Kubernetes for software engineers: what no one tells you, but you need to know
For Developers

February 15, 2024

Kubernetes for software engineers: what no one tells you, but you need to know

For those of you who keep abreast of the latest trends in web development, it may seem like Kubernetes is all over the place, having become the most popular application management service in the software development world. 

Originally built by Google as an open-sourced solution to the ever-increasing need for virtualization and demand for container-based application deployment, Kubernetes has practically become the new guideline for software engineering container orchestration.

Keep reading to dive deep into the harnessing power of Kubernetes for software developers, operations managers and security professionals. 

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes, also known as K8s, is a powerful and extensible open-source container orchestration system used for automating computer application and service deployment, scaling, and management.  

It’s a system designed to handle the scheduling and coordination of a container on a cluster, the way applications run, and how applications are interacting with other applications. It’s also a tool that allows developers to manage cloud infrastructure and the complexities of managing virtual machines or networks, so they can focus on development and scaling processes. 

Understanding Kubernetes terminology

A brief review of the terminology can help you understand better the layer-like architecture of Kubernetes. 

  1. Pods

A pod is the smallest deployable unit of Kubernetes consisting of a container, or a group of containers, that share resources like memory, life-cycle, and storage. 

  1. Replication Controller

Often abbreviated as an RC, the Replication Controller maintains the pods that it manages, restarts them when they fail or replaces them when they’re deleted or terminated. 

  1. Replica Set

Abbreviated as rs, the Replica Set maintains a set of replica pods running at a given time. It is a subset iteration of how the Replication Controller works, and it’s much more flexible with the pods it manages. 

  1. Deployments

The Deployments define how the user wants to run your application by allowing the user to set details of the pods and how the pods would be replicated via nodes. Deployment automatically spins up the requested number of pods, monitors them when added to a Kubernetes cluster, and recreates a pod when it dies.

  1. Services

A service is a collection of pods that provides an interface for external consumers or applications to interact with them. 

  1. Nodes

A node is a virtual machine or physical server that runs and manages pods. A node includes a container runtime, kube-proxy, and kubelet. 

  1. Kubernetes Master Server

This serves as the main contact point between administrators and users to manage containers on the nodes. It accepts user requests through HTTP calls, or by running commands on the command line.

  1. Cluster

A cluster can be seen as a pool of Nodes combined to form a more powerful machine. 

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Ways Kubernetes improve software engineers’ lives

Software engineering specialists report great improvements after learning Kubernetes. Among them are the following:

Automated failure management

Thanks to Kubernetes deployments, software engineers are less likely to take manual action during an unexpected failure. Kubernetes takes care of propagating failures across nodes in a cluster and schedules proper repairs.

Multi-cloud

All the major cloud providers like AWS, Azure, GCP, and OpenStack now widely accept Kubernetes. Software engineers no longer need to learn about the intricacies of each cloud provider. This makes it easy to move from one cloud provider to another, enabling tech talents to run cloud-native applications on multiple clouds. 

Production infrastructure

Kubernetes lets you replicate production infrastructure in your development environment. You can test applications using a local cluster on your device, then deploy them to production.

Scaling

Kubernetes can handle millions of nodes and trillions of transactions per day with little impact on performance. This makes it easy to scale automatically and efficiently. 

GitOps

GitOps is an operating model for Kubernetes where code is delivered through a flow of automated releases. This way software engineers can easily push code to Kubernetes, run automated tests, deploy new applications, monitor logs, and tune parameters the fast and easy way. 

Having code that is reliably deployable, scales dynamically, and manages resources automatically, leads to a more efficient and effective development process.

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Pros of Kubernetes

  • Large community and adoption. Kubernetes is the most popular container orchestration platform and it has a large community of end-users, contributors, and maintainers because of its open-source nature. 
  • Improved productivity and agility. Its quick deployment and application updates enable developers to deploy new applications and scale existing ones. Kubernetes also has tools that help them quickly create CI/CD pipelines
  • Elevated performance. Zero-downtime deployments, fault tolerance, high availability, scaling, scheduling, and self-healing add significant value to the development environment. 
  • Simplified management. Kubernetes comes with an easy-to-use dashboard that lets you track all facets of your cluster in real-time.
  • Heightened portability. Kubernetes is orchestrated in a way that its operations and services remain the same regardless of where you run your Kubernetes application.
  • Better security. Kubernetes has numerous features that secure clusters and sensitive information, such as Kubernetes Secrets API, Pod Security Policies, Network Policies, and many more.

Cons of Kubernetes

  • Complex setup. There are difficulties faced in installing, configuring, and operating Kubernetes. It requires continued practice and extensive knowledge to become familiar enough to be able to debug and troubleshoot. 
  • Difficult to learn. Kubernetes requires a steep learning curve. For a developer to become well-versed in Kubernetes, it’s highly recommended to get inspired by the best practices and have some tutelage from an experienced Kubernetes developer. Here are a few K8s basics you should know. 

Understanding the value of Kubernetes: 3 use cases

Container orchestration

Containers provide a simple yet reliable way to deploy your applications and services. When implementing a project in production, you’ll likely end up dealing with dozens to thousands of containers. If this work is being done manually, it’s likely to require a dedicated container management team to connect, update, and deploy all these containers. 

However, running containers isn’t sufficient. You’ll also need to do the following:

  • Orchestrate and integrate various modular parts
  • Communicate across clusters
  • Ensure your containers are fault-tolerant

To sit on top of container management and gain significant benefits from a system built with containers, it’s essential to use container orchestrator tools like Kubernetes.

Microservices management 

Microservices aren’t new. They offer multiple benefits, from faster models for deployment to simpler automatic testing. They also let technologists choose the best tool for any individual tasks, so one may benefit from the productivity boost of a high-level language like PHP as one piece of an application, while others may get more from a high-speed language like Go

Breaking down large-scale applications into smaller, less connected microservices indeed makes space for more freedom and independence of action. But, it’s still necessary for the development teams to coordinate while making use of the infrastructure all these independent pieces use to run, predict the number of resources these pieces will need, and restrict resource use when needed.  

This is where Kubernetes can be massively beneficial, offering a common framework for your infrastructure architecture that allows you to inspect and work through resource usage and sharing issues accordingly. 

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Cloud environment management

Kubernetes is designed to be deployed anywhere, meaning you can use it on a private, a public, or a hybrid cloud. This allows developers to use the platform no matter where they’re located, with increased security. 

When not to use Kubernetes

While Kubernetes is powerful and flexible, it’s not the best choice for:

  • Simple or small-scale projects, as it’s expensive and too complicated. 
  • Projects that feature a tiny user base, low load, and simple architecture.
  • Developing an MVP version, as it’s better to start with something smaller and less complex like Docker Swarm

Summing up

Although the Kubernetes learning process is steep, as you need to understand the different concepts and how they work together, it gives software engineers the ability to build world-class applications with no worry about deployment, scheduling, and scaling. 

Developers, operations managers, and security practitioners should all consider adding Kubernetes to their toolkit, as it unifies all these tech stacks by providing a shared surface that everyone can look into, contribute to, and collaborate on. 

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