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Does Kubernetes make containers ready for prime time?

Tony Bradley Editor-in-Chief, TechSpective.net

As Docker and other container platforms gather mainstream steam, organizations must now determine how they can manage all those containers efficiently. To address that challenge, Google developed Kubernetes, an open source container-orchestration system, and the project now has more than 400 contributors. Now that Google has officially released Kubernetes 1.0, the implication is that it's ready to run production environments.

In many ways, containers simplify and streamline IT. App deployment, scaling, updating, and other elements can all be easily automated, and the container environment can be increased or decreased dynamically to meet demand. The challenge for organizations is how to effectively and efficiently manage massive inventories of containers at scale.

[ See related: The essential guide to software containers for application development ]

The vision for Kubernetes, "an open source orchestration system for Docker containers," is respectable, but early versions of such systems are notoriously bad. The question organizations need to ask themselves is whether or not Kubernetes 1.0 is ready for wide-scale use in their production environments or if it makes more sense to wait for the next version or consider other container orchestration solutions.

But is it production-ready?

Dima Stopel, founder of Twistlock, says Kubernetes 1.0 can deliver. "At Twistlock we play with Kubernetes a lot. This is one of the main container infrastructures we support. In Kubernetes 1.0 we see significant API improvements, in addition to much better stability and scalability. It definitely makes it easier for companies with [a] large number of microservices to move from virtual-machines-based infrastructure to containers."

The Kubernetes website describes it this way: "It handles scheduling onto nodes in a compute cluster and actively manages workloads to ensure that their state matches the user's declared intentions. Using the concepts of 'labels' and 'pods,' it groups the containers which make up an application into logical units for easy management and discovery."

To give you some idea of the capabilities of Kubernetes 1.0, here's a brief overview of some of the key features:

  • Stable API with formal deprecation policy
  • Scalable to handle hundreds of nodes and thousands of containers
  • Fast API responses of less than five milliseconds on average
  • Includes core networking functionality like DNS, load balancing, service accounts, and application-level health checks to simplify managing container workloads in production
  • Stateful app support
  • Easy to inspect and debug code and monitor resources

"Whether it's ready for prime time or not has always been a personal decision made within any organization," explains Andrew Storms, VP of security services at New Context. "Certainly, Google is pointing to some big names that are already using Kubernetes, such as Box and eBay. Kubernetes is more of an orchestration tool focused on managing containers and excels at microservice applications built for clustering, and is less a competitor or replacement for containerization technologies like Docker."

TK Keanini, CTO of Lancope, agrees. "Kubernetes competes with many other container orchestration tools and the good news is that people have choices. The 1.0 release is awesome and I look forward to its evolution among all the others—there is some healthy competition going on here and we all benefit."

The container wave swells

Competition is good for the container and container management industries as a whole. It also drives innovation within the platforms as vendors compete with one another to gain a unique edge. "I do think it drives innovation and would not be surprised at all if CoreOS makes more use of Kubernetes over their current Fleet system," says Keanini.

Storms points out, "The good news here is that industries have agreed that the next design of applications should be using containers, should be immutable, and use microservice strategies. Kubernetes helps promote that thinking and the more companies promoting that thinking are bound to create a competitive marketplace in which the consumers of these technologies will benefit."

Google also created the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF). The purpose of CNCF is to work with developer communities and container platform vendors to create standards and tool sets for managing container environments—including Kubernetes, Mesos, Docker Swarm, and others.

CNCF is to container orchestration as the Open Container Project is to the containers themselves. Google intends to donate Kubernetes to CNCF and allow CNCF to oversee its continued development and maintenance.

Nick Chase provides a deeper explanation of CNCF in a recent blog post. "The CNCF will be a collaborative project under the Linux Foundation and starts with 22 companies as founding members: AT&T, Box, Cisco, Cloud Foundry, CoreOS, Cycle Computing, Docker, eBay, Goldman Sachs, Google, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Joyent, Kismatic, Mesosphere, Red Hat, Switch, Twitter, Univa, VMware, and Weaveworks."

Twistlock's Stopel says, "The fact that Kubernetes is part of Cloud Native Computing Foundation will make sure the integration with other members of CNCF is smooth. One example of such is CoreOS, another major player in the containers field."

Is Kubernetes 1.0 right for your shop?

As Storms suggests above, the decision about whether or not a given tool or application is ready for use in a production environment is subjective. Different organizations operate on different risk tolerance models and some are in a better position to be adventurous than others.

However, Kubernetes has been around the block a few times and it's proven itself worthy so far. If companies like Box, Samsung SDS, Red Hat, and Zulily can manage their container ecosystems with Kubernetes 1.0, chances are it will work just fine for your company. With Google backing development of Kubernetes and handing it over to the CNCF—a veritable "who's who" of tech and DevOps vendors—it's safe to assume that Kubernetes 1.0 is stable and that organizations can safely invest effort in deploying it without risk that it will disappear or won't be properly maintained.

If you want a powerful, lean, portable, extensible container orchestration platform, it's time to evaluate whether or not Kubernetes 1.0 is right for your environment.

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