The Software Abstraction Disconnect is Silly

Tom Petrocelli, Amalgam Insights Research Fellow
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been to two conferences that are run by an open source community. The first was the CloudFoundry Summit in Boston followed by KubeCon+CloudNativeCon Europe 2018 in Copenhagen. At both, I found passionate and vibrant communities of sysops, developers, and companies. For those unfamiliar with CloudFoundry and Kubernetes, they are open source technologies that abstract software infrastructure to make it easier for developers and sysops to deliver applications more quickly.

Both serve similar communities and have a generally similar goal. There is some overlap – CloudFoundry has its own container and container orchestration capability – but the two technologies are mostly complementary. It is possible, for example, to deploy CloudFoundry as a Kubernetes cluster and use CloudFoundry to deploy Kubernetes. I met with IT professionals that are doing one or both of these. The same is true for OpenStack and CloudFoundry (and Kubernetes for that matter). OpenStack is used to abstract the hardware infrastructure, in effect creating a cloud within a data center. It is a tool used by sysops to provision hardware as easily scalable resources, creating a private cloud. So, like CloudFoundry does for software, OpenStack helps to manage resources more easily so that a sysop doesn’t have to do everything by hand. CloudFoundry and OpenStack are clearly complementary. Sysops use OpenStack to create resources in the form of a private cloud; developers then use CloudFoundry to pull together private and public cloud resources into a platform they deploy applications to. Kubernetes can be found in any of those places.

Fake News, Fake Controversies

Why then, is there this constant tension between the communities and adopters of these technologies? It’s as if carpenters had hammer people and saw people who argued over which was better. According to my carpenter friends, they don’t. The foundations and vendors avoid this type of talk, but these kinds of discussions are happening at the practitioner and contributor level all the time. During KubeCon+CloudnativeCon Europe 2018, I saw a number of tweets that, in essence, said: “Why is Cloud Foundry Executive Director Abby Kearns speaking at KubeCon?” They questioned what one had to do with the other. Why not question what peanut butter and jelly have to do with each other?

Since each of these open source projects (and the products based on them) have a different place in a modern hybrid cloud infrastructure, how is it that very smart people are being so short-sighted? Clearly, there is a problem in these communities that limit their point of view. One theory lies in what it takes to proselytize these projects within an organization and wider community. To put it succinctly, to get corporate buy-in and widespread adoption, community members have to become strongly focused on their specific project. So focused, that some put on blinders and can no longer see the big picture. In fact, in order to sell the world on something that seems radical at first, you trade real vision for tunnel vision.

People become invested in what they do and that’s good for these type of community developed technologies. They require a commitment to a project that can’t be driven by any one company and may not pan out. It turns toxic when the separate communities become so ensconced in their own little corner of the tech world that they can’t see the big picture. The very nature of these projects defies an overriding authority that demands the everyone get along, so they don’t always.

It’s time to get some perspective, to see the big picture. We have an embarrassment of technology abstraction riches. It’s time to look up from individual projects and see the wider world. Your organizations will love you for it.

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