Open Innovation Stories: A family of IBMers is helping grow the Kubernetes community
Their work in Knative, OpenWhisk, Istio, and Kubernetes is shaping container development
Containerization is revolutionizing the way that developers write and deploy code. Containers speed up and simplify the process of writing and deploying code. At IBM, Ram, Belinda, and Sai Vennam — three members of the same family — have become evangelists for this new way of creating software.
For years, the accepted wisdom among computer scientists was that the code that ran some of the world’s most complex operations — whether financial transactions for a multinational bank or the supply chain of a major retailer — would itself have to be long and complex.
But software containerization has turned that assumption on its head. With containers, programmers can divide big, complex applications into manageable pieces. This means that many pieces can be rewritten in parallel and upgrades can be done much faster.
The catch is that someone has to orchestrate all of those containers. This is where a complementary technology, Kubernetes, helps keep everything on track. Interest in Kubernetes is growing because it solves a challenge that more and more companies now face — providing a standardized way to run applications at scale, while securely working across multiple clouds and on-premises environments.
Consider how something like a bike-sharing application must incorporate thousands of people using the same application simultaneously, pulling data from many different sources and clouds in order to work. Kubernetes is the platform that will allow that to happen in a smooth, secure manner.
For that reason, Kubernetes is an “awesome technology,” says Ram Vennam. However, to really understand Kubernetes (or k8s), you have to grasp the concept of container orchestration. “Unfortunately,” he admits, “it’s complicated.”
Therein lies the challenge for Ram, his wife Belinda, his brother Sai, and other Kubernetes advocates. As Kubernetes assumes a central role in hybrid cloud architecture, it’s crucial to help other developers get up to speed quickly. Fortunately, the Vennams are especially good at bringing Kubernetes to life.
Belinda and Ram created a Kubernetes explainer demo that uses small drones flying around a room — an idea first floated by IBM VP and CTO of Cloud Platform Jason McGee and the team. The drones provide a visual way to illustrate core Kubernetes concepts, including how to set up a pod, how to scale and schedule, and how Kubernetes provides automatic recovery from an app failure.
“Every drone is an instance of your application,” says Ram. “You see the drone come up, which would mean that you have an application come up.”
The Kubefly project involved a lot of late nights with drones buzzing through Belinda and Ram’s living room in Raleigh, North Carolina. “The drones we used were perfect for fun hack projects like this since they’re open source, programmable and come with extensible libraries,” says Belinda. However, it wasn’t always easy getting the drones to do what they wanted. “As you’re debugging, stuff happens,” she says. “We have little dings in some of our walls.”
IBM produced a large-scale version of the drone demo in an airplane hanger.
Part of a global community
Though Kubernetes has become a family affair for the Vennams, their concentrations differ. Belinda is a developer and advocate on the OpenWhisk and Knative open source projects, which bring serverless capabilities to Kubernetes. Ram is a product manager working with operators and security engineers on a project called Istio. Sai is a product manager for infrastructure as code. “Belinda’s at a different layer of the stack; Ram’s at a different layer of the stack,” explains Sai. “We all have our own kind of sweet spots.”
Sai has made a name for himself through Kubernetes tutorials on the IBM Cloud YouTube channel. One demo discussing the use of the platform with Docker has garnered over 165,000 views. “The fact that there’s not that much content out there to explain Kubernetes in an easy way might have been why the videos kind of took off,” says Sai, who is based in Austin, Texas.
The Vennams enjoy an element of competition in their advocacy. Whose video will get the most views? Whose presentation will attract more conference-goers? But in the end, they’re on the same team, and it’s not unusual to meet people who recognize their work. Says Sai, “You wouldn’t imagine that a community around something like Kubernetes would be so prevalent and global, but it really is.”