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KubeCon Chicago 2023: The Year AI Didn’t Take Over

Nov 15, 2023 / 5 minute read

2023 KubeCon North America concluded last week in Chicago. Our own Alan Murphy recaps his main takeaways from the action-packed event.


Well, that’s a wrap for 2023 KubeCon North America. If I had to sum it up, I’d steal a phrase from Chicago’s own Fast Eddie Felson: “Hey, I’m back!”

While last year’s KubeCon was the post-pandemic return, you could still feel the lingering effects of a 50/50 split between on-site and remote attendance. The knowledge was great last year, but something was missing in the networking, the expo floor, and the energy. It felt more like a make-up conference than a full KubeCon.

That all changed this year with what felt like a complete return to form, a feeling of growth and making up for lost time. It also felt like this year, KubeCon outgrew the constraints of being a niche Kubernetes show where everything had to be about Kubernetes. Despite always having broader Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) coverage, KubeCon was always a show about Kubernetes in years past: CNCF projects that were rooted in Kubernetes, legacy tools that were migrating to cloud-native via Kubernetes, etc.

KubeCon 2023 was more like a full-blown tradeshow with much broader IT coverage. In other words, this year truly felt worthy of the CNCF branding covering the entire CNCF landscape (which we all know is one huge landscape). That feeling was most resonant on the expo showcase floor.

The Expo Showcase Shows Off KubeCon’s Breadth

The showcase floor was much larger and broader in scope this year, compared to previous years. From my perspective, the KubeCon expo floor used to focus heavily on a Kubernetes vendor’s target buyers (DevOps, SREs, and app developers). This year was much more generally IT-focused, which is a good thing. It almost felt “broad with focus” this year.

Every booth on the show floor had relevance in cloud native deployments outside of Kubernetes. Most track sessions even treated Kubernetes like a platform alongside any other cloud-based platform (more on that later).

One trend I noticed on the floor was sponsors that could be considered more “traditional IT vendors” moving into the cloud native space. This trend demonstrated the acceptance that every IT department has a mix of every type of technology in their stack. And, they run the full gamut of maturity with those technologies. Walking the expo floor covered every part of the cloud-native stack you could think of, but still with CNCF focus.

OpenTelemetry is the Hot Topic on the Observability Track

As always, most of my focus was on the Observability Track. KubeCon’s broad coverage was clear here as well, with many sessions treating things like application instrumentation with the same reverence as container-level profiling.

One of the most common threads throughout the Observability Track was OpenTelemetry (OTel), of course. There were tons of OTel updates throughout the sessions. Many people were curious if existing monitoring tools like Prometheus will play nicely with OTel (Spoiler alert: they will.) It’s clear OTel is on everyone’s minds at the moment.

I always love the opportunity to nerd out on eBPF, as well. KubeCon certainly scratched that itch with eBPF becoming the de facto tool for lower-level observability and control. Although an entire session on eBPF licensing was a new level of nerdery for me, and I loved it. (If you're interesting in nerding out too, here are the session details.)

Vendors Spare Us on AI-Washing

One surprise of the show was the lack of AI-washing in sessions and vendor messaging. I fully expected to walk in the front door and be blasted with world-saving AI messaging attached to every other CNCF technology. Thankfully this wasn’t the case.

The one exception: tongue-in-cheek session presenters noting they relied on AI-chosen graphics in many of the presentations. (Which, sadly, showed that AI doesn’t quite understand the context of punny presentation titles: #aigoals)

The only times I saw AI as part of the story was when it truly deserved to be part of that particular solution. A good example was a great presentation on utilizing AI and LLMs to help drive down mean-time-to-detect and resolve (MTTD/MTTR). Here, AI feeds the human SRE operator additional context and suggests direction so they can take more efficient action. The presenter showed very pragmatic concern about the risk versus the reward of auto-remediation. It’s well worth a watch.

The Real Treasure is the Friends We Made Along the Way

Of course, no KubeCon is complete without an opportunity to catch up with old friends and colleagues. Nothing reminds you of how small of a space we all work in than a big show like this. I love catching up with the same friends year after year, watching each other move throughout this industry, excited about new technologies, and becoming smarter every year.

I’ve always found the expo’s first evening happy hour/booth crawl is the best way to quickly seek those out that I may not have seen since the last KubeCon for a quick catch-up and scheduling of future coffee…or lunch…or drinks…or visiting each other’s evening events…throughout the rest of the event.

Speaking of evening events, Edge Delta co-hosted a great ping pong event with our friends at Cast.ai.


This year didn’t disappoint. It was truly a pleasure catching up with old friends.

And since this wasn't the year that KubeCon became self-aware with AI, we have something to look forward to in either or both of next year’s EU and NA events. (Just kidding: I have no desire to grab drinks with AI.)


See you all next year!


Alan Murphy

Principal Product Manager

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