Aug 15, 2022

Kubernetes for Business: Benefits, Limitations, and Migration Tips

Discover the benefits and limitations of Kubernetes for businesses. Learn how K8s can improve your scalability, flexibility, and efficiency while reducing IT costs.

Kubernetes for Business: Benefits, Limitations, and Migration Tips

Monolithic applications may be familiar and comfortable, but they won’t scale with your business. At some point in the growth of your business, you’ll have to migrate to a platform flexible enough to handle the heightened load and computing requirements. And the solution is to adopt Kubernetes for your business, which has the added bonus of making your applications portable to any environment.

According to a 2020 IBM Market Development & Insights study, 59% of developers and IT executives surveyed considered containerization critical for internal operations (and 45% considered it critical for third-party applications). In the same study, 70% of developers and developer executives relied on container orchestration platforms, like Kubernetes, to manage their containerized environments. Kubernetes was the reported platform of choice for 31% of backend developers surveyed by SlashData in 2021 (4% more than a year before).

These seem like high numbers. However, reports suggest that another 21% of developers surveyed about back-end development were aware of Kubernetes but not its function, and 11% had never even heard of it. And that’s what we aim to change.

This article explains how Kubernetes can make your IT environment not only scalable, but also more portable, productive, and cost-efficient. We’ll also describe some challenges with using Kubernetes to help you decide if it’s right for your business. Let's start by defining the platform itself.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes (K8s) is an orchestration platform that facilitates the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications on a cluster of hosts. We understand this might be a lot of concepts to take in all at once. So to explain Kubernetes and how it works, we’ll first talk about deployment types. 

Developers can deploy services and applications on physical servers, virtual machines, or containers.

  • Physical (on-premise). Traditionally, developers ran applications on physical servers. This method causes resource allocation and performance issues because you can’t define boundaries for applications on a single server. You could run different applications on separate servers, but this method was too expensive for smaller businesses and led to many underutilized resources.
  • Virtual machines (VMs). VMs let developers build an isolated environment with defined boundaries for each application on physical or cloud servers. Each virtual machine runs on a separate operating system while sharing the same computing resources. Among 32,000 developers surveyed, Google Cloud found that 48% used VMs to deploy primary services and applications.
  • Containers. Containerization means enveloping your software, including the code, libraries, runtime libraries, binaries, configuration files, and underlying dependencies, in a lightweight executable. Unlike VMs, containers don’t have their own operating system instances. Containers share the host’s operating system and other resources, which lets you easily move them across environments.

The role of Kubernetes in all this is to group containers into logical units, take care of deployment, and simplify management and cost-efficiency of these units. Now, let’s see how this can help your business.

Reasons to adopt Kubernetes for businesses

To explain how Kubernetes container orchestration can make your IT environment scalable, efficient, and stable, let’s look at its capabilities and advantages.

1. Automated provisioning

The primary goal of Kubernetes is to automate deployment, updating, networking, and lifecycle management of your containerized systems. It selects the best server to host the containers and maintains the desired application states. 

The platform also checks the stability of your systems and whether they’re performing efficiently. For instance, it can reboot, shut down, and roll applications back to previous iterations if they begin to negatively affect other applications. For the record, 80% of companies that used containers considered automated rollbacks that reduce application downtime a key benefit of using Kubernetes.

2. Efficient IT management

Kubernetes autoscaling allocates application workloads across nodes that make up your K8s cluster to optimize resource consumption. For example, if the traffic for a container is too high, the platform can redistribute the load to keep the deployment stable. This also allows your IT teams to manually adjust the CPU, memory, and storage for pods to reduce IT costs.

Enterprises often use Kubernetes to automate their IT infrastructure management using third-party extensions for container network, storage, and runtime interfaces. Consistent with this, in 2021 Portworx reported that 89% of enterprise adopters surveyed noted the expanding role of K8s in infrastructure management.

3. An abundance of open-source tools

Kubernetes has a vibrant community of over 3000 contributors and a growing open-source software ecosystem. You can find various usability, networking, and security tools to enhance your capabilities via the Kubernetes APIs.

4. Lightweight design

Instead of packing its own operating system (OS), containers run on a shared OS. Where a containerized application takes up mere megabytes, the same application on a VM can reach several gigabytes. This makes Kubernetes containers faster and allows porting them to any environment.

5. Software portability

What if you don't know where you might need to deploy your software over its lifecycle. But containerization makes your applications portable to any on-premise, cloud, or hybrid environment without significant refactoring. It also prevents your current infrastructure from being tied to a single cloud provider. 

Even better, your containers behave the same way regardless of where you deploy them. You can choose the best environments for each container to keep the budget in check or to improve performance. For the record, 61% of adopters said that the ability to reuse code across environments was a primary reason for using K8s.

6. Productivity boost

As much as 73% of responders said that the top benefit of Kubernetes is the ability to deploy applications faster. About 85% of companies believed container orchestration improves their overall productivity. This may be because applications are broken into smaller, independent pieces, allowing multiple teams to work on specific features simultaneously. 

Businesses adopt K8s to test machine learning algorithms in different computing environments. Nearly 84% of companies used it primarily to develop and test AI models.

Kubernetes’s rollback feature, automated deployment tools, and version control system make for an excellent pipeline to submit, test, and modify code. That's why platforms like Kubernetes are used by 64% of DevOps professionals who focus on continuous feedback and automation. 

7. Cost optimization

About 81% of responders noted that container orchestration helped optimize resource usage and reduce IT costs. Additionally, the report said that over a quarter of respondents said K8s may help them shave off infrastructure management and staffing costs by 30% or more.

As you can see, Kubernetes offers substantial advantages that are relevant for larger organizations and small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). But how complex is it to containerize your environment for K8s?

Moving from your current architecture to Kubernetes

The Kubernetes adoption process depends on your software architecture, by which we mean the framework for the relationship between the system's components. Let’s see what makes the main types of architecture different.

Monolith architecture (tightly-coupled architecture)

Monolith architecture deploys software modules, business logic, and data in a single codebase. All components are tightly coupled, which reduces latency and bandwidth costs, and makes management easier. Smaller teams might actually prefer monolithic architecture for software with fewer features, prototypes, and greenfield projects focused on exploratory software development.

Problems arise when your system becomes more complex. The process becomes less efficient and maintenance becomes complicated due to hidden code dependencies in more distributed systems. 

However, the tight coupling of a monolithic architecture makes your developer team less autonomous, because they’re limited to one technical stack for the whole application. Upgrading one component might require redeploying the whole application, and a single error could bring the whole system down.

Microservices (loosely-coupled architecture)

A microservices architecture distributes your systems into isolated, loosely coupled components (services). Each service has specific functionality, its own database, and computing resources. It allows you to easily adjust your resources according to your needs. For example, you can allocate more databases and CPUs as your team grows, without refactoring the application.

Loose coupling keeps your modules independent, meaning you can modify each without breaking the whole system. The dependencies between services are predictable, which makes testing and upgrading more straightforward. Your developers can save money and time by reusing existing modules in different applications instead of developing functionality from scratch.

Microservices are known to accelerate deployment. For example, you can assign teams to work on different services simultaneously. Or several employees can work on a single module without disrupting each other’s processes.

However, loosely coupled architecture can complicate testing, debugging, and monitoring, and as you add microservices it only gets more complex to maintain. You should also factor in network topology, latency, bandwidth, and other communication costs.

The optimal architecture for Kubernetes

Microservices are ideal for transitioning to a Kubernetes environment. It’s just easier to pack independent and isolated modules into self-sufficient containers than in monolith applications. Additionally, microservices communicate with each other more easily when they run in containers and are all on a single platform. Kubernetes pods also provide extra isolation for each microservice, making them more secure.

Before we conclude, let’s examine the potential downsides of Kubernetes. 

Limitations of Kubernetes environments

We can’t say that every company will benefit from containerizing its services. Let’s take a look at the primary drawbacks of K8s, so you can decide if it’s right for you at this stage of your business.

  • Visibility issues. Monitoring all traffic across your cluster of hosts is challenging, especially if deployed across several environments. That’s likely the reason that 29% of 2021 Kubernetes Adoption Survey responders named networking and 17% named data logging as their top challenges. Thankfully, you can integrate monitoring software to improve visibility into your environment.
  • Security issues. According to a RedHat survey of 300 Kubernetes adopters, about 59% named cybersecurity as their most significant concern with containerization, with 55% suffering delays because of security issues. Firewalls, authentication, and access control tools provided by computing platforms won’t cover all vulnerabilities and zero-day exploits. However, intrusion prevention systems (IPS) and intrusion detection systems (IDS) for Kubernetes can enhance your network security.
  • Lack of built-in tools. Kubernetes doesn’t come with middleware, data-processing frameworks, databases, or cluster storage systems. But, as we mentioned, there’s a growing ecosystem of third-party tools, open-source software, and APIs to enhance K8s’s capabilities. 
  • Dependence on resources. Adopting Kubernetes usually requires companies to make a significant investment in microservices architecture, because you need to isolate applications before containerizing them. You also need to allocate resources and storage for each microservice, which can drive your costs up and complicate resource management. Therefore, it may be overkill (and prohibitively expensive) to think about adopting Kubernetes for small businesses and minimum viable product (MVP) projects.
  • Reliance on experience. You won’t fully benefit from Kubernetes without an efficient development methodology, CI/CD pipeline, and DevOps practices. Along with that, you’ll need to reconfigure your API gateways, network security protocols, firewalls, and intrusion prevention capabilities. Over 40% of enterprise users lack Kubernetes-specific skills, with security (68%), networking (59%), and data management (52%) as the most sought-after skills.

This brings us to a conclusion. Although Kubernetes cluster on a microservices architecture can benefit growing companies, smaller businesses might be more comfortable starting with a monolithic architecture. But how do you avoid expensive refactoring when you’re ready to adopt a scalable loosely-coupled microservice architecture with containers?

The answer is to adopt a modular monolithic approach. This means setting strong boundaries for your software modules to minimize dependencies. Then, as your company grows, you’ll find it easier to decouple these modules into independent microservices and containerize them. 

To sum up

Kubernetes container orchestration is a great way to future-proof your business. It makes your applications portable, scalable, and cost-efficient. K8s also offers numerous tools to automate resource management, enhance team collaboration, and improve deployments.

But before you adopt Kubernetes, you should first move to scalable, loosely-coupled software architecture. You’ll also need a team with DevOps experience to capitalize on the benefits of K8s. Thankfully, you can use some outside help if you lack the technical stack or expertise.

ALPACKED can transform your systems into flexible microservices and package your applications into lightweight containers. Our specialists can also help you set up your Kubernetes cluster and adopt the latest DevOps and DevSecOps practices. If you want to know more, feel free to contact us anytime.

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