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Kubernetes at the Edge: Rancher is All In

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Edge is a critical piece of modern infrastructure. Whether it’s edge device or edge datacenter. With its lightweight Kubernetes distribution K3s, Rancher is well-positioned for Edge use-cases, irrespective of where there are deployed. In this episode of TFiR Insights, we sat down with Keith Basil, VP, Edge Solutions at Rancher Labs to learn more about the strategic value of Edge for Rancher. Rancher is also organizing a one day conference around Edge, you can register to participate in the event.

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Swapnil Bhartiya:
Hi, this is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya. And welcome to another episode of TFiR Insights. And today we have with us Keith Basil, VP of Edge Solutions at Rancher Labs. Keith, first of all, welcome to the show. It’s nice to have you here.
Keith Basil:
Hey, thanks for being here. I’m happy to have this time with you.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
If I’m not wrong. I think you are the first person I have talked from Rancher with Edge in their title. I mean, I have talked to people outside, they do have. So, I have talked to Shang and other people that Rancher. Edge is really one of the critical piece of the work that you are doing there. But I want to know from you, since it’s in your title as well. Talk a bit about the edge that Rancher Labs has when it comes to Edge.
Keith Basil:
You know, that’s a great question and I am very appreciative of the role that I have at Rancher. I have a really strong, personal interest in things that are related to the Edge. I’ve done some academic research around decentralized cloud and what it takes to do that. And what really excited me about Rancher was the adoption of K3s, the Lightweight Kubernetes distribution. That took a lot of… I am going to use Darren Shepherd’s words here, who’s the CTO of Rancher.
Keith Basil:
He says, “K3s removes a lot of the cognitive load of standing up Kubernetes.” Right. So, I very much appreciated that. So I’m a product manager by profession. And if, if a guy like me can install something like K3s and stand up a Kubernetes cluster on a pretty low footprint machine, pretty fast, that’s significant in this space. So I see K3s as a building block for many of the IT solutions that are to come in the future. It’s very exciting to be in this role to help steer that. I call it the eye of the storm, so to speak. And it’s a very exciting time.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
If you look at Edge, different people define it in their own way, the definition of Edge varies. How would you define that? Especially when you’re talking K3s so that we can actually build a context that what kind of use cases it makes sense for?
Keith Basil:
It’s a great question. So let, let me give you how I think about it. I’ll give you some insight there. Let’s go back to school. So in geometry, when you studied geometrical shapes, like the edge and rays and circles and things like that, the word edge almost denotes kind of a typology built into the definition, right? So the real question is, the edge of what, right? And so most people look at the edge as having the cloud or some centralized IT infrastructure as the center of the universe, and then looking out from that to the edge, to extend compute storage and all kinds of resources there. That’s more of a classical definition. And, and within that definition, you’ve got notions of a near Edge by closer to the cloud or closer to the infrastructure. And you’ve got, what’s called the far Edge.
Keith Basil:
So let’s take a high level of those. The near Edge, you’ll see used in the telco space where the telco players to their credit are trying to put compute resources close to their infrastructure, to the telcos, the central offices, the 5G networks, and such. And their intention there is to bring applications and services from partners to run on that mobile edge computing infrastructure. So it’s close to that infrastructure in terms of latency. So the best way to think about that logically is that’s on the provider side of the cable modem or your access device, right? So when we talk about far Edge, a clean way to think about it is, okay, what’s one of the other side of the cable modem. What’s that device? What does that look like? And so there’s this concept of near and far edge, the K3s product and project has been adopted by more of the far edge use cases. And so we can start there if we want to go further with Edge definition.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
No, it makes perfect sense because whatever Rancher is doing is based on where Rancher is seeing the adoption within the community, right? You are going where the users are going, to help them better run their workloads. So when we look at Edge or how K3s is serving it, where do you see is the growth coming from, or what is driving the adoption and growth of K3s and Edge?
Keith Basil:
Yeah. So there’s, so let’s take it in parts. So, the first part is that, Kubernetes and the container world, you know, Kubernetes as an orchestrator for containers is kind of the de facto standard, right. For managing a container-based application stacks. Right. And so what’s beautiful about Kubernetes is that we have one standardized API to manage not only the application, but also the infrastructure. So that’s kind of a context setting premise, if you will. And Kubernetes by nature can be complex again, going back to that cognitive overload, we’ve reduced that with K3s. Number one, so anybody can run, one simple command line script, and actually have a Kubernetes cluster up and running in about 45 seconds. That right there is probably the key thing to seeing the proliferation of Kubernetes in K3s, specifically at the Edge. The second piece of that is that it runs on low footprint hardware.
Keith Basil:
So, the resources required to run K3s are very light. So, it’s one binary that encapsulate- capsulates, all the services. You can run it on a 1 gig machine, 2 gig machine, Intel atom, et cetera. It also runs on ARM. So we are looking at 20,000 downloads per week of K3s. And so what you have is a lot of organizations and individuals, developers, et cetera, who are downloading this and trying it on, on their home hardware. So for example, I’ve got three machines here running K3s and I stood them up literally in about 10 minutes. So, and again, I’m not the most technical, I’m a product manager in a technical space, and I can do that. But again, it, the ease of use is really the key and the fact that it can run pretty much everywhere is the other key for the proliferation that we’re seeing.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
And let’s talk about all these amazing downloads. Can you talk about some of the used cases that you’re seeing of K3s?
Keith Basil:
Yeah. It’s, it’s diverse. It’s all over the board. So on the commercial side, we’re seeing K3s deployed in wind turbines. We’ve got people with support trucks, rolling with, small clusters of, of Kubernetes running on top of K3s. We have in the DOD space, there are some very exciting used cases. Imagine a small computer in a backpack, on a soldier, right, running K3s in vehicles. We even have used cases where there’s going to be K3s running on satellites in space. So, that gives you some idea of the breadth of applications there. But by and large, the most of the used cases we’re seeing are related to the title of your show. Related to evolution of the fourth industrial revolution, right. So we’re seeing factory adoption. We’re seeing restaurants take on K3s because again, the overhead to run it and manage it is pretty light compared to other distributions.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
Since we were talking about how the used cases of Edge, or K3s are amazing, the soldier and backpack or satellites. And since the TFiR is 10th for the fourth industrial revolution, we are always talking with emerging technologies. What kind of, kind, i -it’s hard to predict, but still, what is next for Edge? How do we expect kind of, Kubernetes to evolve for Edge or Edge itself to evolve, because as you said, it’s to define Edge itself is, is kind of challenging and complicated.
Keith Basil:
Yes. So let’s, let’s review what we have here. So we’ve got a lightweight version of Kubernetes running. We’ve got an easy deployment and kind of try out model. So, which is great. And so what Rancher has seen is that people doing serious proof of concepts with Kube based on K3s. And then our phone rings, you know, so to speak. And these are customers that have reached a certain level of maturity in their cluster. And then we entertain supporting that and this is basically our business model, right. But what is coming in the future is that there are many of these things. So on average, we’re seeing hundreds of Kubernetes clusters, these small micro clusters under management. So the next evolution for us is to figure out how we get command and control over a fleet of devices out there in the field. And there’s all, all sorts of commercial challenges that come with that statement. And we’re trying to solve for those today inside Rancher.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
Right. Also, Rancher is organizing an Edge conference next month. Talk a bit about the conference, how people can participate? What is the format of the conference? And who’s the right person to attend these conference?
Keith Basil:
We’re producing an Edge conference, and it’s really to capitalize on the popularity of K3s and everything that’s moving momentum wise in the Edge space. So, our mission is to bring together thought leaders, developers, CIO, CTOs, that have an interest in Edge. And so we’re going to be showcasing used cases, technical talks on implementation, lots of cool things there. And I think the date on that is October 21st. It’s a Wednesday, I believe. So, we’re very excited about that. We’ve got quite a number of people signed up already just to give you some background on the demographics. 43% of those are from the US. Sorry, the North American continent. So strong interest from APAC and EMEA as well. So, it’s international in nature, and we are very excited about this coming forward.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
Awesome. And as I asked who is the, who should be attending it?
Keith Basil:
Anybody that’s exploring an Edge strategy, anybody that’s been tasked with implementing Edge. It, the gamut is wide. So we have good cross section. We’ve got strong commercial use cases, similar to the ones that I’ve mentioned at the top of the hour. And the others are, we are showcasing some things in a DOD, which are phenomenal. So, if anybody wants to see just how far we’re actually pushing the Edge, no pun intended. This is the conference to attend. It’s a one day event. It’s virtual, it’s free to everybody. So come one, come all.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
Keith, if you look at the latest release, 2.5. There is a specific focus on Edge as well. So, can you talk about the Edge offerings in this release?
Keith Basil:
Yeah. So Rancher 2.5 is an evolution of our product. And one of the things that we wanted to address was these being able to manage clusters and application deployment on those clusters at scale. So, there is a feature called GitOps at scale, it’s based on an upstream project called Fleet. And it is our solution. It’s the framework really for providing the solution for management at scale.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
And if I’m not wrong, Fleet came out of Rancher, right? And then you open source it?
Keith Basil:
Yes, yes. Everything that Rancher does is open source. So, that’s a default. Yeah. And you should see that in 2.5. And we’re very excited about it because, going forward with some of the requirements that we’re seeing from customers with the Edge, we’re going to extend Fleet to meet those requirements. And it’s going to turn into something pretty impressive.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
Now, I have one more question is that, if you look at Rancher now release, and then we have K3s, both are kind of trying to serve that use case. So what does the, will there be some, and also sooner or later, Rancher will be part of SUSE as well. And they also have microwaves and they have their own things. So what I understand is, how will this project evolve to serve the Edge use case?
Keith Basil:
Yeah. So that’s a great question. And I’ll try to answer it as best I can. We’re still kind of under embargo in terms of what we can discuss related to the acquisition. But let me just give you a summary of three pillars that we’re focusing on. So number one, is this notion of a fully managed IT solution, right? And of course, everything that Rancher does today is open source and everything that SUSE does today is open source. So, this solution will be for a better, for lack of a better term an opinionated kind of stack that solves for many of the use cases that we are seeing from our customers.
Keith Basil:
So this notion of a fully automated stack is the first pillar. The second thing that we’re resolving is around the issues of security management. So, with my previous public sector background, we are using some of that experience and experience of some other folks inside Rancher, where we are, our goal is to manage the device onboarding from a security perspective, doing hardware roots of trust at the Edge, because what’s happening in the security space just to summarize this is that people are used to the classic definition of security with perimeters of security around something that’s traditionally in a data center, right?
Keith Basil:
So what’s happening at the Edge is that those resources are being pushed out to the Edge into very hostile environments. And so a new security approach is required to meet the security needs in that space. There’s new threat vectors, there’s theft, there’s all kinds of things. There’s in transit possibilities of having devices being compromised, right? So we want to have at a station and a hardware root of trust and be able to manage that under the Fleet banner. So to speak in terms of our GitOps management. The third piece to your point is that there will be a lightweight immutable operating system in this opinionated stack. And on top of that, we want to be able to fully manage the life cycle of that operating system and pull from the hardware if needed any of the hardware root of trust and wrap that around the operating system to make that cryptographically signed and trusted, and then have that trust goodness and security management roll up into the Kubernetes environment as well. So those are the three pillars that we’re looking forward to trying to build with SUSE one forward.
Swapnil Bhartiya:
Keith, thank you so much for talking to me today about the Edge case at Rancher. You’re really pushing the edge there as you had that pen. Once again, thank you. And I actually looked forward to talk to you because Edge is also a topic which is close to my heart here. So, I am really interested in talking to you more about it. Thank you.
Keith Basil:
Thank you. And thanks for the time. Very, very much appreciate having this opportunity. Rancher is hosting a wonderful conference on Edge. We would hope to see you there. We’re going to cover some great use cases around what we’re seeing in the DOD space. Very exciting about that. It’s excited about that. We also have some really unique use cases on the commercial side, and we would welcome your participation on October 21st.

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