What is Kubernetes?
Kubernetes (k8s) is an open-source system designed for orchestrating ‘containerized’ applications across a cluster of machines. It acts like a sophisticated traffic controller for computer programs, seamlessly managing how they run across different servers, whether located in a data center or in the cloud. This system not only pools together the computing resources of multiple machines but also efficiently handles resource allocation, workload balancing, deployment, and scaling. Its versatility makes it ideal for a wide range of environments, from cloud-native and on-premises to hybrid solutions.
21st Century Landscape
In the early 2000s, the computing landscape experienced a rapid diversification in computing platforms, driven by changes in how people were accessing and interacting with the web. The variety of new technologies that emerged across this sprawling landscape made it difficult to build applications that performed the same across different environments. “But it works on my computer” has become a comedic homage to this complex era of software development.
Containerization emerged as an efficient solution to the complex computing environment landscape. Earlier solutions, like virtualization, were resource-intensive, whereas application ‘containers’ were lightweight and didn’t require a full operating system. Containerized applications could also be started, stopped, and replicated quickly and easily, as needed.
Google was an early adopter of containerization. However, implementing containerized applications was far too cumbersome at scale, across clusters of machines. Without an automated system to orchestrate the containers, each container had to be manually deployed and managed, which was extremely challenging in a large, dynamic environment with many applications running on many machines. To solve this problem, Google invented a container orchestration system called Borg, which automated the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications across their vast server infrastructure.
Although the problems of application consistency and orchestration had been solved at Google, the solutions were complex and, at least in the case of Borg, tailored to Google’s specific needs. This began to change in 2013, when an open-source containerization platform called Docker was released. Docker quickly popularized container technology by making it more accessible and user-friendly compared to previous container solutions.
Docker and the Missing Piece
As a strong supporter of the open-source community, Google took note of this ground-breaking development. Docker had popularized containerization, but container orchestration still lacked a generalizable solution. Thanks to Google’s work on its proprietary Borg system, the company had just the right experience to build this missing piece.
Three Google engineers took up the challenge: Joe Beda, Brendan Burns, and Craig McLuckie. Beda had worked on Google’s internal systems that managed containers, and understood the needs of developers. Burns had worked on Google’s cloud and web search infrastructure, and understood the architectural needs of distributed systems. McLuckie was a product manager at Google Cloud, and understood the operational needs of the end users. Together, these individuals developed an open-source solution to container orchestration that was not only scalable, efficient, and adaptable, but also generalizable across a wide range of industries and infrastructures.
That solution was given the name Kubernetes, a Greek word for ‘helmsman’ or ‘pilot,’ and its logo featured the spoked wheel of a ship.
Democratization and Evolution
Google released Kubernetes as an open-source project in 2014. In 2015, Google donated Kubernetes to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), which is part of the Linux Foundation. By donating Kubernetes to the CNCF, Google ensured that it would be developed and maintained as a community-driven project, benefiting from contributions from a wide range of companies and individual developers, and not be solely under Google’s control or influence. This decision helped Kubernetes gain widespread adoption and become the leading container orchestration platform.
As container technology continued to grow and diversify, it became clear that Kubernetes needed to evolve. In 2016, Kubernetes introduced the Container Runtime Interface (CRI). The CRI decoupled Kubernetes from Docker, allowing it to support multiple container runtimes. This was a significant shift, making Kubernetes even more flexible and not solely dependent on Docker.
Kubernetes has been a hugely successful project. It has seen widespread adoption across diverse industries, with companies like Adobe, Spotify, eBay, and many others using Kubernetes to support core infrastructure. Kubernetes was also used to build Truth Social, a popular social media network that Daring Bit Assembly led the development of. The adoption of Kubernetes by industry giants showcases its power to unify a myriad of technologies even, and especially, for large-scale uses. As the open source community continues to maintain and develop the project, it exemplifies the power of open collaboration in addressing even the most complex technological challenges.
Technical Advantages of Kubernetes
- Container Orchestration: Automates the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications.
- Resource Pooling: Pools together the computing power and resources (like memory and storage) of multiple machines, creating a more powerful and flexible environment than what a single machine can offer.
- Scalability: Efficiently manages horizontal scaling based on application demand, which is vital for applications with fluctuating traffic.
- Load Balancing and Service Discovery: Automatically distributes network traffic to ensure stable application performance and availability, eliminating the need to manually update load balancer configurations.
- Self-Healing Capabilities: Automatically restarts containers that fail, replaces and reschedules containers when nodes die, and kills containers that don’t respond to user-defined health checks.
- Automated Rollouts and Rollbacks: Facilitates continuous integration and delivery with its ability to manage application updates and rollbacks, ensuring seamless and controlled application updates.
- Storage Orchestration: Automatically mounts storage systems of choice, whether from local storage, public cloud providers, or network storage systems, ensuring applications have their storage needs met.
- Secret and Configuration Management: Manages sensitive information such as passwords, tokens, and SSH keys, allowing deployment updates without rebuilding container images and exposing secrets in stack configuration.
Business Advantages of Kubernetes
- Cost Efficiency: Improves resource utilization and efficiency, leading to reduced infrastructure costs, especially in cloud environments where resources can be dynamically allocated based on demand.
- Business Agility and Speed: Enables faster deployment of applications and features, thereby accelerating time-to-market and responding more quickly to market demands.
- Risk Mitigation: Provides robust failover capabilities, significantly reducing downtime and ensuring business continuity.
- Portability Across Clouds: Facilitates migration of applications across different cloud environments or from on-premises to the cloud, avoiding vendor lock-in and ensuring flexibility in infrastructure choices.
- Enhanced Productivity: Streamlines workflows for developers and operations teams, allowing them to focus on their core competencies rather than spending time on managing infrastructure.
- Scalable Growth: Supports the organization’s growth needs by easily scaling applications in response to user demand.
- Improved Customer Experience: Ensures high application availability and minimal downtime, contributing to a positive end-user experience.
Our Featured Kubernetes Work
- Truth Social: We used Kubernetes to build the #1 app, at-scale, on-time, on an uncancellable infrastructure.
- Agency Rocket: We built a Kubernetes-powered application that transformed a tedious manual process into a unified, cloud-based software solution, while integrating with the top 18 insurance carriers in the client’s industry.