The Evolution of Plural: A Strategic Pivot from Marketplace to Fleet Management

Sam Weaver
Sam Weaver

Table of Contents

Introduction

Embarking on the adventure of starting a company is like a roller coaster ride, packed with twists and turns, highs and lows. Today, I'm excited to let you in on a pivotal moment of our journey. We began with a clear vision for Plural, and as we managed Kubernetes at scale and developed our open-source marketplace, we discovered an even bigger opportunity.

Our Initial Vision

In 2022, we launched Plural with the ambition to streamline the deployment and management of open-source solutions using Kubernetes. While we quickly amassed hundreds of users, the challenge of managing a multitude of Kubernetes clusters for these users introduced some operational friction for us to keep these clusters running on behalf of our users

Facing Reality: The Challenge of Scale

The more our user base grew, the more apparent it became that manually managing Kubernetes at scale was becoming a bottleneck. By January 2023, we realized that our engineering velocity was being hampered by an unsustainable operational workload, especially during Kubernetes upgrades—a critical but resource-intensive task.

A Strategic Pivot: Deepening Our Understanding

As we delved deeper into the problems with Kubernetes, particularly the upgrades, it became evident that existing tooling was inadequate and fragmented. Building for Kubernetes requires a variety of tools, and whilst managed control planes have made it easy to spin up more clusters rapidly - the increase in the number of clusters has created a large management problem to solve. Kubernetes upgrades are notoriously complex, involving careful coordination of multiple components and risking significant downtime if not executed properly. This complexity is magnified at scale, where small errors can lead to major disruptions.

Our breakthrough moment came during a discovery meeting with a Fortune 500 leader in cybersecurity, who echoed our experiences with the difficulties of Kubernetes upgrades. We listened as they told us it took multiple person-months to complete upgrades across their fleet of clusters. This wasn't just validation—it was a profound alignment of challenges. Spurred by this learning, we engaged in hundreds more discovery calls, confirming that efficient Kubernetes management was indeed a critical pain point for many businesses, especially larger enterprises. Each conversation unveiled a broader landscape of opportunity, emphasizing the need for a specialized solution that could handle these complexities more effectively.

The Pivot: Redefining Our Product

Fueled by our design partner's enthusiasm and our own hard-earned insights, we pivoted completely. We shifted from being a marketplace to creating a cutting-edge fleet management platform specifically designed for Kubernetes. This wasn’t just a new product; it was a whole new direction. Our original platform wasn't scrapped but transformed, serving as the foundation for our new architecture. Within months, we signed our design partner as our first major customer, and our pipeline exploded, a clear signal we are solving a real problem in the space.

Key Lessons Learned

  • The Complexity of Kubernetes is High: Managing Kubernetes at scale introduces significant operational friction, particularly during upgrades.
  • Operational Thresholds is Surprisingly Low: Beyond five clusters, manual management becomes inefficient and prone to errors, marking a critical need for automated solutions.
  • Existing Tooling is Incredible Fragmented: Traditional tooling for Kubernetes management is fragmented and outdated, primarily designed for environments with fewer clusters.
  • Technological Evolution Has Caused Cluster Count Expansion: The rise of edge computing, IoT, and AI workloads has transformed the operational landscape, significantly increasing the number of clusters.
  • Ease of Cluster Creation Increases Complexity: With managed control planes like EKS, AKS, and GKE making it easier to spin up clusters, the overall management complexity and the potential for operational headaches have escalated.
  • High Demand for Scalable Solutions: This explosion in cluster counts highlights the urgent need for scalable, integrated management solutions that can handle the complexities of modern Kubernetes environments.

Where We Are Now

Today, Plural is on its way to becoming a significant player in Kubernetes fleet management. Our revised platform is crafted to reduce the complexities of managing extensive Kubernetes environments, helping businesses to focus more on innovation and less on operational logistics.

We are centralizing the core workflows you need to be successful with Kubernetes and have a ton of powerful capabilities already built into the platform:

  • Stacks: Enables a GitOps strategy around your terraform, pulumi or ansible workflow, offering integrated approval workflows and hardening your terraform posture.
  • Cluster Upgrade Assistant: Automates the cluster upgrade process, detects API deprecations, and checks add-on compatibilities for Kubernetes.
  • Continuous Deployment: Facilitates services deployment to clusters from your Git repositories, with customization options and centralized secrets management.
  • Kubernetes Dashboard: Provides a unified interface for viewing your entire fleet of clusters, equipped with resource monitoring and log viewing.
  • Global Services: Ensures all clusters adhere to a consistent Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), streamlining the setup process for new clusters.
  • PR Automation Driven Pipelining: Automates the code integration and deployment process across your Kubernetes fleet using pull requests.
  • Policy Enforcement with OPA GateKeeper: Defines, manages, and enforces policies across your Kubernetes clusters, ensuring adherence to organizational policies and compliance requirements.
  • Namespace-as-a-service: Provides a multi-tenant cluster strategy by offering hardened, pre-configured namespaces via APIs.

Conclusion

Our pivot wasn't just about changing what we offer. It was a strategic move to address a bigger opportunity and solve a problem we lived with first-hand. We’re passionate about what we do and thrilled about what lies ahead. Stay tuned! We can't wait to keep you posted as we dive deeper into this thrilling new chapter.

Sam Weaver Twitter

CEO at Plural