How Kubernetes is steering ERP cloud deployments

A picture of legos built into a sphere.

Cloud computing has experienced a certain degree of turbulence throughout its history – and the pun is quite definitely intended. First we were told that public cloud was completely secure, then we had to go back to the drawing board and start laying down some realistically robust security layers. We were told that we only needed one cloud, before we all quickly realized that hybrid combinations were eminently more sensible. The major cloud hyperscalers also suggested that we might only ever need one cloud service provider (CSP), but the world swiftly understood that multi-cloud was not just an inevitability, it was often a more prudent way of spreading costs, risks and service diversity.

Perhaps the biggest initial delusion about early cloud was that it was capable of enabling composable connectible computing power – “like a kind of Lego block” system, said the marcoms people and the cloud evangelists. In truth, cloud always was composable, but the first Lego blocks were really quite large and blocky i.e. there was definitely not enough delicate componentry to build a Lego-based Millennium Falcon – that would have to wait.


The age of composability

For many people, the real age of cloud composability started just less than a decade ago with the birth of Kubernetes in 2014. Originally developed by Google and now residing under the auspices of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), Kubernetes is a cloud orchestration service designed to coalesce and manage the smaller discrete elements of software code that we now place in containers. As has been widely defined and described by the industry, containers are defined elements of code constructed with everything needed to run an application workload, system process or other smaller component part of a higher-level networked system of logic.

Hugely supported across the technology industry at large, Kubernetes (known as K8s for short) exists as a platform-level technology capable of managing Windows or Linux containers and components of microservice architectures across private, public and hybrid cloud environments.

Vishal SuseKubernetes can help ERP vendors architect a cloud-ready and native SaaS offering – Vishal Ghariwala, SUSE

In terms of usage – and with ERP functionality very much in mind in relation to the way our always-on systems of record and transaction now require far more neural-like capabilities to interconnect and operate – Kubernetes enables software engineers and cloud architects to automatically deploy, scale, maintain, schedule and operate application containers across networked clusters of cloud instances.

As SUSE senior director and CTO, APJ and Greater China Vishal Ghariwala puts it, “Kubernetes and associated cloud native technologies can help ERP vendors architect a cloud ready and cloud native SaaS offering.”

What next for ERP Kubernetes?

As we stand today at the post-pandemic pivot point, we should clearly be looking to engineer-in as much flexibility as possible into our IT systems to prepare for a still-uncertain future in many business sectors. In terms of how the power of Kubernetes underpins all enterprise IT stacks, that means flexibility and the power to scale both horizontally for new services and vertically for sheer size and scope. While analyst house Gartner has lofty expectations for containers and thinks that as many as a quarter of our apps will be constructed in this form within the next five years, many commentators say that current Kubernetes solutions are not engineered to support enterprise scale.

There’s little question, Kubernetes adoption is clearly growing. Research from UK-based cloud platform company Civo suggests that in 2022, 57 percent of cloud developers saw an increase in the number of Kubernetes clusters their organizations were running. “The technology is reaching its maturity stage and is no longer a tool used by a select few cloud developers. Soon Kubernetes will become a background tool – almost like a utility – rather like how Linux currently is i.e. a foundational technology that provides a basis to build a variety of applications and workloads off of.

“As such, it’s not hard to envisage it playing a role in all cloud-based aspects of ERP. The versatility of Kubernetes across infrastructure, as well as its ability to streamline disparate workflows, makes it a perfect asset to be incorporated into ERP.”

Overall then, we can say that Kubernetes, as it relates to container management, continues to be one of the biggest technology shifts in the last decade. This was evidenced by strong growth in the Kubernetes ecosystem and a plethora of new product offerings in recent months from Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google, SUSE and others. This is the opinion of Steve Schmidt in his capacity as general partner at Telstra Ventures, a specialist in providing venture capital investment in “lighthouse” technology companies that are commencing scale.

“Over the next 12+ months and across the full transept of ERP deployments, I predict that a vast number of software developers and operations staff will start using Kubernetes as a control plane to manage all types of infrastructure not just containers – be that public cloud, private cloud, multi-cloud or edge,” says Schmidt.

He suggests that this shift will enable all companies to achieve a level of automation, speed and scale that was previously limited to the playground of the cloud service provider hyperscalers themselves. This may be somewhat of a provocative statement but certainly, within the next 5-10 years, the industry might more widely agree that we will see that the real strength of Kubernetes lies in its power to manage all resources, not just containers. If true, this broadening can only benefit the ERP business as a whole.

“Companies such as Upbound have released the world’s first enterprise-grade distribution of the now popular CNCF project called Crossplane [which Upbound itself created]. By leveraging this capability, we’ll see more developers embrace a self-service model for software and infrastructure tooling provided by more operations teams that need to increase their level of IT automation, reliability and operating governance all while reducing their infrastructure costs,” says Schmidt. “In parallel, more of the world will embrace open source software and the level of collaboration, sharing and mutual leveraging will increase at an astounding pace as the cycle of innovation continues to quicken.”


Universal control plane takeoff

Steve SchmidtIt’s analogous to moving to the elegance of an electric vehicle with 20 moving parts – Steve Schmidt, Telstra Ventures

Companies talking to Telstra Ventures and using Kubernetes have increasingly voiced their desire for a universal control plane i.e. standardized application programming interface (API) for infrastructure services combined with a new level of automation for infrastructure lifecycle management.

“It’s somewhat analogous to moving from an internal combustion engine with a complex system of 2000 moving parts to the elegance of an electric vehicle with 20 moving parts,” suggests Schmidt, colorfully. “Elon Musk has shown the world how the pursuit of simplicity, while improving performance, yields to incredible leaps of innovation and customer value. In the case of Tesla, the benefits were compounding as he could take all the savings on production, materials and labor and re-focus them into other value-added services such as autonomous driving. The adopters of a universal control plane will see a similar playbook unfold.”

Schmidt and team say that with the advent of generative AI services such as GPT 3 or 4, we’re seeing that adding even limited intelligence to business processes can turbo-charge efficiencies. Once again, that’s clearly good news for ERP systems that operate with varying degrees of customer or user interaction that can now be automated out and away to the bots.


Careful with that throttle

“However, in many cases and in many ERP stack cases in particular, putting a turbo-charger into a complex legacy system can actually add more pain than value,” cautions Schmidt.

“In this case, organizations are better served by firstly building a new framework with better simplicity and elegance before adding more power. However, to achieve the right economics, you don’t want to re-tool every component of the framework yourself. It’s better to leverage an open ecosystem of partners and suppliers.

“In the case of IT infrastructure, the answer is an open source universal control plane based on Kubernetes. This’ll enable companies to re-tool across tens of thousands of resources with simplicity and better harness other technology shifts,” he concludes.

There’s a lot at stake here. We’re applying detailed granular computing power on a massively aggregated scale. This is not a needle in a haystack, this is a whole sewing kit of carefully built ornate needles being deployed across the entire farming estate.

The analogies are endless and we have already used several here; the point is that we are at something of a key inflection point with this technology as it has already entered mass adoption. Where we go next with Kubernetes across the ERP realm will be largely dictated by its orbit around all other enterprise IT systems, and this is a weather system worth navigating.