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Kubernetes adoption sends Rancher users back to eval mode

What happens when your container management tool switches to a new technology behind the scenes? Ops teams say Rancher's Kubernetes move adds features -- and trepidation.

NEW YORK -- In September 2017, Rancher Labs told customers it would build its orchestration and scheduling framework on Kubernetes, under its Cattle user interface, for Rancher 2.0. This disclosure sent enterprise IT teams back to the drawing board and into strategy meetings to ensure they have no surprises on production container deployments.

At Velocity Conference 2017 here last week, Rancher users -- one wholly on premises and the other 100% cloud-native -- shared how the vendor's Kubernetes adoption will guide their future operations.

"My hope is that Rancher does a good job integrating their existing API and their functionality into the Kubernetes world, so it's not really impactful [to our teams]," said Andrew Maurer, IT manager for web platform ops at Cleveland-based Dealer Tire, which serves the automotive industry.

"We're not sure what the benefit is yet," Maurer said, but he's familiar with the capabilities Kubernetes offers. Dealer Tire evaluated it along with Rancher, Mesos and Docker when the company ramped up containers six months ago.

Dealer Tire's web platform ops team touts Rancher's easy-to-use interface versus the complex workings of Kubernetes, a feeling shared by fellow Rancher adherents at Washington, D.C.-based Social Tables, which provides SaaS products for event planners and management.

During a search to replace Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute Cloud Container Service, Social Tables evaluated Kubernetes on AWS and the Kubernetes Operations (kops) provisioning tool, but ultimately landed on Rancher's Cattle container management technology.

"We trialed Kubernetes on AWS via both Kelsey Hightower's 'Kubernetes the Hard Way' and the kops provisioning tool, but ultimately were unsuccessful establishing a reliable overlay network," said Michael Dumont, lead systems engineer in DevOps at Social Tables.

Editor's note: Hightower, a key strategist for Google Cloud Platform, has called the "Kubernetes the Hard Way" project a way to learn how the Kubernetes components fit together with networking and role-based access control.

Now that Rancher has made the move to Kubernetes, Social Tables' team plans to provision Kubernetes through the tech preview in Rancher 2.0 as soon as possible.

I'm very excited to get started with the Kube-native tools, like Helm, Draft and Istio, that are rapidly maturing.
Michael Dumontlead systems engineer in DevOps at Social Tables

"I'm very excited to get started with the Kube-native tools, like Helm, Draft and Istio, that are rapidly maturing," Dumont said. Best-case scenario: Rancher's rich user interface stays the same, and Social Tables picks up the "rich, consistent" Kubernetes API for its in-house tools, he said.

Kubernetes adoption wasn't ever off the table for even enthusiastic Rancher users. To address growth and changing needs, Dealer Tire's IT organization as a whole likely would have reassessed its container management tool set in 2018 and given Kubernetes a second look, Maurer said.

Maurer said he will rely on Rancher's support to help the team through the conversion, while Dumont said he currently uses the community version without paid, enterprise-level support. It's not only a technological change; Kubernetes adoption will affect Dealer Tire's organization, such as who will make decisions about deployments and architecture, who will support the new technologies and who simply needs to be aware of changes occurring.

While there's no sign of a slowdown in Kubernetes adoption, Maurer stressed the importance of tool choice for IT operations.

"I don't necessarily like tying our wagons and investing everything we've got into one technology -- we get pigeonholed into whatever that technology provides," he said. Instead, when the team needs a feature, such as secrets management, they evaluate options for what works best.

"I don't believe that one company has everything," Maurer said.

Meredith Courtemanche is a senior site editor in TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization group, with sites including SearchITOperations, SearchWindowsServer and SearchExchange. Find her work @DataCenterTT or email her at mcourtemanche@techtarget.com.

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