Container platforms enable automated and seamless management of container applications. They allow DevOps teams to run software applications reliably by moving them from one environment to another. Although containers were introduced to simplify development/test cycles and facilitate modularity, the complexity of managing hundreds of containers demands the need for container platforms.
Container platforms like Kubernetes, and managed services like AWS EKS, and Google Kubernetes Engine have made it easy for developers to move from a laptop to a test environment, and from staging to production, without hassle.
This article discusses container platforms, specifically Kubernetes, which is the de-facto option for most organizations today. It looks at the benefits and best practices for using Kubernetes to run applications in production.
What is a Container Platform?
Before we discuss container platforms, let’s quickly look at what a container is.
Containers are small units of application code, its libraries, binaries, and dependencies. Containerization makes code portable since containers are not directly linked to the underlying infrastructure. Thus, developers can write and execute code anywhere - on a desktop, IT environment, or in the cloud.
Unlike virtual machines, containers run on a virtualized OS. This approach allows multiple workloads to utilize the features and resources of one single OS, making them lightweight and fast.
Benefits of Containers:
Containers offer more flexibility than virtual machines in application configuration and deployment. Some of the benefits are listed below:
- Lightweight: Containers use virtualized OS kernels. This makes the container smaller, making it easier to deploy and scale applications.
- Portable: Since containers package application code and dependencies, developers can run their code anywhere from dev to test to staging to production environments.
- Resource Utilization: Containers need fewer resources - CPU space and memory. This resource sharing facilitates speed, helping them start in seconds.
- Continuous Integration & Delivery: Containers are ideal for modern development and application norms (DevOps, Microservices, etc.) due to their portability and consistency across platforms.
Container platforms are software tools that enable the efficient management of multiple containers running within a single OS. They automate, govern, and orchestrate containers. They also offer governance, security, and support to the architectures.
The development and deployment of apps via containerization are possible through a container platform. Platforms like Kubernetes play a critical role in optimizing performance and simplifying the management of entire container systems.
In essence, container platforms can be classified into three primary categories:
- Container Engines: These provide virtualized, isolated environments to run applications and their dependencies securely. Eg., Docker Enterprise.
- Container Orchestration: Container platforms like Kubernetes help Ops teams to manage containers and the underlying infrastructure that runs them. They enable Ops teams to manage the entire container lifecycle including automation, scheduling, deployment, load balancing, scaling, and networking of containers.
- Managed Container services: Managed container services are cloud-based offerings that simplify the building, managing, and scaling of containerized applications by running containers on server instances (ECS), or running containers in a managed Kubernetes service (EKS, AKS, GKE or Fargate).
What is Kubernetes?
Kubernetes is the most widely-used open-source container orchestration platform designed to manage containerized infrastructure. It automates a list of manual processes related to the deployment and scaling of infrastructure. With industry-wide support from pretty much every vendor, Kubernetes is the most important container platform today.
Kubernetes - Its purpose
Kubernetes, in simple words, is charged with operating a fleet of containerized applications. The terminology below helps to understand the key components of Kubernetes:
- Container: Code packaged along with its dependencies
- Pod: A group of two or more containers
- Nodes: Machines (server instances) that perform tasks requested via the control plane. They host all pods in the cluster
- Control Plane: A collection of processes that control Kubernetes nodes
- Cluster: Contains a control plane and nodes
- Deployment: Update or release of new code to a target cluster
Developers or operators use the Kubernetes Control Plane to issue commands, which are relayed to nodes. Then, the nodes assign pods to fulfill the requested tasks. Since Kubernetes, deployed on top of a system OS, runs hundreds, or even tens of thousands of containers concurrently, the process automatically selects the best node for a given task.
Benefits of Kubernetes
Kubernetes is an immensely popular container orchestration platform because it offers the below benefits:
- Agility: Efficient and easy container image creation, unlike virtual machine imaging
- Portability: Supported by almost every leading public cloud service provider
- Consistency: Runs efficiently across environments - development, testing and production - and from on-premise to cloud to edge
- Stability: Employs load balancing between containers to maintain stability and performance. It leverages service mesh tools like Istio and Linkerd to implement this
- Flexibility: Applications are stored in small, independent pieces to be deployed and managed dynamically
What are the Container Platform Best Practices?
To efficiently manage container infrastructure, developers and operators need to understand and employ the following best practices:
1. Container Monitoring
The purpose of container monitoring is to mitigate issues quickly and minimize disruptions by collecting operational data. To ensure the smooth operation of containers and assess their performance, it is crucial to track the health of containerized applications by recording key health and performance metrics. Therefore, operators should design alerts and automated triggers to gain insight into every level of the system including the cluster, nodes, pods, containers, and applications.
2. Container Security
Container security is the process of implementing security tools, policies, and procedures to ensure all running containers are secure. This involves safeguarding various components such as the infrastructure, software supply chain, system libraries, and runtime environments. Securing containers needs to be a continuous process, spanning development, testing, deployment, and production across the container lifecycle.
Container security is critical because of the complexity and dynamic nature of containers and hence it needs a container-specific security strategy. The same rules that worked for on-prem VMs will not work for containers running in Kubernetes.
3. Container Storage
Along with speed and agility, developers should focus on storage resources for ephemeral containers. Unfortunately, traditional storage platforms fail to meet the dynamic requirements of containers. Stateful Kubernetes workloads need a separate storage management plan from stateless ones. So it becomes crucial to select a storage platform that scales as fast as containers and manages storage when a container ceases to exist.
4. Container Networking
Swift response time and portability of containers make networking a challenge for operators. Container networking becomes critical due to the automated approach towards scaling and security.
There are five types of container networking:
- None: Network stack without external connection
- Bridge: Containers are bridged with an internal host network, enabling them to communicate with other containers of the same host
- Host: Containers share the host’s network namespace, giving them access to all the host’s network interfaces
- Underlay: Opens host interfaces directly to the containers running on the host
- Overlay: Containers use network tunnels to communicate across hosts
In the Kubernetes ecosystem, service mesh tools like Istio and Linkerd enable container networking in a many-to-many model. They help with load balancing, managing mTLS certificates, and even enabling progressive delivery approaches like canary releasing.
5. Container Lifecycle Management
Containers have gained immense popularity due to their smaller size, and portability across the pipeline. However, if the container lifecycle is not managed carefully, it would lead to confusion, impaired operations, and security vulnerabilities. As a best practice, tools that provide continuous integration, continuous testing, and continuous deployment must be used.
Today, GitOps is becoming the preferred way to manage the container lifecycle. GitOps uses Git as the single source of truth to declare everything (application code, networking, storage, and system configuration) as code. GitOps enables a combination of a Pull Request and a Merge to allow Dev and Ops teams to coordinate every release.
Container orchestration tools automate operations of tens of thousands of containers from deployment, to management, to scaling, and networking. Container orchestrators are responsible for tasks such as resource allocation, load balancing, traffic routing, and securing communication between containers.
Kubernetes has become an industry standard for container management at scale. As a result, it is an ideal container platform for cloud-native applications seeking prompt scaling.
Container management is further simplified with Weave GitOps solutions that provide automated continuous delivery pipelines, observability, and monitoring of container applications.
Weave GitOps is based on the core principles of GitOps such as ensuring version control is included and checking for drift in production. Weave GitOps Core is a free, open-source tool designed as a continuous delivery product to run apps in any Kubernetes in a cluster. It is a two command process to power applications using GitOps Core.
These features make Weave GitOps Core a recommended tool for container management:
- Instant bootstrap
- Drift detection and notification
- Command-line installer
- Public, community-driven profiles
Learn more about how Weave GitOps Core helps your Container management process.