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In this post, I’m going to explain Kubernetes, also known as K8S. We’ll cover what it is and isn’t, what problems it solves, its architectural components, installation, and even alternative options. This blog post assumes you are new to Kubernetes and want to get a solid understanding of its concepts and building blocks.

What is Kubernetes?

To begin to understand the usefulness of Kubernetes, we have to first understand two concepts: immutable infrastructure and containers.

  • Immutable infrastructure is a practice where servers, once deployed, are never modified. If something needs to be changed, you never do so directly on the server. Instead, you’ll build a new server from a base image, that have all your needed changes baked in. This way we can simply replace the old server with the new one without any additional modification.
  • Containers offer a way to package code, runtime, system tools, system libraries, and configs altogether. This shipment is a lightweight, standalone executable. This way, your application will behave the same every time no matter where it runs (e.g, Ubuntu, Windows, etc.). Containerization is not a new concept, but it has gained immense popularity with the rise of microservices and Docker.

Armed with those concepts, we can now define Kubernetes as a container or microservice platform that orchestrates computing, networking, and storage infrastructure workloads. Because it doesn’t limit the types of apps you can deploy (any language works), Kubernetes extends how we scale containerized applications so that we can enjoy all the benefits of a truly immutable infrastructure. The general rule of thumb for K8S: if your app fits in a container, Kubernetes will deploy it.

By the way, if you’re like me and wondering where the name “Kubernetes” came from, it is a Greek word, meaning helmsman or pilot. The abbreviation K8s is derived by replacing the eight letters of “ubernete” with the digit 8.

What benefits does Kubernetes offer?

Out of the box, K8S provides several key features that allow us to run immutable infrastructure. Containers can be killed, replaced, and self-heal automatically, and the new container gets access to those support volumes, secrets, configurations, etc., that make it function.

These key K8S features make your containerized application scale efficiently:

  • Horizontal scaling. Scale your application as needed from command line or UI.
  • Automated rollouts and rollbacks. Roll out changes that monitor the health of your application—ensuring all instances don’t fail or go down simultaneously. If something goes wrong, K8S automatically rolls back the change.
  • Service discovery and load balancing. Containers get their own IP so you can put a set of containers behind a single DNS name for load balancing.
  • Storage orchestration. Automatically mount local or public cloud or a network storage.
  • Secret and configuration management. Create and update secrets and configs without rebuilding your image.
  • Self-healing. The platform heals many problems: restarting failed containers, replacing and rescheduling containers as nodes die, killing containers that don’t respond to your user-defined health check, and waiting to advertise containers to clients until they’re ready.
  • Batch execution. Manage your batch and Continuous Integration workloads and replace failed containers.
  • Automatic binpacking. Automatically schedules containers based on resource requirements and other constraints.

Kubernetes basic terms and definitions

To begin understanding how to use K8S, we must understand the objects in the API. Basic K8S objects and several higher-level abstractions are known as controllers. These are the building block of your application lifecycle.

Basic objects

Basic objects include:

  • Pod. A group of one or more containers.
  • Service. An abstraction that defines a logical set of pods as well as the policy for accessing them.
  • Volume. An abstraction that lets us persist data. (This is necessary because containers are ephemeral—meaning data is deleted when the container is deleted.)
  • Namespace. A segment of the cluster dedicated to a certain purpose, for example a certain project or team of devs.

Higher-level abstractions

Controllers, or higher-level abstractions, include:

  • ReplicaSet (RS). Ensures the desired amount of pod is what’s running.
  • Deployment. Offers declarative updates for pods an RS.
  • StatefulSet. A workload API object that manages stateful applications, such as databases.
  • DaemonSet. Ensures that all or some worker nodes run a copy of a pod. This is useful for daemon applications like Fluentd.
  • Job. Creates one or more pods, runs a certain task(s) to completion, then deletes the pod(s).

Kubernetes architecture and components

A K8S cluster is made of a master node, which exposes the API, schedules deployments, and generally manages the cluster. Multiple worker nodes can be responsible for container runtime, like Docker or rkt, along with an agent that communicates with the master.

Master components

These master components comprise a master node:

  • Kube-apiserver. Exposes the API.
  • Etcd. Key value stores all cluster data. (Can be run on the same server as a master node or on a dedicated cluster.)
  • Kube-scheduler. Schedules new pods on worker nodes.
  • Kube-controller-manager. Runs the controllers.
  • Cloud-controller-manager. Talks to cloud providers.

Node components

  • Kubelet. Agent that ensures containers in a pod are running.
  • Kube-proxy. Keeps network rules and perform forwarding.
  • Container runtime. Runs containers.

How to install Kubernetes

Installing K8S locally is simple and straightforward. You need two things to get up and running: Kubectl and Minikube.

  • Kubectl is a CLI tool that makes it possible to interact with the cluster.
  • Minikube is a binary that deploys a cluster locally on your development machine.

With these, you can start deploying your containerized apps to a cluster locally within just a few minutes. For a production-grade cluster that is highly available, you can use tools such as:

  • Kops
  • EKS, which is an AWS managed service
  • GKE, provided by Google

What won’t Kubernetes do for you?

Kubernetes can do a lot of cool, useful things. But it’s just as important to consider what Kubernetes isn’t capable of:

  • It does not replace tools like Jenkins—so it will not build your application for you.
  • It is not middleware—so it will not perform tasks that a middleware performs, such as message bus or caching, to name a few.
  • It does not care which logging solution is used. Have your app log to stdout, then you can collect the logs with whatever you want.
  • It does not care about your config language (e.g., JSON).

K8s is not opinionated with these things simply to allow us to build our app the way we want, expose any type of information and collect that information however we want.

Kubernetes competitors

Of course, Kubernetes isn’t the only tool on the market. There are a variety, including:

  • Docker Compose—good for staging but not production-ready.
  • Nomad—allows for cluster management and scheduling but it does not solve secret and config management, service discover, and monitoring needs.
  • Titus—Netflix’s open-source orchestration platform doesn’t have enough people using it in production.

Overall, Kubernetes offers the best out-of-the-box features along with countless third-party add-ons to easily extend its functionality.

Kubernetes On-Demand Webinar

Kubernetes (K8S), containers, microservices… what’s missing? Application Workflows! Watch this On-Demand Webinar to learn about K8S JOB and DaemonSet objects and much more!
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Last updated: 12/04/2018

These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent BMC's position, strategies, or opinion.

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About the author

Toye Idowu

Toye Idowu

Olatoye is a Certified Kubernetes Administrator and experienced DevOps/Platform engineering Consultant with a demonstrated history of working in the Information Technology and Services industry.