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SUSE buys Rancher Labs for Kubernetes expertise

Linux provider SUSE will buy Rancher Labs, a notable company in the Kubernetes management market, to help customers manage their Kubernetes-based workloads.

Enterprise Linux provider SUSE plans to acquire Rancher Labs in a bid to gain credibility within the Kubernetes container management market.

Rancher Labs, based in Cupertino, Calif., helps enterprise customers manage their Kubernetes environments at scale. Terms of the pending deal were not disclosed.

Rancher's open source products include Kubernetes distributions, multi-cloud management software and operating systems and storage for containerized workloads.

Arun ChandrasekaranArun Chandrasekaran

"The Rancher acquisition allows SUSE to support containerized workloads more effectively across on-premises, public cloud and edge environments based on OSS," said Arun Chandrasekaran, a Gartner analyst. "It also provides SUSE a pathway to better engage with platform engineering teams, who are often at the forefront of DevOps efforts."

Sheng LiangSheng Liang

Rancher CEO Sheng Liang will assume the role of president of engineering innovation at SUSE. "I'm going to take over all of those engineers and just manage them all as one big team," Liang said in an interview. As the deal has not closed, Rancher hasn't had a chance to plan how to deal with product engineering, but the company's sales and marketing team will join SUSE's, he added.

With more enterprises moving more workloads to the cloud via containers, the importance of Kubernetes continues to grow. Indeed, adoption of cloud-native applications and infrastructure will increase use of container management to more than 75% of large enterprises in mature economies by 2024 -- up from less than 35% in 2020, according to Gartner.

The container management software market is very competitive, particularly given the recent hybrid and multi-cloud efforts of hyperscale providers -- such as Google's Anthos platform -- as well as the broader consolidation among software vendors.

"Being part of a larger OSS entity can hopefully provide Rancher better go-to-market capabilities and field presence to compete with these larger providers, Chandrasekaran said.

Rancher has always had a grassroots approach to gaining customers, according to Liang.

"SUSE is at a whole different level," he said. "They're a completely proven brand with a loyal and growing customer base. … We're also very interested in their partner ecosystem."

SUSE hones its Kubernetes chops with Rancher

For SUSE, buying Rancher gives the company stronger footing in the Kubernetes market.

"Of all the major Linux vendors who moved to the cloud, SUSE didn't have a proper Kubernetes strategy," said Krishnan Subramanian, an analyst at Rishidot Research in Redmond, Wash. "This fills that gap and gives them legitimacy."

Of all the major Linux vendors who moved to the cloud, SUSE didn't have a proper Kubernetes strategy.
Krishnan SubramanianAnalyst, Rishidot Research

SUSE is following the proven success path of Red Hat, a fellow Linux vendor and competitor, some observers said. It is nearly a must for Linux vendors to have a Kubernetes platform, and SUSE gets that from Rancher.

"SUSE now has a shot at managing hybrid enterprise workloads with Rancher across on-premises SUSE environments, as well as across the leading cloud vendor platforms," said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research. "That is what CXOs [chief experience officers] want for their next-generation applications, the workload portability across deployment platforms."

Although, Linux and Kubernetes have become an expected pair, the SUSE move caught some observers by surprise.

"As the Kubernetes market consolidated, there was some pressure on Rancher to find some exit, but I thought the recent funding round gave them enough time to go big," Subramanian said. In March, Rancher Labs raised $40 million in a series D round of funding led by Telstra Ventures. That brought the company's funding total to $95 million.

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