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A key part of Google's cloud strategy just got a boost

  • Mesosphere, backed by top Silicon Valley investors, is introducing a beta version of the Google-led Kubernetes container cluster management software in its flagship software.
  • The new effort goes beyond the start-up's earlier attempts to embrace Kubernetes, which proved to be unsuccessful.
Diane Greene, Sr. Vice President for Google's Cloud businesses.
Source: Google
Diane Greene, Sr. Vice President for Google's Cloud businesses.

Alphabet's Google has picked up more support for a key piece of its cloud strategy.

On Wednesday the San Francisco start-up Mesosphere announced the upcoming availability of a beta version of Google-led open-source software called Kubernetes inside its flagship software.

These tools handle the work of deploying containers, which package up application code just like the virtual machines that VMware popularized, on several physical servers. While virtual machines are arguably more widely used (and have been around longer), containers are thought to be more efficient and easier to move to other server infrastructure.

Two years ago Mesosphere did incorporate a modified version of Kubernetes, an alternative to the Marathon system it primarily supports, into its DC/OS tool, which can operate databases and other software in addition to deploying containers. But now the start-up is dead-set on delivering the latest version of Kubernetes in DC/OS, starting with version 1.10.

The Information originally reported the news and described it as an indication that the start-up was giving in to a Google-backed technology.

But in a call with CNBC, Mesosphere executives suggested that wasn't right because its DC/OS offering does more than just run containers.

Companies can run DC/OS atop public clouds or on their own data center infrastructure, and doing so can be more cost-effective than raw public cloud because of its typical pricing model, Mesosphere CEO Florian Leibert told CNBC in an interview.

Uber, for example, uses Mesosphere's software to run a database called Cassandra.

"If you do some simple math and you put that into the AWS [Amazon Web Services] calculator, you come out with a yearly cost -- the lower end of that is $6-10 million that Uber would have to pay AWS for equivalent functionality," Leibert said. "Even if you use the highest-end servers with our software, it would be half or a third of that."

If anything, the move further distinguishes Mesosphere from other companies that provide distributions of Kubernetes, the start-up's marketing chief, Peter Guagenti, told CNBC.

"We have the most enterprise customers, the most containers in production, and we're the one with the most revenue of all the startups in the space," Guagenti said. "As far as we're concerned, we've been really successful to date. This adoption for us is a way to extend that success and cover more use cases."

Google made the Kubernetes source code available for free in 2014, and subsequently introduced a managed version of Kubernetes on its public cloud, so admins wouldn't have to worry about setting up and running it. Microsoft has built Kubernetes support into its Azure Container Service. AWS does have a service for launching code in containers on its servers, but it's not primarily based on Kubernetes.

The fact that Kubernetes keeps code tucked inside computing units that can be switched to another cloud is key to Google, precisely because it's not the top cloud. Big companies can feel comfortable about not getting "locked in" to the Google cloud -- and adopting Kubernetes could make it easier to use multiple public clouds at once.

Historically that's not something that Amazon has talked about a lot, presumably because it wants customers to stick with its market-leading cloud exclusively. Nevertheless, AWS was thinking about building a Kubernetes service, The Information reported earlier this year. Even if that were to happen, Mesosphere would continue to emphasize the advantages of paying for a Mesosphere subscription instead, as it enables a variety of computing capabilities for a single price, Leibert said.

Mesosphere's investors include HPE, Microsoft, Andreessen Horowitz and Khosla Ventures.

Microsoft did attempt to acquire Mesosphere but ultimately the deal didn't work out, a source familiar with the matter told CNBC. Leibert wouldn't comment on that.