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Google will give up direct control of the Knative open-source project

Under an agreement recently approved by the Knative leadership team, the project will transition to a governance structure in which no single vendor will be able to occupy a controlling number of seats, Protocol has learned.

Google's Thomas Kurian

Knative was designed to let developers run so-called "serverless" applications on top of Kubernetes, the container-management platform service originally developed at Google and open-sourced in 2015.

Photo: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Google and its partners on Knative, a key cloud open-source project controlled by Google until very recently, plan to announce sweeping changes to the project's governance structure on Thursday, Protocol has learned.

The new changes are part of many twists and turns in Google's enterprise open-source strategy over the past year, which have angered and confused some of its partners. This time, Google is relinquishing direct control of a popular open-source project: Later this year Knative will implement a steering committee structure in which no single vendor can hold more than two seats on a five-seat committee, according to a blog post released late Thursday, after this report was published.

Individuals will now hold seats on the Knative steering committee rather than vendors, and elections will be held later this year to select two new members. The committee, which sets the overall direction for the project, could expand to as many as seven members in the future to include representatives from the end-user community.

Knative was designed to let developers run so-called "serverless" applications on top of Kubernetes, the container-management platform service originally developed at Google and open-sourced in 2015. The idea is to give companies a way to take advantage of the speed and cost-efficiency of serverless applications — which can automatically scale in response to events without having to manually spin up additional computing resources — while using the deployment flexibility that applications built around containers enjoy.

It's a central link between Kubernetes and Istio, another open-source project developed by Google. For years, partners and contributors to both projects, which include companies like IBM, VMware and Lyft, had expected Google to transfer operational control of Istio and Knative to a foundation like the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which was created to manage the development of Kubernetes.

But last year Google told Knative contributors directly that it had no plans to transfer it to a foundation, and trickled out news of similar plans for Istio in smaller groups over the end of 2019. At the time, Google controlled a voting majority of the seats on both projects, a troubling development for open-source community members who believed that the neutrality of Kubernetes was one of the greatest reasons for its success.

Google tried to address some of those concerns earlier this year with the Open Usage Commons, which the company said would manage trademark policies around key projects including Istio. The Knative project is setting up a similar committee within the project to manage trademark use, which is an important consideration for companies that are building services around open-source projects.

Google's open-source strategy has waxed and waned since the release of Kubernetes, but for a very long time the company was considered one of the friendliest megacorporations in the open-source community. That perception started to change under Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian, as a contingent within the company that believed it was a strategic mistake to give up control of Kubernetes started to gain traction.

The changes to Knative's governance structure should mollify some of those critics, and follow similar moves undertaken by Istio in August. It could also spread adoption of the project, now that other cloud vendors understand that a rival won't exert overall control over the direction of the project.

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On this episode of the Source Code podcast: First, a few takeaways from another blockbuster quarter in the tech industry. Then, Janko Roettgers joins the show to discuss Big Tech's obsession with the metaverse and the platform war that seems inevitable. Finally, Ben Pimentel talks about Robinhood's IPO, and the company's crazy route to the public markets.

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Image: Peloton and Protocol

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