April 07 2020 by Elroi Marom

Top 3 Kubernetes Challenges for Beginners

Over the past few years, Kubernetes has grown to be the most sought after tool for managing containerized applications. It is viewed by many as the logical next step in their journey into cloud computing.

In the agile age of rapid software development and deployment, organizations are finding that they need to find methods of managing their software. Having made the decision to move to the cloud, organizations have begun adopting tools and methods that will help them to develop, test, and push their software through production faster to meet tighter deployment schedules. This need for speed and scalability has led to the widespread usage of containers and microservices by organizations from SMBs to enterprises.

Considered to be a significant breakthrough in pushing software through the Software Development Lifecycle, containers can quickly become hard to handle when their numbers multiply as your operations scale up. In an attempt to find a solution to the question of how to manage this amount of software at scale in a cloud-native environment, the good folks at Google created and released Kubernetes.

While beloved for its security benefits and low drag on important resources, integrating Kubernetes into your organization is not without its challenges. This is especially true for organizations that are just starting to make their move to a cloud environment.

Challenges to Starting with Kubernetes

The decision to start working with Kubernetes, and cloud computing in general, usually begins with a desire to achieve certain goals. This can be faster deployments, dealing with larger workloads, or a dozen other reasons.  

The challenge though is that even after an organization concludes that they can work more efficiently by adopting Kubernetes, they may not have the necessary infrastructure in place to get their clusters up and running, let alone maintain the system on their own. Along with its popularity for the powerful scaling and automation capabilities that it can offer, Kubernetes has also gained a degree of notoriety for its level of complexity.

Kubernetes was initially released by Google in 2014, but has only really come into mainstream use since 2018. The following year in 2019 is when Kubernetes saw an explosion of adoption, coinciding with other advances in the development space like DevOps and even DevSecOps. 

From a technology point of view, two years can feel like a lifetime. However, in practice it means that the IT teams at many organizations likely lack the necessary experience to set up Kubernetes on their own. 

IT professionals need to take into account issues like how to keep it secure, deal with storage, and establish the right architecture for their environment. Factors like which type of cloud, be it on-prem, public, or most likely some kind of hybrid, can have significant implications on how to set up your Kubernetes workflow. 

Selecting the right tools and architecture from the earliest stages can have a real impact on the future success of Kubernetes within an organization.


Shifting Existing Architecture to be Microservices Ready

Organizations have pivoted to microservices architecture since it allows them to break their applications down into agile, lightweight container components that can be run on a variety of cloud environments. The advantages of this increased flexibility are clear, helping organizations to avoid the dreaded vendor lock in.

For organizations that already have a cloud infrastructure in place but have not implemented the full shift to a Kubernetes infrastructure, they can face other sets of challenges. Moving away from the monolith approach to building software offers newfound levels of freedom. Sometimes this can be too much freedom. 

In a microservices architecture, all of the elements of an application are distributed. This modularity allows teams to mix and match to find the right solutions for their application and organization. But it can also create a new set of questions about which ones to choose. What is the right API, authentication, or database for your application? Is one better suited for a particular application but completely wrong for another?

At the end of this process, all of these elements still need to be able to talk to each other, so interoperability is key. Remember that any changes that are made to one part of a microservice-type application can impact its functionality and that of other apps that it is expected to work with. 

Setting up the right architecture from the get go, especially if an organization lacks the prior experience, can be downright difficult. Mistakes along the way can cause long term issues that like much of software development, risks increased technical debt and many changes in the future. 


Maintaining Kubernetes: Keeping operations running smoothly

Like all software, working with Kubernetes requires regular maintenance and upkeep. This pertains to issues ranging from security to monitoring their clusters for optimization. 

As one of the most active open source projects in the community, researchers are constantly seeking out vulnerabilities and bugs in Kubernetes. While this is good for the community, it does mean that organizations have to stay on top of their updates if they want to mitigate the risk to their applications. In practice, this means being aware of new issues that arise, making pull requests for the updates and patches, and of course, implementing them to keep your cluster resources up to date and secure.

One area of maintenance that can be a headache for developers is making sure that updates — for both vulnerabilities and functionality issues — do not disrupt operations. A common complaint from IT and developers is that a new update can cause certain services that they are using to stop working correctly. Or altogether. 

Beyond the inevitable kinks and bumps in a software project of Kubernetes’ size and popularity, are the growing pains that every organization will face as they scale up their activities. Requirements for what an organization needs to do to better serve their customers changes over time, so it follows that alterations will be needed as well for enabling that evolution.  

Breaking Down Your Next Steps

Given the number of decisions that need to be made early on in the process and throughout the lifetime of utilization, the challenge of knowing where to start can seem overwhelming.

But it doesn’t have to be. 

The important thing to remember is that this is a marathon and not a sprint. This is doable. 

The first step is getting the stakeholders on board and creating the strategy that your organization can stick to. 

They say that it takes a village to raise a child. The same idea holds true for defining and executing your Kubernetes strategy. This likely includes your IT, Dev, and DevOps teams, and chances are that they are probably working on their own k8s strategy as we speak. A strategy that does not have the buy in of all these stakeholders is bound to fail. Everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction or you’re just going to go around in circles. 

If your organization is looking to join the conversation on how to make the transition to Kubernetes as smooth as possible, then we invite you to follow our posts discussing common questions and advice on how to tackle them.

Elroi Marom