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What is Kubernetes? Beginner's Guide

What is Kubernetes? Beginner's Guide

Nov 9, 2021
5 min read

Initially developed by a group of Google engineers, and released in 2015, Kubernetes has become the leading container orchestration system. Kubernetes once a niche point of discussion in DevOps communities, today it has become a popular topic with rapid adoption and community dialogue.

But what is Kubernetes (K8s) exactly?

Kubernetes (K8s) is an open-source, vendor-agnostic platform that helps you scale, automatically deploy, and manage applications built with container technology. Kubernetes organizes the containers of your application and enables their efficient management and tracking.

It might be helpful to take a step back before we dive in further. The previous approach to software development was to take the features, the logic, and the different services that make up an application and bundle them into a single program. However, this monolithic architecture wasn’t equipped to address the ever-changing requirements of the modern software industry.

As your application grows over time, you might find it challenging to make accurate changes to the code. If it needs updating, you’ll have to redeploy it, leading to downtime and money loss. If a service has a bug, fixing it could leave your entire application unavailable to users. Scaling one service could conflict with others.

These obstacles are addressed by microservices architecture. With microservices, your application’s services are loosely coupled, and you can virtualize them using containers. You can code, deploy, update, and maintain different services independently; you can also scale up or down based on your application’s needs. This means, though, that you have to keep track of hundreds or even thousands of containers.

The most popular solution to this madness is Kubernetes. In plain english, Kubernetes enables teams to manage multiple containers simultaneously, saving you both time and effort. In this article, you’ll learn how Kubernetes works, the unique features and benefits, and why you may need it.

How we got here: from VMs to containers

Previously, organizations deployed applications on a physical server with an operating system and different deployed applications on top of that. If an application required more resources, the other applications wouldn’t have what they needed to work correctly.

Virtualized deployment, which allows multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical server, was meant to solve this issue. As before, there is an OS on the server. On top of that is a hypervisor running multiple VMs with their own OSs to deploy your application. This offers a more effective use of resources, better scalability, and reduced hardware costs. But valuable resources are needed to run the VM’s OS, and the application isn’t fully optimized.

Containers solve this problem. They’re similar to VMs, but they share the same operating system. They don’t rely on the underlying infrastructure, so they can be managed and deployed on any hardware—your local system, on-premises system, with bare metal, or the cloud (ex GKE, AKS, EKS).

Container deployment is the most efficient method, offering many benefits, but you still need to maintain your containers and make sure there’s no downtime. That’s exactly what Kubernetes can help you achieve.

Is Kubernetes right for you?

To better understand Kubernetes, you first have to understand why container technology and products like Docker are so popular. Containers are a much more efficient and cost-effective replacement for virtual machines (VMs). Essentially, they allow you to package a program that you need to run on a server so that you can run it on your laptop or production environment with few changes and largely predictable results.

Once your program is running on a computer, you need to decide how to automate it. When you have a large number of containers to manage, manually doing this can be overwhelming. This is where Kubernetes may be able to help.

Rather than running a single container instance, you can easily run tens or hundreds of instances. As you build this over time, you’ll start seeing meaningful benefits around your workflow. Not only will you have a more efficient way to deploy products, but you’ll be able to use the capabilities of Kubernetes to write software in a more flexible, decentralized way.

As the demands for your infrastructure scale, Kubernetes will enable you to move faster, reduce interruptions, and use resources more efficiently.

Use cases and benefits

Here are the most important use cases and benefits of Kubernetes:

  • Scaling handling: Scaling up or down becomes a challenge if your application offers multiple services. Kubernetes allows you to automatically scale your containers to match your needs.
  • Containerized workload management: Workloads in containerized environments operate smoothly with Kubernetes. The platform also enables you to easily migrate your projects to the cloud.
  • Ability to run anywhere: You can run Kubernetes on-premises or in a public, private, or hybrid cloud without modifying your application or your infrastructure.
  • Open source: A significant part of Kubernetes’s popularity is that it is open source and is backed by a large contributing community of users and professionals. No matter your needs, an open-source tool probably exists to help you extend Kubernetes and handle a variety of workloads.
  • Reliable deployment management: Kubernetes is declarative, meaning it allows you to describe the desired state of your deployments. This helps you optimize, simplify, and automate your deployment process.
  • Employer and employee interest: Kubernetes skills are the most in demand for modern operational roles. Kubernetes adoption by both large and small companies has created many jobs, and employees familiar with the technology can get ahead.

Kubernetes-specific features

Here are some specific features of Kubernetes:

  • Service discovery and load balancing: Kubernetes acts as a service discovery tool and helps you identify dynamically changing container instances. It load balances traffic, provides deployment stability, and ensures containers make the best use of resources.
  • Storage orchestration: Kubernetes allows you to manage storage by connecting your workloads with local, network, public cloud, or any other storage system available to your containers.
  • Automated rollouts and rollbacks: Automated rollouts update deployments with zero downtime. As a declarative system, Kubernetes will change the actual state to match your desired state. If you need to return to a previous deployment version, you can use Kubernetes’s rollback feature.
  • Self-healing: Kubernetes’s self-healing guarantees that your containers will always run effectively. If containers malfunction or don’t function at all, Kubernetes will replace them to match the desired state.
  • Secret and configuration management: With Kubernetes, you can update authentication credentials, like passwords, application keys, and SSH keys, and keep them secure.

Which applications benefit from Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is an excellent tool for applications that require scalability, especially as your app or business grows. It improves the performance of your application with load-balancing capabilities, restores your system in case of failure, minimizes downtime, and offers an effective way to maintain and update your application.

Organizations need systems that operate continuously with no wasted time or resources. There’s no room for failing applications, especially in industries like healthcare or financial services, where outcomes are significant. Kubernetes offers high availability and makes sure that your system meets the desired level of operational performance. Your important services are replicated and have multiple instances. Even if one instance stops working, the others will continue to operate.

Kubernetes is also perfect for containerized apps. Containers offer benefits, like portability and efficiency, for apps that are difficult to scale or develop. Kubernetes’s orchestration capabilities make it easier to manage these apps, which can otherwise be hard to handle in production.

Final thoughts

The word kubernetes in Greek roughly means “pilot”, meaning someone you can rely on to safely lead you to your destination. The engineers at Google who named the platform were thoughtful in naming and designing this beautiful open-source technology.

Kubernetes is a powerful system for containerized workloads and services. It changes how you deploy applications and provides a series of tools that can help you orchestrate the management of multiple containers. Using Kubernetes, you can efficiently tackle the complexity of the modern-day software development landscape as your organization continues to grow.

If you're looking for a third-party platform to enhance your ability to manage and monitor your Kubernetes applications, then Airplane is a good solution to try out. With Airplane, you can build powerful multi-step workflows and internal dashboards that can ease the process of monitoring Kubernetes clusters and fixing any issues that may arise in real-time.

Airplane also offers strong built-in features, such as activity and audit logs, permissions setting, job scheduling, and more.

To test it out and build your first internal workflow or dashboard, sign up for a free account or book a demo.

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Alex Doukas
Alex is a Software Engineer and Product Designer, who focuses on Front-end development. He is currently a Product Designer at Fold Your Design.

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