StackPoint calls itself a universal control plane for managed Kubernetes. The company calls itself a product business, with a services arm attached to it. That is certainly an interesting distinction given the huge number of companies that are being founded to offer Kubernetes support. This week alone sees a handful of these companies either launching or having announcements – in a situation that feels eerily similar to OpenStack in the early days, we see a plethora of companies that some might suggest are “faux product entities” – that is, service companies dressed up in a bow to look like product companies.

The company has some news today, specifically that it is now offering managed Istio support from within its own platform. The idea being that DevOps teams can more readily wrangle all the tasks involved with their microservice-based applications. For its part, Istio addresses many of the challenges faced by developers as monolithic applications transition towards a distributed microservice architecture. The term “service mesh” is often used to describe the network of microservices that make up such applications and the interactions between them. As a service mesh grows in size and complexity, it can become harder to understand and manage. Which is where these control plane offerings come in – discovery, load balancing, failure recovery, metrics and monitoring, and often more complex operational requirements such as A/B testing, canary releases, rate limiting, access control and end-to-end authentication get managed by the platform.

Service or product?

As mentioned earlier, OpenStack initially saw a lot of service-based companies try and purport to be product companies. And the Venture Capitalists all took the bait, getting excited about ongoing SaaS revenue, awesome scalability and the opportunity to go big. unfortunately, there are not many good examples of organizations building pure product companies off the back of open source, and those companies who have been successful in open source (Red Hat, of course, being the best example) do so from a hybrid product and services angle.

So I put this to StackPoint’s CEO Matt Baldwin, asking for his views around the product/service mix. His response:

It’s important to stress that we’re a SaaS company with a services business attached to it, versus a pure-play services business. We don’t see pure-play services as a sustainable business model. This is why we focus on the product, but use services to signal what’s missing from our product stack. We believe that in the short-term, small and large enterprises will need to engage on a professional services level, as automation and tooling get built and knowledge is transferred. This is why we lead with product, but attach services to it.”

So, given that mix, how does StackPoint (and, for that matter, hybrid product/services companies generally) morph into more of a product focus? Baldwin’s take:

Our intention is to support and engage with customers on Istio and Kubernetes to get them up-and-running, while also learning what they need so that we can translate those needs into future products. Our long-term vision isn’t to sustain our company through services, but using services to inform us on product direction until one day ‘managed’ is all automation, tooling and intelligence.

On the perennial comparisons with OpenStack

Many people are suggesting (and you can read more about this from me later this week) that Kubernetes is following the OpenStack model. And while OpenStack as a product seems to be doing well, it’s fair to say that the ecosystem has seen some real pain as well-funded startups in the space have failed to achieve their expected potential and users have had the not insignificant task of managing all this complexity.

Indeed, Boris Renski – CMO of formerly pure play OpenStack, and now hybrid services company Mirantis – wrote a post last week about this very issue, questioning whether Kubernetes is repeating the mistakes of OpenStack. As he asked:

Operational challenges are exactly what stifled private cloud and dragged OpenStack down with it. So as we move from structured PaaS to composable CaaS are we not marching down the same exact path again?

In response, Mark Collier, COO of the OpenStack Foundation, had this to say:

We have every opportunity to replicate this success in the open infrastructure / open cloud area, but only if we work across communities and listen to the users. It’s clear from every user I talk to that they are in fact struggling with pulling all of the pieces together, particularly as it relates to operating the beast once assembled, but that’s what they want, we just aren’t there yet. Within OpenStack itself, we have started to cull options and projects to essentially make it more opinionated, which is helping.

For his part, Baldwin was emphatic, opining his view that:

the comparison between OpenStack and Kubernetes is fundamentally wrong. Simply, the target demographic is different and broader for k8s than OS.

MyPOV

StackPoint’s integration of Istio makes sense, and will help to wrap up a couple of related, but discrete problem areas. But the larger issue, that around the level of service that is required to implement Kubernetes (and, for that matter, OpenStack) remains. The jury is out on how many of these Kubernetes service companies will have a future going forward or whether these early, heady, frothy days will in time be seen as a replay of the OpenStack journey. Time will tell.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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