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Kubernetes meets the real world

Kubernetes meets the real world

The container orchestration tool Kubernetes continues to gain momentum as enterprises leap from pilot projects to production. Here’s how Bloomberg, News UK, and the travel data provider Amadeus are putting Kubernetes to work

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The first in-production application to be moved into this managed Kubernetes environment was a legacy Java system for access control and user login. Once the environment proved robust enough, the organization began steadily identifying and migrating other applications.

Speaking at monitoring specialist New Relic’s London Futurestack event earlier this year, Marcin Cuber, a former cloud devops engineer at News UK, said that “operationally, this simplifies what we have to maintain and monitor. On top of that we have EKS in its own isolated VPC, allowing us to specify our own security groups and network access control lists.”

The key goal for News UK was to better be able to scale up its environment around breaking news events and unpredictable reader volumes. “If there is breaking news, for example, we want every reader to be able to gather real-time updates worldwide and of course, to have a flawless experience,” Cuber said.

Where Kubernetes differs from VM autoscaling comes down to speed.

“VMs take long to spin up and when there is a spike of traffic, it is not fast enough to bring new capacity into the AutoScalingGroup,” Cuber said. “Docker containers running in Kubernetes are smaller and lightweight, therefore allowing us to scale in a matter of a few seconds rather than minutes.”

Cuber also had some advice for any organizations looking to adopt Docker and Kubernetes. First was to make your Docker images as small as possible and to focus on running stateless applications with Kubernetes. “This will improve your scalability and portability,” he said.

Next is to run health checks for your applications and to use YAML to deploy anything. “This way you can utilise temporary credentials that will expire soon after your deployment and you never have to worry about static located credentials,” he added.

News UK also wanted to cut costs by pairing EKS clusters with AWS spot instances – where AWS sells spare compute capacity at a discount rate but can also reclaim that capacity at any time.

“There’s a huge advantage of using spot instances; we are making around 70 percent savings compared to on-demand pricing,” Cuber said. As a way to circumvent the issue of nodes being taken away, the engineers set up an AWS Lambda function that detects the termination signal from AWS and automatically drains the nodes due to be affected.

The final, softer benefit of running Kubernetes at News UK comes down to recruitment. “Kubernetes is open source and this is sexy. We want to attract modern engineers that care about cloud native technologies,” he added.

Amadeus drinks the Kubernetes Kool-Aid

Spanish travel tech giant Amadeus has been working with Kubernetes as far back as version 0.7 five years ago. In the ensuing two years the company was keen to see things like monitoring, alerting, and the wider ecosystem mature before committing any business-critical applications to Kubernetes. The company now feels it made the right bet.

“We wanted to go faster with Kubernetes, so we took the steps to learn how to operate Kubernetes and how to monitor it, do alerting,” says Julien Etienne, director of software engineering for cloud platforms at Amadeus.

Amadeus is one of the big three global distribution systems that enable travel agents and metasearch engines like Expedia and Kayak to sell flight, hotel room, and rental car bookings.

Late in 2016 the organisation started to move its first application – for airline availability – to Kubernetes in production, hand in hand with Red Hat’s OpenShift platform. The plan was actually to move a hotel reservation application first, but as that project bloated, the airline availability application, which was built for Linux and needed to be moved to the public cloud to better serve its airline clients’ growing demands for lower latency, made it to production faster.

“The good thing we had from the start is all our apps are on Linux, so they are container-friendly from the start,” Etienne said. “Of course they were monolithic, but it was really more about how to move existing apps to containers and then Kubernetes, so the position was pretty straightforward.”

Shifting to Kubernetes fit with a broader business goal for Amadeus to shift from on-premises deployments to the public cloud, predominantly with its partner Google Cloud, so that it could better scale to meet seasonal demand and cut down on over-provisioning infrastructure costs.

In terms of challenges, Amadeus is a strong engineering organisation, so once some training had been completed the technical challenges paled into insignificance compared to the cultural shift that tools like Kubernetes required from the organisation.

“One of the main challenges is shifting mindset in terms of what it means for developers,” Etienne said. “They used to think about the machine the application runs on and now you forget about the machine and everything is configuration driven with YAML files everywhere.”

“Everyone was already getting ready for containers, so the biggest shift was operating apps in an agnostic way,” he added.

The overall goal for Amadeus is to move all production workloads to run on a single operating model with Kubernetes, and the organization is around 10 to 15 per cent of the way there so far. “As with any strategy, if we reach that goal, it is too early to say,” Sebastien Pellise, director of platform solution management at Amadeus said.

Another, softer benefit of adopting tools like Kubernetes is with recruiting and retaining talent, because “working on these type of things is so much more sexy to advanced engineers than working on a mainframe,” said Dietmar Fauser, former SVP of technology platforms and engineering at Amadeus, in an interview earlier this year.

Gearing up for a Kubernetes future

One of the more interesting aspects of these various case studies is their consistency. Regardless of industry – be it financial services, media, retail, or technology – organisations of all sizes are grappling with a sea change in the way software is built and deployed in small, discrete, loosely coupled chunks of functionality.

There are also consistencies among challenges and benefits. All of these organisations are compelled to enact sometimes painful cultural change and face significant recruitment challenges as they compete for talent with the likes of Google and Facebook.

All of these organisations are also starting to speed up their development cycles, reduce costs and downtime, and deliver more value more frequently for their customers.

At this point, it’s not an exaggeration to say that any organisation that fails to get up to speed with containers and Kubernetes will struggle to keep up in our new, accelerated, software-driven world.


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