Switch your Kubernetes provider: The feature you do not want… until you do!

Sometimes we miss the forest for the trees.

It’s all about portability

Take a step back and think about how much of your effort goes into your product’s portability. A lot, I’d wager. You don’t wait to see what hardware your customer is on before you start coding your app. Widely accepted architectures give you a large customer base, so you target those. You skip optimisations in order to maximize compatibility. The language you are using ensures you can move to another platform/architecture.

Packaging your application is also important if you want to broaden your audience. The latest trend here is to use containers such as docker. Essentially containers (much like VMs) are another layer of abstraction for the sake of portability. You can package your app such that it will run anywhere.

The team delivers!

Things go wrong

When you first create a PoC, even a USB stick is enough to distribute it! After that you should take things more seriously. I see products “dockerised” so that they run everywhere, yet the deployment story is limited to a single cloud. You do all the work to deliver your app everywhere only to fail when you actually need to deliver it! It doesn’t make sense — or to put it more accurately it only makes sense in the short term.

The overlooked feature

Canonical Distribution of Kubernetes (CDK) will deploy exactly the same Kubernetes in all major clouds (AWS, GCE, Azure, VMware, Openstack, Joynet), bare metal, or even your local machine (using lxd). When you first evaluate CDK you may think: “I do not need this”, or even “I hate these extra two lines where I decide the cloud provider because I already know I am going full AWS”. At that point you are tempted to take the easy way out and get pinned to a single Kubernetes provider. However, soon you will find yourself in need of feature F from cloud C or Kubernetes version vX.Y.Z. Worse is when your potential customer is on a different platform and you discover the extent of dependencies you have on your provider.

Before you click off this tab thinking I am exaggerating, think about this: the best devops are done by the devs themselves. How easy is it to train all devs to use AWS for spawning containers? It is trivial, right? Suppose you get two more customers, one on Azure and one on GCE. How easy is it to train your team to perform devops against two additional clouds? You now have to deal with three different monitoring and logging mechanisms. That might still be doable since AWS, GCE, and Azure are all well behaved. What if a customer wants their own on-prem cluster? You are done — kiss your portability and velocity goodbye. Your team will be constantly firefighting, chasing after misaligned versions, and emulating features across platforms.

How is it done

Under the hood of CDK you will find Juju. Juju abstracts the concepts of IaaS. It will provision everything from bare metal machines in your rack, to VMs on any major cloud, to lxd containers on your laptop. On top of these units Juju will deploy Kubernetes thus keeping the deployment agnostic to the underlying provider. Two points here:

  1. Juju has been here for years and is used both internally and externally by Canonical to successfully deliver solutions such as Openstack and Big Data.
  2. Since your Kubernetes is built on IaaS cloud offerings you are able to tailor node properties to match your needs. You may also find it is more cost effective.

Also check out Conjure-up, an easy-to-use wizard that will get your Kubernetes cluster up-and-running in minutes.

To conclude

I am sure you have your reasons to “dockerize” your application and then deliver it on a single cloud. It is just counter-intuitive. If you want to make the most from your portability decisions you should consider CDK.