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Building the future at the Cloud Foundry Summit in historic Philadelphia

Cloud Foundry Summit North America 2019 was the first time the summit was held in Philadelphia, an overall great location with excellent venues and of course imbued with history. The theme for this summit was “building the future” which is appropriate and certainly representative of current state and mood, with so much change happening in the project and the industry in general.

Registration booth at Cloud Foundry Summit North America 2019 Registration booth at Cloud Foundry Summit North America 2019

I have been to all the Cloud Foundry Summits since 2011, and this one was my tenth, as I recall. Of all the previous summits I attended, I enjoyed this year’s summit the most, and I felt that I got the most out of attending.

Cloud Foundry Summit 2019 theme: Building the Future Cloud Foundry Summit 2019 theme

With so much change happening in the Cloud Foundry project and surrounding industries, you might be wondering why this was my most favorite summit. Read on for a first-hand recap of the key activities, keynotes, and talks I attended or was a part of. All these factors shaped my opinion.

Pre-Conference: The “Unconference” and Day 0

As usual, things started the day before the first official day, beginning with an unconference on Monday, April 1, and with Day 0 on Tuesday, which included many plannned activites. The pre-conference is usually a great opportunity to take part in less busy functions, with more time for socializing and preparing talks and other conference planned events.

The Unconference

Engineer Better's Dan Jones, the emcee of the Unconference EngineerBetter’s Dan Jones, the emcee of the Unconference

The day before any Cloud Foundry Summit is also a chance for arriving attendees (especially from different continents) to register early, accomodate to the new time zone, and mingle. Last year in Basel, the Unconference was one of the highlights for me. The organizers from Anynines (Sara Lenz) and EngineerBetter (Ivana Scott and Dan Jones) did a fabulous job curating a set of small interesting talks from new topics that might not have a chance to be featured in the conference program.

Unconference The Cloud Foundry Summit Unconference

The same organizers were back again this year, but the audience was lacking a bit. Regardless, with a great set of small talks – and a trivia challenge that went on hours after the scheduled program – the Unconference was a success (judging on the number of folks who stayed while I tried to find my way to try Philadephia’s famous cheesesteak sandwiches).


The hackathon has been a tradition at the Cloud Foundry Summit ever since the Cloud Foundry Foundation took over the project. I have been involved with all the recent hackathons, and I was involved again this year in Philadelphia.

Nima Kaviani of IBM opening the Hackathon Nima Kaviani of IBM, opening the Hackathon

After a little bit of delay gathering participants, Nima Kaviani, leader of the Blockhead project that won at the Boston Cloud Foundry Summit, gave an introduction. Then I presented what it takes to win hackathons and how to plan your time and efforts.

We started with more than 40 registrations, and at the end of the morning session, we had two teams that formed and were committed to participate through the event. While clearly hoping for more participations, we were happy that the dedicated teams would each win something for their efforts. After all, participating in the hackathon is a commitment, but one that pays off, as I discuss in a following section about the winning hackers introduced on the keynote stage.

Comcast hackathon team The Comcast hackathon team

Read on to find out who won the first prize and second prize ($800 and $200 contributions to the charities of their choosing).

Contributor Summit

For the first time this year, under the leadership of Swarna Podila at the Cloud Foundry Foundation, there was a Contributor Summit. The intent was to have some time during Day 0 where contributors to the Cloud Foundry project could come together and discuss various topics in an open format. The Contributor Summit was meant as a type of retrospective for contributors to discuss what is going well and what can be improved.

After introductions, the different Project Management Committee (PMC) leads for Runtime, BOSH, and Extensions got a chance to present an update on their specific PMCs. Because I split my time between the hackathon and the Contributor Summit, I only noticed the audience during my update for the Extensions PMC and the subsequent mini-unconference for the attendees.


One of the activities that I enjoy the most at Cloud Foundry Summits is attending keynote talks. Abby Kearns, Cloud Foundry Foundation Executive Director, has been kicking off the keynotes ever since she took the helm of the foundation. She did a good job recaping the year and giving an update on platform as a service (PaaS), and Cloud Foundry in particular.

Abby Kearns, Cloud Foundry Foundation Executive Director Abby Kearns, Cloud Foundry Foundation Executive Director

This year’s summit was in Philadephia, home base for Comcast, a Cloud Foundry user on a huge scale. A big highlight for me was seeing a large company like Comcast successfully embracing Cloud Foundry. I included some other highlights in the following sections.

Cloud Foundry Foundation, Cloud Foundry updates, and the hackathon winners

After Abby’s introduction and a summary of statistics from survey results that the foundation does every year – including sharing statistics about pull requests, commits, and active contributors – it was time to demonstrate new features added to Cloud Foundry.

Dieu Cao of Pivotal Dieu Cao of Pivotal, Cloud Foundry PMC Council Chair

Dieu Cao of Pivotal showed a live demo of the most recent Cloud Foundry features. New features include the ability to create and track revisions of deployed applications and the ability to split traffic between revisions, which controls the percentage of traffic that goes to one or the other. This long-sought-after feature was made easier with a recent integration with Istio.

Panels and customers

During every Cloud Foundry Summit, one of the highlights of the keynote sessions is to see panels and fireside chats with customers of the platform. This year was no different, and a local Philadephia company, Comcast, which has been using Cloud Foundry for a long time, took part in a fireside chat discussion. The discussion covered the value of the Cloud Foundry platform and how it has helped Comcast move workloads to the cloud.

Comcast employee attending the keynote Comcast employees attending the keynote

Other panels included the regular Techcrunch panel led by Frederic Lardinois. The panel discussed various topics including Kubernetes, the future of cloud, and the Cloud Foundry platform, with a wide range of Cloud Foundry users.

Frederic Lardinois of Techcrunch, leading a user panel Frederic Lardinois of Techcrunch, leading a user panel

The IBM keynote was with Jason McGee and Briana Frank from the IBM Hybrid Cloud division. Jason is a long-time technical leader for IBM, who previously lead the WebSphere division and now is an IBM Fellow and a VP. He showed the latest IBM Cloud Foundry Enterprise Edition offering, which now also offers a preview of the Cloud Foundry project Eirini. After a short demo, Briana and Jason discussed how IBM was able to use IBM Cloud and Cloud Foundry to pursue solutions for humaniterian good as part of the Call for Code initiative.

Jason McGee and Briana Frank from IBM Hybrid Cloud Jason McGee and Briana Frank from the IBM Hybrid Cloud division

A final customer keynote to highlight was from Eric Swanson’s keynote session. Eric is the Principal Architect at American Airlines (AA), a long time customer of the Cloud Foundry offering on IBM Cloud. Eric recapped AA’s long journey moving their critical applications to the cloud and how Cloud Foundry became a central part of that strategy.

Demos: Eirini and Cloud Native buildpacks

The other set of keynote talks are the ones organized by Chip Childers, CTO of the Cloud Foundry Foundation. These sessions usually include live demos of completed works and works in progress. This time three interesting demos caught my attention. First, Julian Friedman of IBM showed project Eirini and how that project is progressing. Essentially, Eirini allows Cloud Foundry to use the Kubernetes container scheduler instead of Diego. I include a longer discussion of this project in a following section.

Julian (Julz) Friedman of IBM discussing and demonstrating Eirini Julian (Julz) Friedman of IBM discussing and demonstrating Eirini

Second, Ben Hale of Pivotal took the opportunity to introduce and announce the general availability of the new Buildpacks.io project. This project is a reimagination of the Cloud Foundry buildpack into its own Cloud Native Computing Foundation project, in collaboration with Heroku and others in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. A following section describes the project in more detail.

Bill Chapman, VP of Engineering at Stark & Wayne Bill Chapman, VP of Engineering at Stark & Wayne

And finally, the demos included the winning team at last year’s hackathon from Stark & Wayne. The winners were not present, but in a Shakespearian manner, Bill Chapman, VP of engineering at Stark & Wayne, gave a glorious intro and discussed the Silk project, which enables easy mesh networking between Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes clusters.

Select talks

At this Cloud Foundry Summit, while attendance was a bit lower than the last summit in North America (in Boston), the number of submitted talks was about the same, showing great involvement from contributors. Some of the talks were very well attended. Overall, for me, it felt like an easier conference to attend if you wanted to roam around, pop in and out of talks, and have hallway conversations. I want to highlight the following three talks from the close to dozens of talks that caught my attention. A video playlist for all talks is now available on YouTube.

Eirini updates

Julian (Julz) Friedman of IBM and Mario Nitchev of SAP delivered a deep dive talk about Eirini. As mentioned before, Eirini is a project that replaces the Cloud Foundry scheduler with the scheduler in Kubernetes. It’s actually more than a replacement, because it aims to define an interface for schedulers for Cloud Foundry.

Julian (Julz) Friedman of IBM and Mario Nitchev of SAP Julian (Julz) Friedman of IBM and Mario Nitchev of SAP

Julz explained the common notion of moving up platform as lower layers (for example, the scheduler) become commodities. This pattern is of course common in IT, as we have seem in the past with operating systems and programming languages becoming commodities for applications that are written for those operating systems and languages. The Eirini project aims to do the same with container scheduling for one particular PaaS.

Mario Nitchev of SAP Mario Nitchev of SAP

After setting the context, it was time for Mario, to do a thorough demo of the Eirini features, essentially allowing the current Cloud Foundry application lifecycle to work on Eirini. With each command he demonstrated, Mario took time to give some details on how the mapping between Cloud Foundry concepts and Kubernetes primitives was realized (for example, scaling applications through Kubernetes ReplicaSets).

Cloud Native buildpacks

Buildpacks are an important part of the Cloud Foundry architecture. Invented by Heroku and integrated into Cloud Foundry, buildpacks, until this new version, received a lukewarm reception outside of Cloud Foundry and Heroku’s platform. On one hand, they facilitate developers’ deployment of their code to the cloud by automatically determining the runtime environment for their code. On the other hand, they can be error-prone and therefore need developers to provide assistance to the platform, for example by using a Dockerfile and built image instead.

However, buildpacks also provide a key feature needed for a PaaS platform: the lifecycle of the images that run deployments. It includes the operating system that these images run on with the runtime environment that is needed to run the applications and services. Plus, enterprises can use custom buildpacks to customize the application runtime for esoteric needs (for example, having a custom version of the Java virtual machine).

Ben Hale and Stephen Levine of Pivotal Ben Hale and Stephen Levine of Pivotal

Until last year and the creation of Buildpacks.io, most buildpacks were components in Cloud Foundry and Heroku, along with some provided by the community. Sometimes duplication existed. With the introduction of Buildpack.io, the Cloud Foundry community, led by Ben Hale and Stephen Levine of Pivotal, are working with Heroku and others in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation to completely reimagine the buildpack idea while being somewhat compatible. Using the OCI image standard, the Buildpacks.io aims to create a standard build process for all container-based PaaS. In doing so they are also addressing issues around security, flexibility, and performance that were lacking before.

The buildpacks technology is now an independent project under guidance from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and both Heruko and the Cloud Foundry community are working to redo various old buildpacks to match the old scheme and to add new features. In this talk, Ben and Stephen gave an overview of this effort along with a demo of the current released version.

Cloud Foundry vs Knative

Knative is a serverless platform built on and for Kubernetes. It is gathering lots of attention. While still in beta, Knative includes lots of PaaS features. Working with Pivotal, I created a Knative CLI client named Knctl, which exposes several Knative features and brings it closer to a Cloud Foundry experience. Dr. Nic and I decided to do a shootout match between Cloud Foundry and Knative.

Dr. Nic Williams my co-speaker for the Cloud Foundry vs Knative talk Dr. Nic Williams my co-speaker for the Cloud Foundry vs Knative talk

We used a simple methodology, drawing from a case-law-style presentation, and selected five common use cases to do our comparisons. We first defined a template for all use cases. Then for each use case, we showed how to implement it in both Cloud Foundry and Knative. Due to time contraints, we only demonstrated some of the use cases. However, after each use case, we made some observations and provided a score. We tallied the scores at the end to show a “winner.”

Packed room at the Cloud Foundry vs Knative talk Packed room at the Cloud Foundry vs Knative talk

The first result was a packed house, a standing-room-only presentation with lots of questions at the end. This experience reiterated our belief in the interest, even from the Cloud Foundry community, for a PaaS platform native to Kubernetes. Our scoring showed that Cloud Foundry is still ahead in services integration and in enterprise features.

However, it’s important to note that our scoring could be biased, because both Dr. Nic and I are longtime Cloud Foundry contributors. We did debate each score and tried the best we could to present a fair result. Regardless, I believe the key message is that in less than a year, Knative was able to provide a native PaaS for Kubernetes that includes many Cloud Foundry features.

Miscelaneous activites

In addition to talks and keynote sessions, many secondary activities go on during the main conference days. The following sections highlight some of the key areas where IBM contributed.

Community Advisory Board Call

It has become a tradition to hold the Community Advisory Board (CAB) call for the month of Cloud Foundry summit live at the summit. We had great attendance this time and also a special “CAB correspondent” live on the show floor: Nimesh Bahtia of IBM. He was able to get some live quotes from IBMers and Googlers at their respective booths, and even from passers by.

Dr. Nic Williams of Stark & Wayne during the live CAB call Dr. Nic Williams of Stark & Wayne during the live Community Advisory Board call

Additionally, we had a good update on Eirini from Julz. He discussed how ready Eirini is for production release, specifically with respect to how ready it is to integrate into cf-deployment. However, the real highlight for me was to see the many new faces from Comcast, Pivotal, and Stark & Wayne. Hopefully they will continue to join the monthly calls.

The Foundry

The Foundry is where sponsors showcase their products and services and give attendees a chance to meet engineers and representatives from the companies. The IBM booth was well situated on the right at the entrance. It had an open layout with ability for various discussions. The team also included great give-aways, as always.

Announcing the PS4 winner at the IBM booth Announcing the PS4 winner at the IBM booth

The Foundry was located a bit far from the talks areas. It seemed to have enough traffic, although it was not as busy as usual. However, every time I stopped by, I was able to meet and discuss ideas with various members of the community. So for me this was always a great stop, because that collaboration is the main purpose for me when attending any summit.


The Cloud Foundry platform is maturing and the conferences (Cloud Foundry Summits) are showing that fact with attendance numbers that are a bit lower than in previous years. From one perspective, it can be a bit worrisome, because organizers may need to perhaps consolidate to one conference a year or merge into a larger conference.

Views of The Foundry

From a different perspective, a focused conference on Cloud Foundry (such as this one) has many values that are great for customers, developers, and vendors. A smaller conference means an easier time to navigate, discuss, meet, and attend talks. It’s not clear what is the best approach. However, I believe something will likely be decided in a year if the trend is not reversed.

Eirini was a key star of the Philadelphia conference with lots of discussions and chatter. As a way to bridge the gap between Cloud Foundry and Kubernetes, it seems to fill a hole and address a concern in the community from the past two years. There was less focus on Kubernetes as a threat, but instead as a partner. Perhaps this is where Eirini shines.

IBM booth being photobombed by Wayne Seiguin of Stark & Wayne IBM booth being photobombed by Wayne Seiguin of Stark & Wayne

The other observations I want to highlight are various discussions in the hallways about how Knative could become an alternative modern PaaS platform that provides a lightweight alternative. For many use cases, Knative could be a simpler approach to having a PaaS on Kubernetes.

What’s next for Cloud Foundry and for the Cloud Foundry Summit? It is not 100 percent clear. However, I can make the simple true statement that the conference will survive as long as there are happy customers who are willing to use the platform and pay vendors who in turn continue to update it.

Benjamin Gandon of GStack.io and Chris Brinke of Evoila, winner of the hackathon Benjamin Gandon of GStack.io and Christian Brinker of Evoila, winner of the Hackathon

Integration, experimentation (as with the Hackathon), and extensions of the platform with Cloud Native Computing Foundation components are all positive steps that will keep the platform relevant and competitive. And it seems that we as a community we are exploring all possible outcomes. That’s a great thing if you ask me. These steps will ensure that Cloud Foundry and its community thrive.