Kubernetes: Weighing Advantages and Disadvantages
Kubernetes is one of the current leading technologies. Its adoption has seen tremendous growth in the past few years. The concept of containers is a paradigm that appears to be the predominant medium of software development and deployment in the coming future. Containers help maintain consistency across various platforms, as they pack an application with its dependencies to help move it from one platform to another.
Containers help developers have greater control over their applications, as they help pack units of applications into reusable container images. These units can then be transported and multiplied to meet the business requirements. While the transportation of the units is a topic for another day, in this article, we will look at how useful Kubernetes - a container orchestration technology - is in scaling container units or images and whether it is beneficial in a real-life application or not.
Feel free to use these links to navigate the guide:
- What is Kubernetes?
- What can Kubernetes do?
- Advantages of Adopting Kubernetes
- Disadvantages of Adopting Kubernetes
- Does Kubernetes Make Sense For Your Business
What is Kubernetes?
Kubernetes is a compact, portable open-source platform for managing containerized workloads, services, and applications. Kubernetes, originally developed by Google, focused on automating the deployment, scaling, and other forms of containerized application management.
Over the years, Kubernetes has grown to establish itself as the unmatched standard for container and containerized application orchestration. It is one of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s (CNCF) flagship projects that Google donated. Major tech giants like Google, AWS, IBM, Cisco, Intel, and Red Hat all back it.
Kubernetes makes it very simple to deploy and operate swarms of containers for an application. It does so by creating an abstraction layer on the available hardware node clusters, enabling development teams to deploy their application with ease.
With Kubernetes, deploying and managing applications is similar to managing a microservice. Instead of worrying about how your servers will scale to accommodate significant traffic and data, you focus on building the application. The Kubernetes engine handles the rest for you. It even provides you with better control over how you utilize your hardware resources.
With Kubernetes, monitoring and maintaining your containerized application is a breeze. All you need to do is define your hardware capacity and individual container requirements, and Kubernetes will make intelligent use of the resources to fit the conditions well.
What can Kubernetes Do?
Containers are known to be one of the best ways to bundle and distribute your applications, but they need to be appropriately managed. A container is just a packaged unit of your app; you need a managing unit to help scale these containers to meet the business requirements. You also need to manage updates and rollbacks on these containers to keep them in level with the latest version of your source code.
Kubernetes is a powerful technology for modern cloud-hosted distributed applications. It can help solve a significant number of CI/CD problems easily. But that’s not all; there is a longer list of things that Kubernetes can do, making the life of a DevOps engineer easy.
One of the prominent uses of Kubernetes is to balance the incoming traffic load to all containers and systems evenly. This helps to reduce the load from individual containers and leverage the capacity of the vast container swarm to handle large amounts of traffic easily. Traditionally, additional servers meant solely for this purpose need to be implemented.
While you would want to control the number of containers you want in your application and the resources allocated to each of them, this can get cumbersome in many situations. Kubernetes can handle this on its own, and you are only needed to specify the individual requirements for each container.
With the available clusters of nodes, Kubernetes can automatically provision and fit containers into your nodes to make the best use of resources. This intelligence goes a long way in reducing the manual efforts that would have been necessary otherwise.
Another important obvious use of Kubernetes is to manage the individual containers well. If a container goes down due to a hardware/software fault, the Kubernetes system ensures that it is replaced in due time to help maintain the capacity and bandwidth of the system.
This trait ensures the system’s high availability and its capacity to bounce back from failures. It is an essential standard for real-time business applications, as downtime can directly result in lost revenue.
Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment is one of the biggest pain points when it comes to container management. In a single-platform centralized application, rolling out updates is simple - there is one instance of the updated version of the app replacing the app running. In a container swarm of over 100 instances, this can get difficult.
Kubernetes solves this issue by managing these changes automatically. You need to instruct Kubernetes on how to change the state of your application, i.e., roll out updates, scale-up, adopt resources in new containers, etc., and Kubernetes will gradually complete these changes across the entire swarm of containers.
Apart from scaling and managing containers, it is also important to scale an application’s storage to ensure that it does not become the bottleneck to the application’s performance. Kubernetes can help do this as well, as it can scale storage systems of all kinds - including local storage, public cloud providers, etc.
Advantages of Adopting Kubernetes
Kubernetes, as a container orchestration engine, is one of the best things to happen to DevOps to date. The introduction of Kubernetes has allowed software teams to shift their focus away from routine maintenance and update tasks to the actual application development. Let’s take a look at some of the aspects in which Kubernetes has eased the lives of developers and businesses alike.
Improved Productivity Owing to the Huge Ecosystem
One of the biggest benefits that Kubernetes offers is the ability to be more productive when building applications. Kubernetes helps you build self-service Platform-as-a-Service applications swiftly that include a layer of hardware abstraction. This layer helps development teams roll out changes faster and manage the entire set of hardware (nodes) as one single entity, controlled using the Kubernetes engine.
Kubernetes also introduces the concept of GitOps, in which a git repository is the primary source of truth for an application’s deployment. This means that if the actual deployment and the git history diverge, Kubernetes automatically updates the deployment to match the git status. This takes away the load on developers to manually align the deployment with the source code. The process now is simply to update the git history with the desired changes, and Kubernetes takes care of updating your application accordingly!
Allocating and deallocating resources is simple; you don’t need to set up another machine manually. All that you need to do is provision another node using the Kubernetes interface, and you are good to go! Historically, scaling an application was one of the most challenging tasks. DevOps teams used to work day in day out to successfully match the capacity of a system with the user traffic and requirements. With Kubernetes, this process is fully automated.
Wide Community and Ecosystem
There is a massive ecosystem of tools developed around and for Kubernetes. Some of the top ones include Helm, which manages Kubernetes charts (pre-configured resources), and Kubectl, a command-line tool that controls the Kubernetes cluster manager. The open-source nature of the Kubernetes technology allows room for custom tools to be built by developers. This further helps in automating monotonous tasks and simplifying the process of DevOps.
Not only this, the Kubernetes community is stronger than ever before. With so many enthusiasts diving into the world of container orchestration using Kubernetes, it is only a matter of time before we see communities as large as Android and Tensorflow working to help each other out in solving Kubernetes issues. Many cloud providers have teamed up with ed-tech platforms to provide structured practical courses on cloud topics similar to Kubernetes. Qwiklabs, AWS Training, etc., are just a few names in the ocean of initiatives aimed at educating the masses about this technology.
The presence of so many productivity-increasing features helps businesses build and scale applications faster. This results in a better user experience, as software teams can now focus better on building the actual software well. This directly converts into better revenue for businesses.
Kubernetes has picked up a lot of hype in the current time. But some technology is only said to be useful if it will still hold comparable usage shares 10 or 20 years down the line. With Kubernetes, this certainly seems to be the case. The benefits that Kubernetes offers over the traditional DevOps process provide a major relief to software teams and businesses all across the globe. Here are some of the reasons why Kubernetes appears to be in it for the long run:
One of the primary requirements for a technology to be future-safe is to grow fast following the changing requirements of software products. The Kubernetes ecosystem is ever-growing, and corporations and communities constantly release new tools and APIs. The presence of open-source communities working on the technology makes it easier to understand and improve the experience of businesses with Kubernetes.
The fundamental nature of Kubernetes is to be able to adapt to the usage and maintenance requirements of a distributed application. This means that if your user base grows to a larger number in the future, your old applications hosted using Kubernetes will be able to catch up quickly. The containerized structure of your application will also facilitate easy migration between multiple cloud providers from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) to Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Cloud is undoubtedly the future of modern application development. More and more pioneer applications shifted their operations from self-hosted data centers to major cloud platform providers like AWS, GCP, Azure, etc. In this era of transition to the cloud, emerging technologies need to run on the leading cloud platforms to facilitate a better developer and business experience for modern organizations. Kubernetes is fully compatible with all the major cloud platforms and even has ready-to-use starters on many platforms for easy setup.
Variety of Workloads and Deployment Options
Teams have a variety of deployment options with Kubernetes. You can run almost any kind of application on the Kubernetes engine, which includes:
Running multiple instances of an application is a breeze on Kubernetes. A prime reason for its conception was to scale an application well enough to cover varying traffic. The number of running instances is coordinated with the incoming application traffic to maximize cost-effectiveness by running multiple application instances.
Kubernetes offers great support for stateful applications which require stable and persistent storage for sound functioning. The technology supports various storage types, including local storage, cloud storage, network storage, software-defined storage, etc. With the available plugins, you can attach any popular storage solution to your containerized applications and reliably store your data.
Kubernetes is used to construct micro-service-based applications. A microservice is a miniature version of an application and serves a smaller purpose. Breaking an extensive application into smaller micro-services is considered a good practice, as it allows you to flexibly scale the high-traffic parts of your application easily. With Kubernetes’ Service API primitive, scaling each microservice is as easy as increasing the number of running containers.
More often than not, applications are built and run in parallel with each other. Such applications can aid each other’s purpose and require to be able to communicate internally. While communicating over an external network is an option, Kubernetes offers a better solution. Co-located applications are hosted using Kubernetes’ Pod primitive. This allows nodes to house multiple types of containers inside them, allowing these containers to communicate and share resources securely.
Many applications require a background processing element to be able to function smoothly. Cleaning databases, sending periodical emails, creating backup images are just a few reasons you need a background job or a CRON job service. With the CronJobs API primitive, you can easily host job services on a Kubernetes cluster and manage them.
The availability of a range of API resources and primitives makes Kubernetes a very dynamic platform. It helps accommodate any kind of workload on a uniform portal.
Security is a crucial factor in choosing any technology for business-related applications. Kubernetes offers native security features to protect against a wide range of threats and vulnerabilities. Some of the leading security features offered by Kubernetes engines include:
Kubernetes utilizes TLS to encrypt network traffic inside and outside the host network. This provides a safeguard against hackers trying to intercept the data on its way between your servers and users.
Role-based Access Control
Similar to popular IAM (Identity and Access Management) standards provided in top distributed computing platforms like the cloud, Kubernetes allows administrators to control the level of access granted to each user in the development team. Roles and ClusterRoles can be defined to specify which resources are accessible to which users within a namespace. This serves as a great way of regulating access to resources and ensuring safe operation.
Pod Security and Network Policies
To prevent root-access attacks, administrators can control the access level granted to individual containers and Pods. This can prevent containers from gaining unnecessary rights to the entire system, and this stops attackers from gaining control over the entire system by breaking into one container only. With moderated network policies, admins can control how pods communicate with each other. This can prevent unnecessary, unauthorized communication between containers to further disable trespassers in the system.
Compatibility With Major Cloud Providers
The ability to run with any primary cloud provider is so important that it deserves an independent discussion. Leaders like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and others offer a quick and straightforward integration for Kubernetes-based applications. You can choose to host instances of these services in an on-premise data center and still utilize their smooth workflows for Kubernetes.
No Vendor Lock-Ins
The ability to integrate with multiple cloud providers facilitates an easy transition between providers, with little to no redesign required for your application. As a business, this is very important as it alleviates dependency on a single vendor and opens up a wide range of possibilities for relocating your application if needed. If a particular cloud provider does not meet your requirements, you are free to try out entrants and innovators like Kublr, Cloud Foundry, etc. This is possible due to the uniform nature of Kubernetes deployment across all providers.
Most cloud providers offer pre-built workflows for setting up and managing Kubernetes pods. Some providers go a step further and offer even more tailored offerings, like Kubernetes-as-a-Service. Amazon EKS, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Red Hat OpenShift, and Google Cloud Kubernetes Engine are some top cloud providers that offer Kubernetes-as-a-Service. All of these provide a full-fledged Kubernetes management platform, so you can shift your focus from application management to user experience.
Disadvantages of Adopting Kubernetes
While Kubernetes offers a wide array of features that ultimately turn into advantages of using the technology, it also has some shortcomings worth discussing. The complexity and additional planning associated with every Kubernetes engine can get challenging to keep up with at times. Some of the top shortcomings of the Kubernetes approach are:
Steep Learning Curve
One of the most apparent issues with adopting Kubernetes is that it is difficult to learn. Even for the most experienced developers and DevOps engineers, Kubernetes can become a nightmare if not learned with a proper roadmap in mind. To learn Kubernetes is a long journey that begins from understanding basic container and container orchestration concepts to gaining solid experience in advanced development and operations concepts. This process can get time-consuming and tiring.
Diverse Knowledge Needed
Apart from Kubernetes, it is also important for a DevOps engineer to know other cloud-native technologies well. Distributed applications, distributed logging, and cloud computing are just a few related topics that are a must-know for any DevOps engineer to handle Kubernetes efficiently.
Initial Configuration Difficult
When discussing the steep learning curve that Kubernetes brings with itself, it is noteworthy to mention the complex initial setup and configuration. Kubernetes consists of multiple moving parts which need to be configured and installed separately to initialize a system. While top cloud providers offer starters (similar manually to Kubernetes-as-a-Service offerings), the process can get tricky if you are looking to set up a Kubernetes cluster.
A special focus must be given to tasks like ensuring security, maintaining availability, provisioning storage, and handling monitoring of all kinds. All these can be highly intimidating for people who have just begun to take their first steps in the world of container orchestration.
Owing to the steep learning curve of the technology, experience talent in this domain can get very expensive. All organizations can’t train in-house Kubernetes experts, so they have to hire talent from the industry.
The industry acknowledges the efforts that go into making an experienced Kubernetes engineer as the PayScale average salary is $115k for the Kubernetes skill. The budgets of many small and medium-scale organizations may not be big enough to accommodate the expenses of such talent.
Migrating Existing Applications to Kubernetes Can Be a Pain
Any kind of transition in software development is difficult. Whether changing features or changing tech stack, changes always turn out to be a time-consuming and sensitive process. The initial idea of Kubernetes aims at simplifying this process of transition with the help of containerized applications. But, transitioning a non-containerized application to a containerized application is not an easy task at all.
The speed and migration possibility entirely depend on how your software was written. If migration appears complicated, you might have to consider redesigning your entire application while keeping the Kubernetes deployment in mind.
Requires a Vision From the Beginning
Building upon the previous issue, Kubernetes-based applications need to be planned well ahead of time, before the actual development begins. Containerized applications follow a radically different structure from non-containerized applications, and if not appropriately designed, you might need to rebuild the entire application from scratch.
Managing Kubernetes-based applications requires financial planning, as they require a skilled workforce and enough traffic to yield a profit. All in all, your application’s planning phase requires a detailed and deliberate approach to ensure your application design gets the most out of Kubernetes.
More Expensive Than Its Counterparts
With the added difficulty in learning and setting up a Kubernetes system, the budget with Kubernetes-based applications can get out of bounds sometimes. In most cases, where the technology usage is moderate and set up from scratch, Kubernetes is cheaper than its alternatives. However, if you are looking to migrate your legacy application to Kubernetes and you do not have in-house Kubernetes experts, you need to be prepared to spend extra money.
Complexity Converts to Cost
As mentioned previously, Kubernetes is difficult to learn. This means that you either need to invest more time in training your engineers, or more money in hiring trained engineers. Either way, you are eventually going to spend more money than you would have in a set-up without Kubernetes.
Additionally, you will waste a lot of time if your team encounters any difficulties while implementing the configuration. And in business, it is evident that lost time directly relates to lost money.
Migration Appears Unproductive
Apart from the human capital costs, there are other hidden costs associated with a Kubernetes setup. If you migrate to Kubernetes from another container orchestration set-up, you are bound to invest your team’s time in redesigning existing applications. Meanwhile, your team will be adapting the current application to the new configuration, and they will not be adding any new features to the application. This means that the time spent in migrating the application does not turn out to be productive for the business.
Infrastructure Can Cost More Than the Total Profit
Also, sometimes the infrastructure costs of running Kubernetes are higher than that for alternative configurations. This is a common scenario for small-scale applications. Kubernetes has its own computing needs; therefore, it might be cheaper to set up a website on a simpler infrastructure, like Heroku or Firebase, than to go through the tiring process of setting up a Kubernetes configuration.
Unnecessarily Complex For Small-Scale Applications
While the idea of building applications that can scale up and down to fit any sort of traffic requirements sounds great, it might not be so simple to implement for smaller applications. Many applications keep a small group of users or a smaller budget in mind when built. Implementing Kubernetes for these can be overkill, as the benefits of running your application on Kubernetes may not be able to compensate for the amount of time and resources that went into setting it up.
Adds to the Development Time
Apart from initial setup costs, maintaining Kubernetes engines can become a cumbersome task. For simpler applications, it is important to have an even simpler deployment process. The presence of a full-fledged Kubernetes system can add unnecessary delays in rolling out updates and changes. Once again, the complexity can become an issue here, as highly skilled professionals are needed to help maintain these systems, which may be out of scope for these simple applications.
Kubernetes’ development workflow is notorious for its complexity. It seems affordable for large-scale applications where it makes a noticeable difference in the development and deployment processes, but in small-scale applications, the workflow is bound to add delays and reduce the teams’ productivity. With more time spent on managing the specifics of deployment, less time will be devoted to building business features into the application.
It’s essential to understand when and when not to use Kubernetes. The right choice on this front can save you from a lot of unneeded trouble.
Does Kubernetes Make Sense For Your Business
There is no simple answer to the question “Should you migrate to Kubernetes?”. This is so because the question is highly dependent on the context and the situation. If you are looking to begin a new project or build an application expected to scale, Kubernetes might be just what you need. Owing to its great grip on flexibility, power, scalability, and security, Kubernetes is the best way to go if you are looking to build anything that will scale in the future.
However, if you are trying to build something that will not face a considerable user surge in the future, you might be overdoing it with Kubernetes. Building and managing an application on this technology adds a new responsibility to the shoulders of the software team. If this responsibility appears larger than the entire application itself, you might want to pause and analyze your situation a little.
If done right, Kubernetes will provide a better developer experience, an increase in productivity, and a motivated workforce. If done wrong, it can bring hell down on the DevOps folks, who will have to spend their days and nights managing the technology properly.
Looking back, we discussed what Kubernetes is, its use cases, and the advantages and disadvantages of adopting Kubernetes. Lastly, we want to emphasize that prompt research and understanding are needed to ensure you choose the best tool for your business and application.
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