Scaling Your Containers With Kubernetes

Written by: Taylor Jones

With the growing adoption of containerization, many developers are no longer struggling with the woes of code environmental inconsistencies. While containers have solved important problems, new questions have arisen over how to effectively manage and scale them. Products like Kubernetes have been born out of an attempt to solve these issues. Yet, what exactly is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is essentially a solution that coordinates a group of containerized applications and orchestrates them to work together as a single unit. Having a cohesive group of containers allows us to explicitly schedule the amount of container instances we have running at once and also provides an automated way to scale them in case of the unexpected.

Let’s look at the technical specifics of how Kubernetes actually does this.

How Kubernetes Works

Kubernetes instances are referred to as clusters. Each cluster consist of three main units:

  • Pods, which are units that control one or more containers.

  • Node components that are associated with specific pods. These nodes can either be a physical or virtual machine.

  • controller components that coordinate all of the node components to work as one.

These three components work with each other to scale and schedule containers properly. The controller component dictates the scheduling and scaling commands. The nodes then receive these commands and orchestrate the pods accordingly.

Each of these units are self-contained services in their own right. They all communicate with each other over a series of specialized APIs. This means that Kubernetes is actually series of microservices itself.

Another thing to note about the technical structure of Kubernetes is that it’s open source! Kubernetes’ open-source nature means that we can extend it to meet any need that might not be covered in its core feature set. Many organizations have taken the base Kubernetes project and extended it to create products that meet their organization’s unique needs.

However, if we focus on the core aspects of Kubernetes, what exactly about it is unique? What’s the secret sauce behind Kubernetes’ success?

What’s Unique About Kubernetes?

Kubernetes’ early success was mainly due to its creation and subsequent backing by Google. With an endorsement from a company like Google, many developers immediately became attracted to the idea of using it. Yet corporate hype isn’t the only reason it's popular.

One of the biggest technical features that Kubernetes executes really well is its autoscaling feature. If your production app is experiencing an unexpected spike in traffic, then it will automatically scale to handle the new workload. Compared to its competitors, it has the more maturity in this feature.

Kubernetes also isn’t bound to one specific container solution for its pods. Many competitors to Kubernetes are bound a bit more closely to what container solutions they support.

Another point that perks folks' interest about Kubernetes is the open-source nature of the project. As I mentioned earlier, being open-source allows infinite customization of the core product. Many of Kubernetes’ competing solutions offer no or limited customization to their products.

We’ve spent a few minutes talking up the good parts of Kubernetes, but what are some drawbacks or immature aspects of it?

What Are the Drawbacks to Kubernetes?

To be frank, Kubernetes has a reputation of being hard to set up. Once set up, the complaints seem to fall off. However, the journey getting to that point has a reputation of being fairly tough.

Guides (Kubernetes: The Hard Way) argue that maybe understanding why Kubernetes is so hard to set up actually leans to a deeper understanding and controllery of the product. However, despite its reputation, many tools have started to emerge that make Kubernetes a bit more accessible.

Another thing that doesn’t work in Kubernetes’ favor is that its core feature set isn’t that unique compared to other products. There are a lot of other tools that have a similar feature set and are a bit easier to use. The lack of a completely unique feature will allow for other products -- with an easier learning curve -- to eat at Kubernetes’ market share.

While Kubernetes has its triumphs and its downfalls, what exactly is next for its development?

What’s Next for Kubernetes?

Moving forward, Kubernetes is trying to smooth out its learning curve by working closer with container providers like Docker to pave the way for easier integration with different types of containers.

Another cornerstone of Kubernetes’ mission moving forward is to make container orchestration a much more popular idea than it already is. Numerous companies have adopted the ideas of containerization in their products. However, the problems that Kubernetes solves haven’t exactly been adopted into the mainstream of tech development yet. Kubernetes’ mission moving forward is to make sure people understand its purpose.

Finally, there’s a plan to address Kubernetes’ competition. Providers like AWS and IBM have their own container management products. Kubernetes is working to better integrate into these platforms for increased adoption, whether that be a supported option for Kubernetes or an entire custom feature built around it. Kubernetes is simply trying to become more embedded in the products we use every day.

Overall, if you’re interested in finding a solution to container scaling and management, Kubernetes is a great place to start. Take the time to learn what it's about, and you’ll unlock a massive amount of headroom for your organization to scale and manage applications in production environments.

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