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Rancher's Kubernetes strategy relieves container complexity

Rancher 2.0 offers Kubernetes by default, which follows a similar move by Mesosphere and furthers the container platform's momentum in 2017.

Rancher Kubernetes support will be its default approach to container orchestration for customers, and it's another sign that enterprises have picked a winner in this emerging field.

As of Rancher 2.0, released this week, all of its customers will be Kubernetes users from the moment they install the company's container management software. Rancher has previously supported other container orchestration tools, including its own Cattle product, but will prioritize Kubernetes in the future.

"Kubernetes will be a fundamental part of the enterprise IT infrastructure, and companies like us have to keep adapting to stay in the game," said Sheng Liang, the company's co-founder and CEO. "It could bring vendors together to define a standard infrastructure platform for the industry."

Rancher's Kubernetes decision was made possible by features added in Kubernetes 1.6, such as more flexible role-based access control, Liang said. Kubernetes 1.6 allows for impersonation, which means Rancher can smooth the way for hybrid cloud deployments of Kubernetes with Active Directory support for Google's Container Engine (GKE). Previously, hybrid cloud environments that used GKE would require every user to have a Google credential in addition to whatever user authentication program the company uses on premises, such as Active Directory or LDAP.

Rancher 2.0 can also centralize management for multiple container clusters that use different versions and distributions of Kubernetes. IT administrators can import clusters into Rancher without the need to rebuild them or pool them through Kubernetes Cluster Federation, Liang said.

Rancher's Kubernetes choice wins customer approval

Rancher users support the company's new direction, and in their eyes Kubernetes has captured the lead in container orchestration.

At Sling TV, a subsidiary of Dish Network, Rancher with Kubernetes support won a bake-off in May 2016 against Pivotal Cloud Foundry, Docker Datacenter and Mesosphere DC/OS. At the time, Kubernetes was the most mature and affordable of the container orchestration platforms, said Brad Linder, DevOps and big data evangelist at Dish Technologies, the engineering arm of Dish Networks in Englewood, Colo.

"Each of the other systems had a deficiency of some sort: Pivotal Cloud Foundry was pricey, and at the time Docker Datacenter had issues with routing traffic to containers before they became available," Linder said. "DC/OS seemed better suited to larger clusters with thousands of nodes, not the kind of deployments we were looking for."

Docker has since shored up traffic routing in clusters with the swarm mode routing mesh it added to Docker Datacenter with version 1.12 in November 2016, but Linder's team was also drawn to Kubernetes by the tools that had already been built around it, including Rancher. Even then, he said, it was clear Kubernetes would be broadly supported, and that could pay portability dividends down the road.

"I'm trying not to hitch my wagon to any one vendor as we build out our approach to cloud services," Linder said. "I don't want to have to commit to any of them."

With vanilla Kubernetes under the hood on his selected tools, Linder won't be bound to one cloud computing vendor.

Rancher has been essential for Dish to roll out container clusters, Linder said. The company plans to launch its first production cluster -- a new push notification app deployment for Sling TV -- by the end of the year, and Rancher will support the whole stack.

"There have been times they've helped us troubleshoot network and VM issues, and helped us come up to speed with containers generally," he said.

Kubernetes installation is actually the easy part. We've had some head-scratching moments with logging distributed microservices and solving the complexity of container networking.
Brad LinderDevOps and big data evangelist, Dish Technologies

Rancher makes Kubernetes setup easier with a UI that helps admins interpret the "YAML files everywhere" that are a part of upstream Kubernetes installations, Linder said. Rancher has also helped with connected tools, such as the open source Prometheus monitoring utility and virtual network overlays.

"Kubernetes installation is actually the easy part," Linder said. "We've had some head-scratching moments with logging distributed microservices and solving the complexity of container networking."

Rancher 2.0 adds further refinements that will help with container management, such as a new integration with continuous integration and continuous deployment tool Jenkins that smooths the connection between CI/CD pipelines and Kubernetes, Linder said.

Kubernetes integration strategy reflects growing trend

Rancher's Kubernetes alliance continues a year of momentum growth for the Google-backed container orchestration platform. Big IT vendors, including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Oracle, joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation in the summer of 2017 to help govern Kubernetes development. Erstwhile Kubernetes rival Mesosphere rolled out Kubernetes support in version 1.10 of its DC/OS software earlier this month, and mid-September configuration management player Puppet acquired Distelli, which bases its container management software product on Kubernetes as well.

These changes indicate Kubernetes has become "the clear and outright leader" in container management and orchestration platforms, said Jay Lyman, an analyst at 451 Research in New York. Several dozen vendors support Kubernetes for container orchestration, while only about a dozen each back Docker swarm mode and Apache Mesos, he said.

"IT organizations almost have to have Kubernetes on their radar and a strategy around it," Lyman said. "Apprehension about its complexity had been an impediment to its growth, but the excitement is greater than that apprehension at this point."

Rancher and Kubernetes show that while upstream Kubernetes remains complex, there's no shortage of partners willing to offer management features to mitigate that issue, Lyman said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at [email protected] or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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