Video Transcript


Heroku Joins CNCF as a Platinum Member

Heroku is joining the CNCF at the platinum level, upgrading the long-held CNCF Salesforce membership. This marks my third time serving on the CNCF board for different companies, and I’m excited to participate again. Joining the CNCF at the Platinum level signifies a major commitment, reflecting Heroku’s dedication to the evolving landscape.

My three board stints aligns with significant shifts in the cloud-native landscape. Two are behind us, one is happening now, and it’s the current one that motivated us to join now. Quick preview: It’s not the AI shift going on right now - the substrate underlying AI/ML shifted to Kubernetes a while ago.

As to why we are joining and why now, let’s take a look at the pivotal shifts that have led us to this point.

The First Shift: Kubernetes Launches - The Early Adopter Phase

It’s been a decade since Kubernetes was launched, and even longer since Salesforce acquired Heroku. Ten years ago, Heroku was primarily used by startups and smaller companies, and Kubernetes 1.0 had just launched (yes, I was on stage for that! Watch the video for a blast from the past). Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) had launched, but no other cloud services had yet offered a managed Kubernetes solution. I was the Cloud Native CTO at Samsung, and we made an early bet on Kubernetes as transformative to the way we deployed and managed applications both on cloud and on-premises. This was the early adopter phase.

Heroku was one of the early influences on Kubernetes, particularly in terms of developer experience, most notably with The Twelve-Factor App (12-Factor App), which influenced “cloud native” thinking. My presentations from the Kubernetes 1.0 era have Heroku mentions all over them, and it was no surprise to see Heroku highlighted in Eric Brewer’s great talk at the KuberTENes 10th anniversary event. Given Heroku’s legendary focus on user experience, one might wonder why the Kubernetes developer experience turned out the way it did. More on this later, but Kubernetes was built primarily to address the most critical yet painful and error-prone part of the software lifecycle, and the one most people were spending the majority of their time on — operations. In this regard, it is an incredible success. Kubernetes also represented the first broad-based shift to declarative intent as an operational practice, encapsulated by Alexis Richardson as “gitops.” Heroku has a similar legacy: “git push heroku master.” Heroku was doing gitops before it had a name.

The Second Shift: Kubernetes Goes Big

EKS launched six years ago and quickly became the largest Kubernetes managed service, with large companies across all industries adopting it. AWS was the last of the big three to launch a Kubernetes managed service, and this validated that Kubernetes had grown massively and most companies were adopting it as the standard. During this era, Kubernetes was deployed at scale as the primary production system for many companies or the primary production system for new software. Notably, Kubeflow was adopted broadly for ML use cases — Kubernetes was becoming the standard for AI/ML workloads. This continues to this day with generative AI.

During this time, Heroku also matured. Although the credit-card-based Heroku offering remained popular for new startups and citizen developers, the Heroku business shifted rapidly towards the enterprise offering, which is now the majority of the business. Although many think of Heroku as primarily a platform for startups, this hasn’t been the case for many years.

Salesforce was one of the companies that adopted Kubernetes at a huge scale with Hyperforce. The successes of this era (including Hyperforce) were characterized by highly skilled platform teams, often with contributors to Kubernetes or adjacent projects. This demonstrates the value of cloud-native approaches to a company — the significant cost of managing the complexity of Kubernetes and the adjacent systems (including OpenTelemetry, Prometheus, OCI, Docker, Argo, Helm… the CNCF landscape now has over 200 projects) is worth the investment.

However, the large investment in technical expertise is a barrier to even wider adoption beyond the smaller number of more sophisticated enterprises. To be clear, I’m not talking about using EKS, AKS, or GKE—that’s a given. These services are far more cost-effective at running Kubernetes safely and at scale than most enterprises could ever be, thanks to cost efficiencies at scale.

The Third Shift is Afoot: Kubernetes Goes Really Wide

Kubernetes is awesome but complex, and we are seeing the next wave of adopters start to adopt Kubernetes. This wave needs an approach to Kubernetes that provides the benefits without the huge investment. This is why we have shifted the Heroku strategy to be based on Kubernetes going forward. You can hear this announcement during my keynote at KubeCon Paris: Watch the keynote. We are committed to bringing our customers Kubernetes’ benefits on the inside, without the complexity, wrapped in Heroku’s signature simplicity.

Summary: How Should We All Think about Kubernetes?

We view Kubernetes, to quote Jim Zemlin, as the “Linux of the Cloud.” Linux is a single-machine operating system, whereas Kubernetes is the distributed operating system layered on top. Today, Kubernetes is more like the Linux kernel, rather than a full distribution. Various Linux vendors collaborate on a common kernel and differentiate in user space. We view Heroku’s product and contribution to Kubernetes as following that model. We will work with the community on the common unforked Kubernetes but will build great things on top, including Heroku as you know it today.


Final Thoughts

Heroku's commitment to joining the CNCF at the platinum level underscores our dedication to the evolving cloud-native landscape. There’s still more progress to be made for developers & operators alike. That’s why we’re invested in Cloud Native Buildpacks. It lets companies standardize how they build application container images. People can hit the ground running with our recently open sourced Heroku Cloud Native Buildpacks. As Kubernetes and the other constellation of projects around it continue to expand, we are excited to participate, ensuring our customers benefit from its capabilities while maintaining the simplicity and user experience that Heroku is known for.

Originally published: June 27, 2024

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