Kubernetes vs OpenStack

21 Jan 2021 by Kyle Holland

Recently, containers and Kubernetes have been flouted as replacements for OpenStack or viewed as primary competitors. It is true that many of the use cases overlap, but this does not necessarily mean that one is a replacement for the other. The reality is that they are both capable of working in tandem in order to bring greater value to organizations and better service to consumers. The first step in understanding this conclusion is to have a firm grasp on both what Kubernetes and OpenStack are, what main features they present to users, how they compare and contrast, and how they can ultimately work together. 

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is an open-source cloud platform to manage containerized workloads and services. Containerization is an alternative or companion to virtualization. It involves encapsulating or packaging up software code so that it can run smoothly on any infrastructure. This provides developers with the ability to create and deploy applications faster and more securely. A useful analogy is to think of Kubernetes as a  sort of digital conductor. Kubernetes coordinates multiple microservices which, when put together, forms one useful application. Similar to a conductor coordinating the timing of instruments in an orchestra. 

Kubernetes is also designed to swap all of its components, thus making it ideal for multiple clouds. Developers usually prefer Kubernetes as it is simple and easily accessible. It operates with a straightforward model and is arguably the most popular tool employed to get the most value out of containers.

Features of Kubernetes

Kubernetes offers a wide array of tools which allow you to customize your environment to fit your needs. Here are a few of the features which are most desired by developers. 

Health Checks

Another appealing feature of Kubernetes is its ability to seamlessly perform simple health checks for applications, saving users time and money. This is a huge deal in the lifecycle of any application. Typically, if an application crashed then some unfortunate IT manager was woken up in the middle of the night to restart it. Kubernetes, on the other hand, runs automatic health checks. If an application fails to respond due to running out of memory or just plain locking up then Kubernetes automatically restarts it. Some additional clarification is required here. Kubernetes just checks that the application is running, it does not check whether or not it is running correctly. For that, Kubernetes has other tools to help manage the health of an application. 

Managing Microservices

When your architecture utilizes microservices those services need to be able to speak to one another. This is no easy feat. Solving for how a variety of services can consistently and efficiently communicate is time consuming and costly. Utilizing Kuberbetes, an engineer can define a service and Kubernetes will determine how to route that request for you. If you define a microservice as a “user service” then Kubernetes allows anything running in that same namespace to send a request to that service. This makes managing your microservices easier as Kubernetes automates that entire process. 

Custom Controllers 

Controllers are loops which monitor the active state of clusters and make changes as necessary. Having the ability to customize controllers allows developers to have more intimate control over their environment. For example, with this tool you could reload application configurations whenever you see fit, which provides a simpler way to manage deployments when compared to toolchains. Controllers are a single piece of code while toolchains require knowledge of several different interfaces. 

What is OpenStack?

OpenStack is a set of tools that allow you to both build and manage your cloud computing platforms for public and private clouds. These tools allow users to utilize virtual machines to manage a cloud environment on the fly, spinning up instances as needed. For example, say that you have an application that needs to communicate with a remote server. Utilizing OpenStack, you could divide up the work of communicating with each of your individual users across many additional instances as you gain more users. This sort of scaling is fast and easy to utilize, allowing your cloud environment to grow with your business. 

Features of OpenStack

OpenStack has many features and tools available to users, many of which overlap with what is offered with Kubernetes. Below are a few of the tools which set OpenStack apart and drive users to this service. 

Open Source 

One of the big draws with OpenStack is that it is an open source software. This means that anyone who wants to can view the source code, make changes to it, and share it back to the community of users. This gives developers all over the world the ability to put thier collective brains together to troubleshoot and improve upon the tools available. This helps to create the best possible product as expert collaboration and peer review are what drive innovation. 

Web Fronted Dashboard 

OpenStack’s dashboard is a modular web app that offers users a clean, graphical interface to all of the services and tools available for use. This ease of use is a huge draw for developers that don’t want to spend a lot of time learning a new product. The dashboard can be modified to fit different sites as well. 

Managing Big Data

OpenStack has the means to help companies manage massive amounts of compute, storage, and networking resources. The amount of data that any given organization deals in is only growing exponentially so these kinds of tools are essential moving forward. Managing big data on OpenStack means that your clusters can be provisioned faster and are easier to configure. Plugins are also available to support multiple vendors. 

Differences Between Kubernetes and OpenStack

The biggest difference between both of these projects is when they were launched. There is a 4 year gap between when they both appeared on the market as OpenStack was launched in 2010 and Kubernetes wasn’t released until 2014. This gap in release helps to explain why even though both technologies are similar they strive to achieve different goals. OpenStack positioned itself as an alternative to AWS while Kubernetes positioned itself as a bridge between the “big three” cloud providers and private datacenters. 

Kubernetes is, in essence, classified as a container tool where OpenStack is an Open-Source Cloud tool. OpenStack has a much larger user base but not as organized as Kubernetes. Google, slack, and 9GAG use Kubernetes; OpenStack is used by PayPal, HubSpot, and Wikipedia. Kubernetes' main function is to manage docker containers and management solutions, whereas OpenStack manages public and private clouds.

Kubernetes and OpenStack can easily be used together to simplify the many complexities of OpenStack. Users then benefit as they can use all the services of OpenStack as well as keeping it simple. Researching both Kubernetes and OpenStack is vital before deciding which one suits your needs.

Conclusion 

Kubernetes and OpenStack are commonly viewed as competitors but upon closer inspection you can see that they can actually work together rather seamlessly. The reality is that both of these technologies can be combined so that one complements the other. When you combine OpenStack and Kubernetes, it greatly enhances both your scalability and automation.This is made even easier by the fact that it is now possible for Kubernetes to manage applications on Cloud infrastructure made by OpenStack. In addition, OpenStack allows you to run Kubernetes more efficiently, and when combined, they can share computer resources such as networking and storage. 

Even though they both Kuberbetes and OpenStack can easily be combined, they still compete for users. This is because they both offer solutions to similar problems but their answers lie on different layers of the stack. So, naturally, they each have their own merit and use cases. This is why it is important to research both and decide which technology or combination is best for your organization. 

Author

Kyle Holland

Kyle Holland joined the Datacenters.com team in 2016 and serves as the Marketing and Communications Specialist. His background in account management, brand strategy, and visual design inform his mindful but competitive approach.

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