, site reliability engineering (SRE), was added to understand performance and insight, focusing largely on observability and helping to answer key questions, such as does the platform solve the problems it is meant to solve within the given budget, are the applications healthy, how long does it take to identify when something is going wrong?

Ultimately, getting to the point where SREs can focus on insight and observability rests on the healthy collaboration and communication between the different teams. Katie cited a talk she delivered about how to create a micro-open-source (innersource) community within an organization, and explained how this kind of movement and upskilling and education at the right time contribute to both the developer journey and the success of real-world projects.

The cloud-native community and open source: Connect and learn

While technology and tooling are important components of cloud native, the community truly drives cloud native, and some of the greatest understanding will come from connecting with others within.

"Anyone who's trying to understand what cloud native is and what to make out of it… you can get your answers in the community. Once you are in this space, I think it's very important to get to know your folks, the maintainers of the projects you're using, or even become one of the contributors. The community is there; try to reach out. Technology is great, but the community around cloud native, it's what really makes it great." -Katie Gamanji, Ecosystem Advocate, CNCF.

The concept of community, though clearly crucial to cloud native, underpins the entire open source movement, which has touched every industry. The transparency, openness, and availability of the open-source ecosystem gives rise to community in the sense that anyone can contribute and join. This foundation and its principles very easily transfer to cloud native, its mission and its support for the freedom to collaborate and build on top of what is already there.

Open-source contributors may work for different companies but independently contribute to the same open-source mission.

"An open source team is the dream team because it includes thousands of people from everywhere with different perspectives, ideas, prospects for the tools, [and] how they want to use them. This creates a momentum that cannot be replicated anywhere else. This is why the Kubernetes community, and the open source community overall, are so powerful." -Katie Gamanji, Ecosystem Advocate, CNCF

Conclusion: Connecting cloud-native theory with reality

Most experts and leaders in the cloud-native space acknowledge the community and education as clear pathways into bridging the gap between theory and concepts and real-world, cloud-native development. No matter how mature an organization becomes and as critical as education is, the community is at the heart of cloud native momentum.