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Tobias Knaup, co-founder and CTO, Mesosphere (Mesosphere Photo)

Mesosphere, after spending a few years focused on building out its own container-orchestration software, now plans to add support for a rival open-source container-orchestration software package that is taking the enterprise by storm: Kubernetes.

A beta version of DC/OS, Mesosphere’s operating system package for managing data centers, will soon include support for Kubernetes, the company confirmed Wednesday. The news was first reported by The Information. Current DC/OS customers use a Mesosphere product called Marathon to schedule and manage containers across their infrastructure, but apparently demand for Kubernetes is as strong as it appears from the amount of activity surrounding the project this year.

“Our worldview is that container orchestration is a type of workload customers need to run, and it has always been our goal to offer choice,” said Tobias Knaup, CTO and co-founder of Mesosphere, based in San Francisco.

The rise of containers, which allow developers to deploy their applications across a wide number of systems in a data center or cloud provider’s infrastructure, has changed the way companies build and deploy software. Once developers start using containers in production development environments, they tend to use them for everything, and at some point you need something to help you manage those containers to ensure they are reliable and scalable.

For more and more containerized development shops, the answer is Kubernetes, which was originally developed at Google to manage the billions of containers run by the search giant in production. Kubernetes is an open-source project maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and it has enjoyed quite a year as the new darling of the enterprise tech world.

Born from the Apache Mesos project, Mesosphere’s DC/OS software is popular with customers that require sophisticated data management tools, but it hasn’t gotten as much traction outside of the world of Big Data. Marathon, which ships by default with DC/OS, is one of the few projects that competes with Kubernetes for developer attention, along with Docker’s Swarm.

An overview of Mesosphere’s DC/OS data center management software, now with support for Kubernetes in the upper left hand corner. (Mesosphere Photo)

By adding Kubernetes, Mesosphere has basically acknowledged that Marathon isn’t enough for many of its customers, which according to the Information’s report pressured the company into adding Kubernetes support. Going back a few years, Mesosphere was actually a supporter of the fledgling Kubernetes project in its early days. The company was a founding member of the CNCF, the industry organization set up in 2015 that maintains Kubernetes and several other open-source projects designed to make Kubernetes easier to use, but it made a conscious decision around 2015 to devote engineering resources to its own software in hopes of getting traction for projects that could generate more revenue for the company.

“The earliest versions of Kubernetes were not necessarily where they needed to be for production customers,” Knaup said. “That made us focus on our platform.” After raising a new round of funding in 2016, Mesosphere set up a new group of engineers focused on integrating Kubernetes and DC/OS at the beginning of 2017, he said.

The move gives DC/OS customers that like aspects of that product but want to orchestrate containers with Kubernetes an option to stay within Mesosphere’s world, and while that might put a ceiling on Marathon adoption, it’s probably wiser in the long term to keep big customers happy. Marathon is simpler and more stable than Kubernetes, Knaup said, but at this point it seems pretty clear that enterprises are willing to look past the growing pains associated with Kubernetes.

The new version of DC/OS with the Kubernetes beta will become available next week, and it also comes with improvements to security and reliability.

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