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How to choose the best enterprise Kubernetes solution

This article was last updated 3 years ago.

While containers are known for their multiple benefits for the enterprise, one should be aware of the complexity they carry, especially in large scale production environments. Having to deploy, reboot, upgrade or apply patches to patches to hundreds and hundreds of containers is no easy feat, even for experienced IT teams. Different types of Kubernetes solutions have emerged to address this issue.

However, navigating these solutions to pick the right one is often challenging, as there is no true ‘one size fits all’ . Each route you take to adopting Kubernetes comes with its pros and cons; this gets even trickier when you consider that what might be a deal breaker for one organisation, might not be an issue for another, depending on each business’s specific profile.

So before we dive into the challenges and solutions of each type of Kubernetes, let’s explore some of the key considerations for businesses, that will impact which Kubernetes approach is most suitable to their needs.

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What to consider when choosing an enterprise Kubernetes solution

1. Size

Every organization’s IT department and engineering team has different strengths, weaknesses, and priorities. The falling power meters can determine whether a Kubernetes solution can help or impede organisations with a cloud native transformation size. Kubernetes becomes exponentially more complex with scale. Smaller organizations will thus not have some of the challenges that a fortune 500 company would.

2. Technical sophistication

Some enterprises have a very high level of technical sophistication and consider their ability to not only develop and ship applications, but also manage infrastructure as a competitive advantage. Other enterprises are less sophisticated and would rather focus on the application layer industry.

3. Industry

Different types of organizations are governed by a variety of compliance frameworks and have different requirements around uptime security and data loss budget.

4. Budget

Some organizations are more cost constrained than others, which might define what Kubernetes choice they make. For example, an organisation may not have sufficient know-how or bandwidth to manage its own Kubernetes but be forced to do so because of its inability to afford a managed Kubernetes service – even if that means imperfect results.

5. Current infrastructure

Some organisations’ plants run Kubernetes on premises; others run Kubernetes in the cloud; others plan to run on multiple public clouds or across on-premises and public clouds.

Kubernetes makes all of those choices possible, but the challenges are different depending on what type of environment Kubernetes will be running.

Kubernetes challenges at the enterprise level

1. Unexpected costs

Kubernetes is open source, which usually helps reduce OpEx and CapEx. But in order to get additional features and support many organisations opt for a commercial distribution tied to a cloud provider, which can lead to vendor lock-in with licensing costs running high. Secondly, there can be significant costs tied to migrating legacy systems to containers, both in terms of human resources and data.

2. Skills gap

Kubernetes is still a relatively new technology and its ecosystem is ever evolving, which makes it difficult for individuals to keep up with the entire breadth of best practices and functionality.

3. Multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud

Portability is one of the most important benefits of containers, but moving Kubernetes workloads across clouds can be costly.

4. Tool overwhelm

Kubernetes is surrounded by a huge ecosystem of tools and platforms, and there are new additions popping up constantly. While this brings businesses much needed flexibility, it poses the question ‘which tool out of all these is optimal for our specific needs?’ which can be complex to answer.

5. Security, networking, and storage

Managing stateful applications in Kubernetes is not only possible, but part of K8s’ original design. However, this requires expertise in managing cloud native storage, which behaves differently from storage in a legacy environment; properly setting up load balancing can also be tricky, but is essential to ensure the application stays available and performant.

6. Day 2 operations

Lastly, very few organizations think of day two operations are the proof of concept stage, but applications running on Kubernetes, like all applications, spend most of their life cycle in the production phase. These applications need to be patched, upgraded, and monitored.

What enterprise Kubernetes solutions are there?

1. Vanilla Kubernetes

Starting from the basics: pure open source. Kubernetes is always an option and is likely the first type of Kubernetes. Then individuals will have experience with vanilla. Kubernetes is extremely flexible and extensible, but it’s also lacking enterprise great features around monitoring, managing state availability, lifecycle operations, and more platform. As a service Kubernetes offerings are products offered by a vendor that created more opinionated Kubernetes packages. The platform generally includes a branch stout pre-configured Kubernetes, as well as associated tools to manage infrastructure and applications. It is usually much easier for organizations to get up and running with a pass version of Kubernetes than with vanilla Kubernetes. This is accomplished by reducing the configuration options available to users by pre-selecting tools and services, which means that past solutions are considerably less flexible and difficult to upgrade.

2. Cloud hosted Kubernetes

Cloud hosted Kubernetes are convenient and easy: as with past solutions, organsations let the cloud provider handle the Kubernetes infrastructure. The cloud provider controls the configurations and controls. What tools can be integrated. The main difference between cloud hosted Kubernetes and past solutions is cost and workload portability. Cloud hosted Kubernetes is less expensive than past solutions, however, running a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud setup is not possible using cloud hosted Kubernetes alone.

3. Managed Kubernetes

Managed Kubernetes service providers handle the management of Kubernetes cluster for one organization in their data centers, whether it’s on premises or in the public cloud managed Kubernetes services offer enterprise support, uptime guarantees, and a hands-off experience for the customer.

4. Enterprise Kubernetes platforms

Enterprise Kubernetes platforms package upstream, compliant, Kubernetes with tools that help organisations manage the entire application life cycle, and generally focus on providing one central platform to control multiple clusters and multiple environments. These platforms make it easier for centralised teams to control configurations and access management for the entire organisation. Enterprise Kubernetes platforms offer dramatically more flexibility than any option other than vanilla Kubernetes, and tend to prioritize either ease of use or advanced operational controls.

Which enterprise Kubernetes is right for me?

So how do these different solution types address the challenges of Kubernetes for the enterprise we examined earlier?

Here’s a point by point breakdown starting with vanilla Kubernetes: it’s made advantage is that it’s freely available and allows organisations to fully customise and install it on any substrate in a hybrid or multi-cloud setup. On the other hand, it has a very important learning curve might require time and effort for customization to compensate for the lack of out of the box features, it can be the solution.

For organisations that are highly technical and are able to build custom tools as a competitive advantage, PAAS Kubernetes is fairly easy to learn and use as it comes with specific opinions, tools, and solutions. It also usually comes with a high licensing price and can lead to vendor locking and a lack of flexibility to move workloads on other clouds. Organisations that are not highly technical, are looking to quickly get up and running with Kubernetes and have the budget to spend, can find PAAS Kubernetes suitable to their needs.

As far as public cloud Kubernetes goes, it is cheaper than paths, can be easy to set up, and comes with tools to address business needs and networking in store services from the cloud providers, the lack of workload portability and control over plus configuration, or this solutions main trade offs, businesses, especially small ones, that look for a cost sensitive solution do not have the necessary expertise and do not expect to need any unusual functionality from their K8s might find this solution very appealing.

Managed Kubernetes is an offering that effectively allows organisations to consume Kubernetes as a service. It requires very few Kubernetes specific skills with a service provider, enabling cloud and workload portability and taking care of any significant day two operations, like upgrades and security patching. This solution does not come in cheap, but in specific scenarios can be cheaper than a public cloud offering. The lack of flexibility and eventual vendor locking can be the biggest trade-off here. Organisations at the beginning of their K8s journey, lacking the necessary skills set, that want to focus on delivering apps rather than managing infrastructure can benefit from a managed Kubernetes enterprise solution.

Kubernetes platforms are the most flexible in terms of the supported substrates enabling hybrid and multi-cloud deployments easily. Depending on the vendor they can be expensive, but they compensate by providing comprehensive pricing and a rich tooling ecosystem. This type of solution is best suited for medium to large size companies that require complex deployments and have the necessary technical expertise to reap the full benefits of Kubernetes .

Canonical’s Kubernetes distributions

From our discussion so far, it is clear that enterprises have various choices to cater to their own specific needs. Therefore, how does Canonical’s work around Kubernetes contribute and add value to the Kubernetes landscape for businesses and organisations? Firstly, let’s give a bit of context. Most people know Canonical from Ubuntu; what they might not know is that Ubuntu is at the core of all major public cloud Kubernetes distributions. Our experience with the public clouds allows us to be a trusted advisor for all businesses that are interested in Kubernetes. Our goal is to make organisations successful in their cloud native solutions, regardless of the Kubernetes, they use. EKS, AKS, GKE all run on Ubuntu so Canonical can help and provide support on any of these distributions. We also have our own distributions, Charmed Kubernetes and MicroK8s, through which we address multi-cloud use cases, from public cloud to the edge.

Kubernetes is an upstream, conformant composable Kubernetes with a high degree of configurability and fine grained service placement. If you want the Kubernetes tailored to your business, Charmed Kubernetes is an enterprise Kubernetes platform that offers full lifecycle operations at a very competitive price. MicroK8s is a lightweight zero-ops conformant Kubernetes with sensible defaults for workstations, edge, and IoT appliances. Organisations looking for an easy Kubernetes that can be used standalone, clustered, or even embedded in edge or IoT solutions will find a perfect match in MicroK8s.

We also offer managed Kubernetes for businesses looking to quick-start their Kubernetes journey without breaking the bank and consider getting control back at a later point.

No matter what its nature and needs are, Canonical enables your business to achieve its purpose faster and better through its Kubernetes offerings and with the support of its team of experts who have helped build the most popular Kubernetes clouds out there.

Want to try it out for yourself? Install Canonical’s Kubernetes today.

Install Charmed Kubernetes

Install MicroK8s

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