Technology

Open-source Acorn takes a new approach to deploy cloud-native apps on Kubernetes

Kubernetes has become the de facto standard for multicloud deployments, with services on every major public cloud and a host of vendor technologies, including Red Hat OpenShift and Suse Rancher.

Packaging and then deploying applications to run in cloud-native environments, with the Kubernetes container orchestration system, can be complex. It’s a challenge that Acorn is looking to help solve. There is no shortage of vendors in the Kubernetes space, but Acorn’s pedigree is particularly strong.

Acorn’s cofounders, Sheng Liang, Darren Shepherd, Shannon Williams and Will Chang, were the cofounders of Rancher, which was acquired by Suse in 2020 for $600 million. Prior to founding Rancher, the group founded cloud.com, an early infrastructure-as-a-service provider that was acquired by Citrix in 2011. The technology that was cloud.com now exists as the open-source Apache CloudStack platform.

Acorn, which has raised an undisclosed amount of seed funding, just unveiled an early preview of its open-source technology.

“I have a lot of respect for what Kubernetes has done, but being a user of Kubernetes, I still think it is too hard,” Darren Shepherd, cofounder and chief architect of Acorn told VentureBeat. “I think there’s a much easier way to deploy applications on Kubernetes to harness its raw power without interacting directly with it and really having to be an expert in it.”

The promise of Acorn: A seed that will grow into a cloud-native workload

A Kubernetes cluster can be configured in any number of ways to meet the needs of an organization, or even to meet the requirements of a particular workload. The basic idea is that a workload can be distributed across multiple nodes in a cloud, or even across clouds to help enable application availability, performance and resilience.

Shannon Williams, cofounder and president of Acorn, explained that Kubernetes itself is a platform that accepts commands, but it’s often up to the user deploying a workload to work through the complexity in order to get the optimal deployment. With Acorn, Williams said that his company is introducing a packaging approach that can make upgrading and consumption of containers easier for enterprises running Kubernetes workloads.

While Kubernetes provides the software infrastructure on which to run container-based application workloads, the goal with Acorn is to focus on the needs of applications.

Helm Charts, Kubernetes Operators, CNAB and Acorns

The idea of creating a format and approach to enable the deployment of applications into Kubernetes is not a new one. There are multiple approaches, including Helm, Cloud Native Application Bundle (CNAB) and Operators, though each has its shortfalls, according to the cofounders of Acorn.

Currently, among the most common ways to deploy an application in Kubernetes is to use of a Helm chart. Shepherd said that while Helm provides a generic way of packaging, Acorn can have a higher degree of specificity that is optimized for application deployment. Acorn also has a service discovery model built-in, which understands what resources are available in a given Kubernetes cluster.

Shepherd explained that Acorn works as an abstraction layer above the core concepts that Kubernetes supports. For example, among the primary concepts in Kubernetes are the ideas of service and ingress, which are methods of exposing networking services. Acorn doesn’t require users to understand or configure those concepts, instead it elevates to the higher level concept of simply exposing a networking port to an application.

Acorn’s cofounders also see the technology as being a rival to Kubernetes Operators. The concept of a Kubernetes Operator was pioneered by CoreOS in 2016 and integrated into Red Hat OpenShift, when CoreOS was acquired by Red Hat in 2018 for $250 million. The promise of an Operator is to go beyond just deployment with a Helm chart and help organizations to configure an application to scale and run in production.

“We actually see that Acorn can replace the need for operators because we built Acorn to be sufficient enough to run like the most complicated stateful applications,” Shepherd said. “There are also capabilities in Acorn to deal with day-to-day operations and backups.”

It’s still early for the Acorn project, though according to cofounder and CEO Sheng Liang, his team is already talking to customers about the technology every day.

“Clearly, this stuff solves a problem, but the open-source Acorn project is really just the start,” Liang told VentureBeat. “We need to build a bunch of enterprise capabilities around Acorn, and that will take some time.”

Williams noted that with the experience of building cloud.com and Rancher, the cofounders of Acorn have seen time and again that open-source adoption leads to business.

“We’ve seen it over and over again, that as people use the technology, we uncover really interesting business opportunities to build companies and to build revenue,” Williams said.

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