Open-source boffins want to do for the IoT edge what Kubernetes did for containers

Orchestration for the Internet of Things

Two high-profile open-source collaborations are putting their heads together to work out how to take Kubernetes, more familiar in hyperscale environments, out to Internet of Things edge computing projects.

The Kubernetes IoT Edge Working Group is the brainchild of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and the Eclipse Foundation.

Speaking to The Register, CNCF's Chris Aniszczyk said the idea of using Kubernetes as a control plane for IoT is "very attractive".

That sums up the brief of the working group, he said, "to take the concept of running containers, and expand that to the edge".

What the two groups want, Aniszczyk said, is to be able to treat IoT deployments as a "federated edge" with Kubernetes as the orchestrator.

To get the ball rolling, Eclipse Foundation executive director Mike Milinkovich said the working group has to start on pretty mundane groundwork like defining requirements, creating reference architectures, and standardising terminology (he observed that a single definition of "IoT gateway" with suitable APIs, for example, would be worth having).

Aniszczyk said previous CNCF projects had proved the value of such collaborations. "People used to have different approaches to storage, so they got vendors and developers in the same room to hack out some APIs... the container storage interface (CSI, which arrived as alpha code in January 2018) is now part of Kubernetes."

That work, Milinkovich said, will drive enhancements back into Kubernetes to "make it more relevant to the IoT age".

"You have lots of devices that need to connect to a cloud back end, and you need to deal with device management at scale — Eclipse IoT is a better place than starting from scratch," he added.

An example of where Kubernetes' scale is important, he said, is in an IoT deployment where you have millions of messages flying around using the MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) protocol (a lightweight protocol designed for small footprint devices). The infrastructure has to handle large-scale message routing and transformation challenges Kubernetes is well-suited to handle.

"When you are dealing with edge computing, you are dealing with scenarios that don't involve the professionally managed data centre," he said.

In cellular base stations, for example, what's wanted is an environment where a ruggedised machine can be taken to the site, plugged into power and an Ethernet port, and have the system remotely bootstrapped.

Milinkovich said there are any number of bespoke solutions to try to address such issues, and that's another reason for creating the Kubernetes project.

"The point is to create open-source implementations that allow this to be done in a repeatable fashion," he added.

"There's too much wasted energy building the same things, over and over again."

Open-source software is going to be the foundation of the Internet of Things, he said, because it lets developers create common solutions to problems and "avoid reinventing the world".

The long lifetime of IoT devices is another key driver: hardware in a mobile base station might have a 10-year lifespan, throughout which it will need regular security patches. That's much easier to handle centrally under the control of an orchestrator. ®

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