Why is Kubernetes called K8s?

16 December 2021 by Katy Ryder

In the world of Kubernetes, it seems like you need to understand all kinds of new words, terms and phrases need just to be part of the conversation. Even the name 'Kubernetes' feels a little clunky and strange. As you're reading more and more about Kubernetes, you're probably seeing it used interchangeably with K8s...

What's up with that? Why is Kubernetes sometimes called K8s, and where did the nickname even come from?

The meaning of Kubernetes

Kubernetes is pretty complicated. So, why does this application orchestration architecture sport such a fun name? It’s not a real consumer-facing technology, like an iPhone. In another universe, it may have had the name 'Containerized Application Orchestration Platform 1' and still have become the de facto standard of creating and deploying multiple applications at scale. So we have to start of with: What does the name Kubernetes mean anyway?

The 'Helmsman'

Most techies worth their salt have at least heard of Kubernetes. Few, however, know this origin story. The real story behind the name is actually quite thoughtful, playful and interesting. But before we jump into the background, let’s not bury the lead. Kubernetes means “helmsman” or “pilot” in Greek.

The idea is to steer applications through the trepid waters of cloud computing and containerization, you need a guide. In this case, a helmsman to move your craft safely through the dark water. The reason for the nautical theme? Well, that has to do with the other technology that made Kubernetes successful — and that’s Docker.

Docker is the company responsible for the containerized application. The container, as you might know, is an essential building block of the Kubernetes architecture. The idea for the connection is that containers help automate, encapsulate and simplify applications — much like a freight container simplifies shipping. Kubernetes would be the head of the ship, multiple containers onboard moving toward their destination.

Origins of the name Kubernetes

So now you know the meaning and reasoning behind the naming of Kubernetes. But, what about its history? To get that story, let’s take a step back in time to 2015. This is the year that the first version of Kubernetes became available. An obviously huge milestone for the project.

Before 2015, the predecessor to Kubernetes was helping Google run its huge network of applications and microservices. At this time, the project had the name 'The Borg' (a Star Trek reference for those of us who were unaware).

When it came time to open-source the technology, Kubernetes service wasn’t the first name on the list. The founding team had around 13 names ready to go, but they had a problem: Google’s legal department. So, after some tough decision-making and legal hoop-jumping, they landed on the name Kubernetes.

Before they decided on the final name, though, the project was internally called Seven of Nine (yet another Star Trek reference).

Why Kubernetes is called K8s

When it comes to Kubernetes terminology, you can spend weeks just getting up to speed with all the different names and related technologies. It’s an easy mistake to hear Kubernetes referred to as K8s the first time and think it’s something completely different. This must be another piece of complex jargon you’ll have to get under your belt. The truth is something a bit simpler.

You see, this part of Kubernetes naming culture doesn't have quite an interesting background story. In short, K8s is an abbreviation of Kubernetes. Instead of using the entire word, you simply replace the 'ubernete' with the digit 8. Add an 's' and done. Easy.

The reason the shortened name is so popular in use is that Kubernetes is a rather large and clunky world. Moreover, people often mispronounce this Greek word. We've all heard: Kuber-neet-ees. Kuber-net-es. Kuber-neet-s. I'm sure the list goes on. To make dealing with the dense tech environment variables just a tiny bit easier, someone decided to shorten the name, and the rest is, well, history.

Getting started with Kubernetes and Appvia

Listen, we can't change the long, complicated name. But our mission at Appvia is to take some of the complexity out of cloud and Kubernetes, enabling businesses to focus on providing value. Wayfinder is like having a team of Kubernetes experts in a box, making Kubernetes simple, scalable and secure.

You now have some background on the words and why Kubernetes is called K8s. If you’re struggling with harnessing the benefits of going cloud-native, learn more about how Wayfinder is changing how companies succeed.

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About the author

Picture of Katy Ryder

Katy Ryder

Demand Generation Manager

I originally hail from Austin, Texas but now call London home. When I’m not crafting content for Appvia, you might run into me at a coffeeshop (there’s always room for one more latte), hiking through Hampstead Heath or snapping street style photographs.

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