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How to Simplify Kubernetes Management

Kubernetes is complex, but there are ways to make managing it easier. Here are six best practices for simplifying Kubernetes.

Let's be blunt: Kubernetes can be hard. The complexity of Kubernetes' architecture, the fact that it's constantly evolving, and the Byzantine set of terms you have to learn to work with Kubernetes (to name just a few of the challenges) make the open source orchestrator difficult for many folks to master.

But just because Kubernetes can be challenging doesn't mean it has to be. With the right approach, it's possible to simplify the process of working with Kubernetes.

With that goal in mind, let's talk about ways to make Kubernetes simpler.

1. Use a Managed Kubernetes Service

A large part of the reason why Kubernetes is often hard is that setting up and managing Kubernetes host infrastructure and the core Kubernetes software is a difficult task.

With a managed Kubernetes service, however, much of that headache disappears. Managed Kubernetes offers vary in terms of the exact features they offer, but they all automate most of the tasks required to deploy and manage the Kubernetes control plane. Many also provide fully managed host infrastructure, which frees users from having to set up their own servers to run Kubernetes.

There are some drawbacks to managed Kubernetes; above all, it gives you less control over your environment because you are limited to the configuration options that your Kubernetes vendor supports. But if you want to make Kubernetes easier to use, a managed Kubernetes service is a great way to do it.

2. Consider Lightweight Kubernetes

If you need more control than managed Kubernetes offers, another strategy for making Kubernetes easier is to install a lightweight Kubernetes distribution, such as MiniKube, K3s, or MicroK8s. These versions of Kubernetes consume fewer resources and are typically easier to install and manage than full-weight Kubernetes.

The downside of lightweight Kubernetes distributions is that their feature sets are sometimes limited by default. However, in most cases you can extend lightweight Kubernetes by adding optional services (such as DNS support in MicroK8s) once you've gotten the core distribution up and running.

3. Start with Just One Node

The main purpose of Kubernetes is to manage applications that run across a cluster of servers. However, it's totally possible to run a Kubernetes "cluster" that consists of just a single server. The server hosts both the Kubernetes control plane (meaning the core software that powers Kubernetes itself) while also serving as a worker node that hosts applications.

Having just one node to manage can greatly simplify Kubernetes because you don't have to worry about setting up and monitoring more than one server.

The disadvantage is that a single-node cluster deprives you of the benefits of having multiple nodes — which is useful because, among other things, Kubernetes can automatically move workloads to different nodes if one node fails, preventing downtime. For that reason, you typically would not want to run mission-critical workloads on a single-node Kubernetes installation. But if you're just experimenting or deploying non-critical apps, running just one node can make Kubernetes a lot easier to work with. 

4. Install a Custom Kubernetes UI

Kubernetes provides a native web interface, the Kubernetes Dashboard, where you can perform some management and monitoring tasks. But the Dashboard's features are limited, and if it's the only graphical UI available to you, you'll likely find yourself turning to the command line on a regular basis to achieve tasks with kubectl because you can't manage them through the Dashboard.

To simplify this challenge, consider using a third-party web interface for Kubernetes, such as Kubevious or Lens. You'll still need to use the Kubernetes command line sometimes, but maybe not as often.

5. Validate Kubernetes Configurations

Another reason why Kubernetes can be hard — and frustrating — to work with is that things often fail silently. A pod might fail to deploy, for example, and Kubernetes won't tell you about it. You'll need to look at your list of pods manually to identify the failure.

To reduce the risk that something will go wrong in Kubernetes without your knowing, you can validate configurations before applying them. Tools like Kubeval are great for this purpose.

Configuration validation doesn't solve the problem of silent failures, but it can help reduce their frequency.

6. Monitor Kubernetes Continuously

As for identifying those silent failures, that's where Kubernetes monitoring tools come in. On its own, Kubernetes offers no real features to help detect problems automatically. But if you continuously monitor your clusters using tools like Prometheus or Grafana (to name just a couple popular options), you can detect failures more easily through dashboards and automated alerts.

Conclusion: Kubernetes, the Easy Way

None of the tips described above will remove all the pain of managing Kubernetes. Kubernetes is inherently complex, and learning how to work with it requires effort and patience no matter which approach you take. However, you can make the Kubernetes learning curve less steep, and remove some of the complexities, by leveraging resources like managed Kubernetes services, lightweight distributions, and Kubernetes validation and monitoring tools.

About the author

Christopher Tozzi headshotChristopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.
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