Why Google donated Knative to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation

Why Google donated Knative to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation

After initially dragging its feet over donating Knative to the CNCF, Google suddenly changed course toward the end of 2021. Why the change of heart?

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After years of saying it had no plans to donate the open source Knative project to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), Google’s sudden decision to donate Knative as an incubating project was accepted on March 2.

Knative is an open source platform for building, deploying, and managing serverless workloads on Kubernetes. Knative emerged in 2018, led by Google engineers but with key contributions from IBM, Red Hat, VMware, and SAP.

Since then, Knative has established itself as a promising way to build serverless applications on Kubernetes without tying yourself to a single cloud platform, like AWS Lambda or Azure Functions. At 27 per cent adoption, Knative is the most popular non-hosted, installable serverless platform among the CNCF community, according to its latest survey.

That growing popularity gave rise to calls for Google to hand the fast-maturing project over to the vendor-neutral CNCF. That’s why the open source community balked when Google announced during KubeCon 2019 that it wasn’t planning on donating Knative or its service mesh Istio to the CNCF any time soon, as it had so successfully done with the original Kubernetes project.

Then, towards the end of 2021, Google suddenly changed course, announcing that it would be donating the trademark, IP, and code for Knative, but not Istio, to the CNCF as an incubating project.

A change of heart

IBM publicly applauded the decision soon after the announcement. “By joining the CNCF, the Knative community will find a larger, vibrant community that will help Knative to continue growing and attracting more users and developers,” IBM distinguished engineer Michael Maximilien wrote

“By welcoming Knative, the CNCF adds another important piece to its landscape, that has become the roadmap for customers wanting to understand the current state and direction of cloud computing, container technologies, and the different projects and sub-communities which help make it real. It’s a win-win.”

Head of open source at Google Chris DiBona tweeted that a change of heart at the leadership level, specifically from vice president of infrastructure Eric Brewer, had led to a decision that the project was mature enough for donation now.

Google will naturally continue to play an important role in maintaining and pushing forward Knative, while handing over control of the project to a neutral entity in the CNCF.

“We plan to continue to fund the project with credits towards Knative infrastructure to support the project’s growth in its new home. We worked with other major contributors to set up a governance structure and conformance certification process geared to provide longevity for Knative,” Alexandra Bush, head of Google Cloud open source marketing and community, wrote in a blog post.

Google also remains committed to building “managed services based on open source technologies directly into Google Cloud,” Bush wrote. Google’s managed serverless Cloud Run service runs on Knative, for example.

Lowering barriers to entry for Knative

Dave Protasowski, who is a member of the CNCF technical oversight committee, said that “having the project and trademarks finally be in an open foundation like CNCF gives everyone assurances of its independent future,” and that he is “looking forward to seeing new contributors and further adoption by end users.”

“The perception was that there were barriers to participating with Knative, so donating it should be positive for the future adoption of the project,” Mark Hinkle, CEO of integration software startup TriggerMesh, which builds on Knative and contributes back to the project, told InfoWorld.

Hinkle also doesn’t see Knative as an “onramp for serverless” in the same way that Kubernetes was for the cloud, making it a less fundamental piece of the Google Cloud value proposition. “I don’t see people massively adopting serverless, it will be a slower slog because it fundamentally changes the way your applications work,” he said.

Hinkle’s co-founder Sebastien Goasguen, who built an early serverless framework for Kubernetes called Kubeless, also applauded the decision. “Undeniable benefits flow to enterprises when the critical open source tech they use resides in a foundation like CNCF,” he wrote in a company blog post.

What next for Knative?

The CNCF and wider Knative community will now hope to quickly move forward with its roadmap and drive greater enterprise adoption of the technology. 

That roadmap includes new serving and eventing features and a broad focus on developer productivity. For example, Knative Functions, which is currently in pre-release, aims to simplify the Knative experience for developers.

“We expect the project will gain greater visibility and traction among both contributors and users. This, in turn, will ensure that the project roadmap reflects the input from even more vendors, more integrators, and more end users,” TriggerMesh’s Goasguen wrote.

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