A Glance at Kubernetes

April 12, 2016

After unintentionally putting it off for years, I recently took a look at Google’s Kubernetes for the first time, and was impressed by the sophistication of the project. This ACM article does a good job of explaining its premise along with some of the history of its predecessors at Google.

I find Kubernetes especially fascinating because instead of just shipping a new cloud product (in the spirit of Amazon for example), Google’s instead decided to build an open platform on top of the infrastructure. They’ve also gone out of their way to prove very early on that it’s broadly applicable outside of the GCE’s specialized ecosystem.

Some of the highlights that stood out to me:

  • It’s multi-provider. AWS, GCE, and Azure available as turnkey solutions. In my experience, you get this working early or you don’t get it working at all.
  • The entire application state being driven purely by etcd is a pretty interesting feature. Theoretically you can avoid a single point of failure throughout your entire control plane. Back at Heroku, database failures were the most common reason for development outages.
  • Co-located pods on nodes are awesome. You don’t need these for the most basic web app deployment, but being able to expand your system with the use of agents for log ingestion and the like at a logic layer higher than Puppet is a very useful abstraction.
  • Let’s also not discount the backing of a company like Google is a major asset to confidence in its longevity (compare that to Mesos for example).

And some more tepid commentary:

  • It’s an open question to how difficult it is to operate the system. i.e. Theoretically it’s trivial, but given 500 deployed nodes, how may full-time engineers will it take in practice to babysit it?
  • Its documentation is nicely complete, but it and the project’s branding feel very rough around the edges. This might seem like an inconsequential point, but given how sophisticated Kubernetes is already, confusion might be one of the biggest blockers to the project’s success right now.
  • GCE still needs its own RDS. I want to have at least the option for easy access to a ready-made database.

There’s a lot of companies out there that find PaaS like Heroku too restricting, but by going to IaaS have ended up building and maintaining their own platform to make it palatable; a very steep price to pay. The industry needs a platform that’s easy to use, powerful enough to be universally applicable, and open enough that many organizations across many disciplines are willing to use it.

The next step for me is to actually try this thing out.

A Glance at Kubernetes was published on April 12, 2016.

Find me on Twitter at @brandur.

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