KubeCon + CloudNativeCon Amsterdam | August 13-16, 2020 | Don’t Miss Out | Learn more

After Learning the Ropes with a Kubernetes Distribution, Booking.com Built a Platform of Its Own

CNCF Staff Blog

Booking.com has a long history with Kubernetes: In 2015, a team at the travel platform prototyped a container platform based on Mesos and Marathon. Impressed by what the technology offered, but in need of enterprise features at its scale—the site handles more than 1.5 million room-night reservations a day on average—the team decided to adopt an OpenShift platform.

This platform, which was wrapped in a Heroku-style, high-level CLI interface, “was definitely popular with our product developers,” says Ben Tyler, Principal Developer, B Platform Track. “We gave them faster access to infrastructure.”

But, he adds, “anytime something went slightly off the rails, developers didn’t have any of the knowledge required to support themselves.”

And after a year of operating this platform, the infrastructure team found that it had become “a knowledge bottleneck,” he says. “Most of the developers who used it did not know it was Kubernetes underneath. An application failure and a platform failure both looked like failures of that Heroku-style tool.”

Scaling the necessary support did not seem feasible or sustainable, so the platform team needed a new solution. The understanding of Kubernetes that they had gained operating the OpenShift platform gave them confidence to build a vanilla Kubernetes platform of their own and customize it to suit the company’s needs.

“For entering the landscape, OpenShift was definitely very helpful,” says Eduard Iacoboaia, Senior System Administrator, B Platform Track. “It shows you what the technology can do, and it makes it easy for you to use it. After we spent some time on it, we realized that we needed to learn Kubernetes better in order to fully use the potential of it. At that point, we made the shift to build our own Kubernetes platform. We definitely benefit in the long term for taking that step and investing the time in gaining that knowledge.”

One big change was that product engineers would have to learn Kubernetes in order to onboard. “This is not a magical platform,” says Tyler. “We’re not claiming that you can just use it with your eyes closed. Developers need to do some learning, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure they have access to that knowledge.” That includes trainings, blog posts, videos, and Udemy courses.

Despite the learning curve, there’s been a great uptick in adoption of the new Kubernetes platform. “I think the reason we’ve been able to strike this bargain successfully is that we’re not asking them to learn a proprietary app system,” says Tyler. “We’re asking them to learn something that’s open source, where the knowledge is transferable. They’re investing in their own careers by learning Kubernetes.”

The platform has been a success: Before containers, creating a new service could take a couple of days if the developers understood Puppet, or weeks if they didn’t. On the new platform, it takes 10 minutes. “We have a tutorial. You follow the tutorial. Your code is running. Then, it’s business-logic time,” says Tyler. “The time to gain access to resources is decreased enormously.” About 500 new services were built in the first 8 months on the platform, with hundreds of releases per day.

And “as our users learn Kubernetes and become more sophisticated Kubernetes users, they put pressure on us to provide a better more native Kubernetes experience, which is great,” says Tyler. “It’s a super healthy dynamic.”

For more about Booking.com’s Kubernetes journey, read the full case study.