Setting the Pace for Digital Innovation: Highlights from S1P19

SpringOne Platform, Pivotal's premier conference for developers, operators and business leaders wrapped up last week in Austin, TX. Kudos to Pivotal for introducing a swagless concept for this year’s event. From a vendor point of view, it was refreshing to not have to deliver and manage the promotional gifts and free giveaways that often clutter the show floor. I hope this swagless trend continues and we see it at more tech conferences in the future.  

Below are four key takeaways that resonated with the Solstice team at this year’s SpringOne conference.

Riding the Kubernetes Popularity Wave

Kubernetes is without a doubt one of the hottest trends in compute infrastructure. Google, Microsoft and Amazon have all introduced updates and new solutions for Kubernetes on their clouds and software platforms are scrambling to make their products compatible with Kubernetes. Meanwhile, large enterprises are embracing Kubernetes as their de facto container-as-a-service solution.

Despite its market momentum, Kubernetes itself remains difficult for enterprises to run, maintain and scale on their own. Pivotal anticipated with need and moved rapidly. Both Pivotal and parent company VMware have introduced a wide range of supporting services around Kubernetes under the Tanzu umbrella. Tanzu covers the entire build-run-manage lifecycle of Kubernetes-defined platform and applications.  

One notable addition is the Build Service, which brings to Kubernetes the buildpack concept proven in Pivotal’s PAS service. For those not aware, buildpacks are container wrappers around applications, and are one of the central components that allow “cf push” to “just work”.  Buildpacks give developers more design flexibility without having to worry about finding, building or maintaining their own docker images. On the operator side, buildpacks help improve security by centrally managing images, and enforcing security and policy constraints on those images.

While the excitement around PAS on Kubernetes has been building, momentum was further accelerated at SpringOne with Pivotal’s introduction of Kubernetes Service Manager (KSM), which allows Kubernetes operators and Helm charts to be integrated with other applications as services — extending the service concept from Pivotal Container Service (PKS).

Expanding Cloud Option Through Easier Configuration 

The original Pivotal Cloud Foundry platform targeted large enterprises seeking to run a PaaS environment as part of their internal data center. For these customers, PCF solved a vital need; but if you were not at that scale or couldn’t migrate your apps to Pivotal’s PAS environment, PCF was not a viable option.  

Recent upgrades now allow the Pivotal Platform to accommodate a wide range of application development needs. Modern, greenfield microservice applications run superbly on PCF, as they always have. Meanwhile, legacy applications, which might have previously required extensive changes, can now be ported over easily using PKS. Likewise, Kubernetes native-built applications can also run on PKS.

For enterprises looking to run Kubernetes outside BOSH or manage it across multiple clouds, Pivotal has solutions for these cases as well, using VMWare’s Kubernetes offering or its newly acquired product suite from Heptio. Further expanding its application options, at SpringOne, Microsoft and Pivotal announced Azure Spring Cloud, a fully managed environment running on Azure’s Kubernetes Service (AKS) — allowing users to run Java/Spring apps on Azure (although access to underlying K8s is completely abstracted away).   

Enterprises of various sizes, with varying needs for customization and control, now have options, all supported by Pivotal’s push for developer-friendly experiences and Day 2 operational automation.

Taking Reactive Programming to the Next Level

Reactive programming was all over SpringOne this year. Spring’s Project Reactor has matured over the past few years, enabling enterprises to reap substantial benefits by incorporating this technology. Reactive libraries  are asynchronous and multi-threaded; as a result, applications applying them use resources more efficiently than traditional blocking I/O applications and services.

Other important advancements over the past year have helped bolster and accelerate the reactive revolution currently underway. Most applications have not benefited from reactive APIs because of chunks of code that were blocking —most notably, JDBC access to a database. Last year began the kickoff of the R2DBC group, set up to create reactive drivers for major relational databases. This year, several major databases now have reactive drivers. Reactive database API’s provide a more scalable interface and help support a full end-to-end application.

Last year’s SpringOne also served as the public announcement of the RSocket protocol. Originally developed by Netflix, RSocket is a streaming, message-based protocol for applications based on reactive principles. The core message was that just as applications become reactive using libraries like Reactor, the next step is for systems to become reactive using protocols like RSocket. Spring Boot 2.2 features RSocket protocol support though property files, helping to streamline this transition for developers.

There were more changes, including tools like Blockhound (which finds blocking code in reactive applications); improved debugging in IntelliJ; and more sophisticated logging. Switching from Spring MVC to WebFlux is now simply a matter of changing your Boot starter dependency. Likewise, switching from RestTemplate to WebClient was another simple change offering the potential for significant gains.

Taken all together, I would propose that it’s now time to take reactive coding off technical radars and into working code. At Solstice, we will be working with our clients to make the plunge in order to take advantage of these important advancements.

Accelerating Digital Transformation

SpringOne Platform 2019 was full of success stories from large, non-digital enterprise companies who have, over the past several years, digitized at a rapid pace. Companies like GM, Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, Discover and CUNA Mutual have achieved astonishing improvements, most within the last two to three years.

The key take-away here: these remarkable results are the new normal. The leading companies listed above have thousands of developers using modern cloud-native practices, continuous delivery and test-driven development. If you're not delivering at this pace and quality, at least in pockets of your organization, you're in danger—both in terms of competitive capability and ability to retain your best talent.

There's another key aspect at play here — none of these companies are done transforming. Our CEO at Solstice, Kelly Manthey, often says "Digital isn't slowing down", and that’s evident with all the teams here. For these large enterprises, there is a clear-eyed excitement about their ability to compete digitally, while understanding the enormous opportunities that are available to those who are prepared.  

Final Note — a Demo of Epic Proportions

The most buzz-worthy demonstration of the conference had to go to the technical team at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  On the main stage, Jay Piskorik, Director of Platform Engineering and Sabu Thomas, Engineering Manager actually failed over their entire production search feature from their PCF environment on GCP over to their PCF environment on Azure— while also encouraging conference attendees to hit the search and prove that it worked without a hiccup.  It was a great show of the confidence that comes with taking on modern engineering practices.

One of my favorite aspects of going to these conferences is spending quality time with my Solstice team outside of work. I’m looking forward to next years’ SpringOne Platform in Seattle and hope to meet all you readers there.