F5, NGINX, and our Commitment to the Kubernetes Community



Published November 19, 2019

Most of F5’s customers run a spectrum of technologies that have been developed over the last 30 years. They are working with legacy or classic environments and their associated processes, bringing in new technologies as they come along, and everything in between.

Even digital-native companies aren’t immune to mixed environments. No matter how cutting-edge a company is, it must remain open to working with a blend of technologies, because business relationships and economies are really ecosystems. Because of this, nearly every successful company lives in the “messy middle” of the technology bell curve. And that is where F5 is looking to solve challenges for our customers.

Our approach to Kubernetes is well-cemented in the middle of that bell curve. It’s undeniable that Kubernetes is an extremely successful open source project, community, and ecosystem. It’s become the de facto standard for container-based application development and operations. The question for us is how we can help enable that next order-of-magnitude step for Kubernetes. What is required to carry forward the spirit of the project, community, and ecosystem and marry that with the needs of our customer base and our expertise in application services?

First off, we can take a lot of lessons from open source projects that were not as successful. Some were too rigid, driving for 100 percent consensus in the community—an impossible standard in a world with organizations facing such disparate challenges and holding equally disparate opinions on how to address them.

Another pitfall has been leaning too much on the biggest commercial partners involved, where the direction of a few large technology vendors is pushed down to the community at large, drowning out minority voices and innovation.

On the other hand, if you look at the most successful open source projects, they’ve been able to strike a balance between the open source, community-based principles that must be adhered to and the commercial models that customers need.   

We believe that there doesn’t need to be a conflict between community and commercial solutions. A balance can be achieved, but it requires a commitment to work together and constantly refine that balance as new challenges and innovations arrive.

Thus far, Kubernetes has done a very good job of balancing the need for vendors to extend and experiment while maintaining strong open source and community standards. Having that flexibility is important, not just for commercial interests but also because it diversifies the opportunities for innovation. Rather than mandating an onerous governance process, the community is encouraged to go tinker. The real measures of whether something is great or not are simple: adoption and production deployments.

At F5, we’re also finding that balance—we’re a part of the open source ecosystem, and we are a commercial company. We have a commercial motive, but we believe that it’s essential to deliver production-ready solutions that leverage a diverse set of technologies and give customers the ability to leverage Kubernetes across all kinds of those “messy middle” environments.

For us, participating in this community is not just saying we integrate with Kubernetes… 

  • It’s contributing to core projects like we’ve done with our NGINX and Aspen Mesh solutions. 
  • It’s learning from and adopting community norms and guidelines.
  • It’s encouraging community collaboration at conferences and meetups (and a good number of stickers, beanies, and socks!).
  • It’s open sourcing our BIG-IP Container Ingress Services solution, accepting pull requests from the community, and then fully supporting those solutions without any additional cost to our customers.

We’re in this for the long run. Helping drive that next order-of-magnitude growth of Kubernetes by contributing and supporting our customers, from open source to commercial solutions and everything in between.

To that end, we’re bringing together our market-leading container ingress solutions—NGINX Kubernetes Ingress Controller and F5 Container Ingress Services—into a single user experience. This is the right thing to do for our users and the community. Our goal is to provide a fully supported, production-ready, end-to-end ingress solution that spans everything from NGINX open source solutions all the way to our commercial offerings.

You can read more about our container solutions here. And let us know: What do you want to see from F5 as we go forward? What challenges can we help you solve? How can we support you and the community better? We’re listening and we need you.