Corporate culture complicates Kubernetes and container collaboration

There’s a direct link between improving applications and improving customer experience, and the growing adoption of container technology is helping to deliver on both counts. However, as is the case with many things, the technology may work great, but overcoming a resistant corporate culture makes the job 10 times as hard as it could be.

That’s the word from a recent survey of 247 executives and professionals from larger organizations, released by VMware, which finds the majority of enterprises are now running Kubernetes to manage and align their container environments. Kubernetes, which was first hatched out of the Googleplex but now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, is an open-source container-orchestration system that helps automate application deployment, scaling, and management. 

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Containers improve the stack.

Photo: Joe McKendrick

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Kubernetes adoption is wide, but not yet deep, the survey shows. More than half of respondents (57%) are operating fewer than 10 Kubernetes clusters, and 60% are running less than half of their containerized workloads on Kubernetes. 

Interestingly, while Kubernetes is associated with cloud native operations, the majority of deployments are not in the public cloud. Most of the respondents, 64%, say they have deployed Kubernetes on-premises. Another 42% run Kubernetes within a single public cloud. “This result was surprising; we expected public cloud deployments to demonstrate a clear lead,” the survey report’s authors point out. “We interpret this to mean that enterprises most often get started with Kubernetes on existing infrastructure, likely taking advantage of established virtual environments.”

Respondents are bullish on the benefits Kubernetes is delivering — including improved resource utilization (56%) and shortened software development cycles (53%).  Another 50% report they are able to employ it to containerize their monolithic applications. Another 42% cite easier moves to the cloud, and 33% report reduced public cloud costs (33%). “One of the strengths of Kubernetes is that you can run clusters both on-premises and in the cloud, and move containerized workloads easily between them,” the survey’s authors point out. “Kubernetes running in the public cloud utilizes resources both efficiently and elastically, helping to control costs.”

When it comes to navigating corporate culture, things get a bit difficult for Kubernetes and container proponents. For example, 40% of survey respondents cited a lack of internal alignment as a problem when selecting a Kubernetes distribution.  Surprisingly, in some cases, business leaders want to get their hands in the process. Plus, there are many other hands involved in the decision — 83% say more than one team is involved in choosing a Kubernetes distribution. 

The primary decision-maker varies from organization to organization, depending in part on whether Kubernetes is running in development or production. Development teams are the primary decision makers 38% of the time when Kubernetes is deployed only for development, while infrastructure teams are the primary decision makers 23% of the time in production environments. It’s notable that C-level executives are involved 18% of the time. “This involvement is occurring because enterprises are choosing their next-generation platform, and that earns executive attention,” the survey’s authors relate.

The survey also finds a significant disconnect between the views of upper-level company executives and developers: 46% of executives think the biggest impediment to developers is integrating new technology into existing systems. Developers themselves, however, cite waiting for central IT to provide access to infrastructure as a top impediment (29%), while only six percent of executives recognize infrastructure access as an impediment.

“As the DevOps crew likes to say: ‘Containers won’t fix your broken culture,'” notes a survey author in a related post. “This proved out in our survey, with 40% of respondents saying that challenges around getting internal alignment slowed down their move to Kubernetes. In the meantime, 83% of respondents said multiple teams are involved in selecting a Kubernetes distribution. You know the story, lots of meetings that don’t seem to conclude with a decision.”

While one would assume Kubernetes would help bring operators and developers closer together, this has not been fully realized inside many companies, the survey’s authors conclude. “Companies adopting Kubernetes and other cloud native technologies might find it necessary to make adjustments to organizational structure and company culture to achieve the best results.”

(Disclosure: I have conducted research work over the past year for VMware, mentioned in this post, as part of my work as independent research consultant. I was not involved in this survey.)

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