2019 has been a game-changing year for the cloud-native ecosystem. There were consolidations, acquisitions of powerhouses like Red Hat Docker and Pivotal, and the emergence of players like Rancher Labs and Mirantis.

“All these consolidation and M&A in this space is an indicator of how fast the market has matured,” said Sheng Liang, co-founder and CEO of Rancher Labs, a company that offers a complete software stack for teams adopting containers.

Traditionally, emerging technologies like Kubernetes and Docker appeal to tinkerers and mega-scalers such as Facebook and Google. There was very little interest outside of that group. However, both of these technologies experienced massive adoption at the enterprise level. Suddenly, there was a massive market with huge opportunities. Almost everyone jumped in. There were players who were bringing innovative solutions and then there were players who were trying to catch up with the rest. It became very crowded very quickly.

It also changed the way innovation was happening. Early adopters were usually tech-savvy companies. Now, almost everyone is using it, even in areas that were not considered turf for Kubernetes. It changed the market dynamics as companies like Rancher Labs were witnessing unique use cases.

Liang adds, “I’ve never been in a market or technology evolution that’s happened as quickly and as dynamically as Kubernetes. When we started some five years ago, it was a very crowded space. Over time, most of our peers disappeared for one reason or the other. Either they weren’t able to adjust to the change or they chose not to adjust to some of the changes.”

In the early days of Kubernetes, the most obvious opportunity was to build Kubernetes distro and Kubernetes operations. It’s new technology. It’s known to be reasonably complex to install, upgrade, and operate.

It all changed when Google, AWS, and Microsoft entered the market. At that point, there was a stampede of vendors rushing in to provide solutions for the platform. “As soon as cloud providers like Google decided to make Kubernetes as a service and offered it for free as loss-leader to drive infrastructure consumption, we knew that the business of actually operating and supporting Kubernetes, the upside of that would be very limited,” said Liang.

Not everything was bad for non-Google players. Since cloud vendors removed all the complexity that came with Kubernetes by offering it as a service, it meant wider adoption of the technology, even by those who refrained from using it due to the overhead of operating it. It meant that Kubernetes would become ubiquitous and would become an industry standard.

“Rancher Labs was one of the very few companies that saw this as an opportunity and looked one step further than everyone else. We realized that Kubernetes was going to become the new computing standard, just the way TCP/IP became the networking standard,” said Liang.

CNCF plays a critical role in building a vibrant ecosystem around Kubernetes, creating a massive community to build, nurture and commercialize cloud-native open source technologies.