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Meet Richard Li, CEO And Founder, Ambassador Labs           

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In this episode of Let’s Talk, we sat down with Richard Li, CEO and Founder of Ambassador Labs, to talk about the two major open source projects the company contributed to CNCF.

Here is an edited transcript of the discussion by Jack Wallen

Swapnil Bhartiya: Welcome to the special series of Let’s Talk for KubeCon. I’m your host Swapnil Bhartiya. My next guest is Richard Li, CEO and founder of Ambassador Labs. Richard, it’s great to have you on the show.

Richard Li: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Before we get started, I would love to know a bit more about Ambassador Labs. Tell me about the company.

Richard Li: Ambassador Labs is a venture-funded startup focused entirely on developer experience for Kubernetes. We are focusing on application developers who are using Kubernetes and how to make their lives easier. We were previously called Datawire and we had a number of open-source projects in the Kubernetes ecosystem. Our most popular project was actually Ambassador API Gateway, and a lot of people just associated that with us. And so we ended up choosing to rebrand ourselves as Ambassador labs.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also talk about what kind of open-source projects you’re involved with?

Richard Li: We have two core open-source projects that we contribute and maintain. Both of them are part of the CNCF. One of them is called Telepresence, which is a tool for developing locally against remote Kubernetes clusters. And the other one is the Ambassador API Gateway, which we have recently just renamed to the Emissary Ingress, which is also part of the CNCF. So that’s an API Gateway built on an envoy proxy that runs just in Kubernetes.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Since you mentioned Emissary Ingress, it was recently promoted from sandbox to incubation status at CNCF. What I do see is most of these projects, they’re already in production. So what does this change of status mean? First for producers, and second for the project itself.

Richard Li: So Emissary Ingress was actually not part of the CNCF. We actually decided to just submit it directly into incubation, due to its broad production usage. And for our user base, the reason why we contributed it was to really grow that community. So we’ve been the founder and primary developer of the Emissary Ingress project, but there’s been over 150 other developers who’ve actually contributed, and we felt that it’s the right home for this project because we really want to grow that project in a vendor-neutral space. And in the Kubernetes ecosystem, the CNCF is the natural place for that.

Swapnil Bhartiya: There is sandboxing, there’s incubation, there is graduation. What do these statuses mean for the community? Because, as you earlier mentioned, most of these products are already in production. So talk about that aspect. What do these labels mean in the real world?

Richard Li: Sure. So sandbox really is more of an experiment. And so the real metric among sandbox, incubation, and graduation is really around community adoption and traction and less around production usage. Sometimes that’s correlated, obviously, with your community. But with sandbox, you’re really trying to launch a project with incubation, you already have a mature community, you have lots of contributors and users, and then with production, or graduation, you’re really very mature. You have robust governance, lots of different contributors, and a more fully established governance structure, which is what we’re working towards, with Emissary Ingress.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you talk about what kind of roadmap is there for the open-source products? Anybody can go and check it out. But from your perspective, what plans do you have for the project?

Richard Li: So we have several priorities for the project. Number one is to continue to support the latest evolution of Kubernetes standards. And so most recently, that’s the gateway API. The second thing is to continue to make it easier to use for developers. And so figuring out different ways to actually make the observability, rate-limiting, and authentication functionality of Emissary Ingress even more accessible than it actually is. And third is to just make it easier for people to contribute in terms of making it easy to run tests and check out the code and contributed documentation, all those different things.

Swapnil Bhartiya: When we look at the Kubernetes and the cloud-native space, it is going through a kind of massive adoption and a lot of new use cases. Plus, because of this pandemic, companies have accelerated their move to the cloud or digital transformation. What does this mean for the project itself? Or in general, the company?

Richard Li: We’re certainly seeing an acceleration of initiatives to move workloads to Kubernetes. There’s no question about that. That was happening pre-pandemic and the pandemic has accelerated that. What we’re seeing subsequent to that is that, even though there’s an intention of moving forward workloads to the cloud, the blocker for that workload migration is increasingly application development. It’s easy to get one or two workloads running in the cloud. But then as you want to migrate the other 99% of your workloads to the cloud, it really depends on development. And that’s where we come in. We’re really focused on accelerating that developer experience on Kubernetes. So you can accelerate that workload migration.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you give our viewers a complete picture of what kind of services or products the company is offering, leveraging some of these open-source projects?

Richard Li: So we offer a set of open core products built on the open-source project so that we provide enterprise functionality, including authentication, enterprise support, those kinds of things that typically enterprises need. And all this is actually now being packaged as part of our developer control plane solution.

Swapnil Bhartiya: You are looking at a specific problem in the Kubernetes space and trying to solve that. If you look at cloud-native space Kubernetes, in general, as I was saying that option is great, what are some of the pain points that you see that the ecosystem and customers are facing? When you look at them, you say, you know what, the Kubernetes CNCF committees still have to solve those problems. Have you come across any such problems?

Richard Li: Absolutely. The number one problem we see is everyone goes to visit the CNCF landscape and they’re overwhelmed with how comprehensive it is. There’s so many different vendors on this, right? That tool sprawl, that vendor sprawl is the number one challenge that we see with people adopting the Kubernetes ecosystem because they’re saying, I can’t understand all these different challenges. And that’s a big problem that I think, as a community, we need to solve.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Richard, thank you so much for taking time out today and not only talk about the company and the project but also the pain points of the wider CNCF community, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.

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