Containerization is a type of virtualization in which a software application or service is packaged with all the components necessary for it to run in any computing environment. Containers work hand in hand with modern cloud native development practices by making applications more portable, efficient, and scalable. As application architectures become more complex and the number of containers needed to maintain stability across a distributed system grows, software teams can simplify the management of their container infrastructure with container orchestration.

Container orchestration tools manage and automate the complete lifecycle of containers, including provisioning, deployment, and scaling. This allows organizations to capture the benefits of containerization at scale without incurring additional maintenance overhead. However, there are some challenges associated with adopting container orchestration tooling that teams should consider before committing to a new technology.

This article covers the benefits and challenges of container orchestration as well as some popular container orchestration tools to consider.

Benefits of container orchestration

The benefits of container orchestration include:

  • Advanced security
  • Cost efficiency
  • Simplified deployments
  • Improved application development
  • Efficient resource management

Advanced security

Running applications and their processes in containers makes it possible to reduce traditional security risks, because applications in containers can be run in isolation. In addition, container orchestration tools can share only specific resources between users, reducing the risk of data breaches and other security vulnerabilities.

Cost efficiency

Containers are lightweight and require fewer resources to run than virtual machines. It is easier to accommodate several containers on a host, irrespective of the environment, yielding significant cost savings when deployed at scale via a container orchestration tool. The container orchestration system also requires less time and human capital to manage than manual deployments, saving additional costs.

Simplified deployments

With container orchestration tools, building and releasing software gains velocity. Application deployments are more manageable because everything related to the application exists within the container. Some container orchestration tools offer deployment controllers that further simplify the deployment process, including rollout and rollback, pod management, and more.

Improved application development

Containers make the entire process of developing, testing, and delivering software faster, more efficient, and repeatable. Orchestration allows teams to roll out and roll back new versions or features with ease, making testing in production and more complex deployment strategies easier to accomplish.

Efficient resource management

Containers make managing resources easier since they do not include operating system (OS) images. This makes containers more efficient and lightweight than traditional applications. Beyond the already mentioned cost benefits, eff

Container orchestration tools

Many container orchestration tools are available. This section reviews some of the most popular.

Kubernetes

Among all open source container orchestration tools, Kubernetes — also known as K8s — is probably the best-known and most popular. Kubernetes focuses on managing the entire life cycle of a container and has a range of managed services to help teams gain all the benefits without complexity. Devs like it for its flexibility, vendor-agnostic features, steady version releases, and the open source community built around it.

Kubernetes helps manage complex applications comprising several independent services that must be hosted at scale. This is made easy because of the Kubernetes API, which allows for the automation of several tasks related to provisioning and management.

This range of services simplifies the container automation and management process and eases the process of delivering cloud services.

Some managed Kubernetes services include:

  • Red Hat OpenShift
  • Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)
  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)
  • Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)

OpenShift is a cloud development platform by Red Hat built on both Docker and Kubernetes and powered by an open source Kubernetes engine. This platform as a service (PaaS) uses Kubernetes as a container orchestration engine to enable developers to run and build applications anywhere. It helps develop, deploy, and manage cloud-based applications, allowing developers to work in a self-service way.

The Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) is a Kubernetes-based management system for Docker containers and container clusters within Google’s public cloud services.

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is Azure’s fully managed container service that simplifies deploying a Kubernetes cluster in Azure. Azure fully manages the clusters, making it easy to deploy containerized applications without orchestration skills or expertise.

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) is a managed service that simplifies running and deploying Kubernetes in AWS. This is a container as a service (CaaS) that gives AWS users the features of Kubernetes without having to manage Kubernetes.

Docker Swarm

Docker Swarm, offered by Docker, is an open source container orchestration tool and Docker’s native clustering engine. It enables the effective management of multiple containers deployed on numerous machines by converting a pool of Docker instances and hosts into a single virtual host.

Docker Swarm offers decentralized access, making it easy for distributed teams to work on and manage the environment effectively. To learn more about Docker Swarm and how it compares with other popular container management tools, read Docker Swarm vs Kubernetes: how to choose a container orchestration tool.

Mesos

Apache Mesos is another open source cluster management service. It works between the application layer and the OS, making deploying and managing applications in large-clustered environments more straightforward and efficient.

Mesos is the first open source cluster management service to handle a workload in a distributed environment using dynamic resource sharing and isolation, the segregation of a program from other running processes. Mesos provides applications with the available resources on all machines in the cluster and frequently updates to include resources that completed applications have freed up. This lets applications make the best decision about which task to execute on which machine.

Nomad

First released by HashiCorp in 2015, Nomad was initially designed to be a general orchestrator. Now, Nomad is a container orchestration tool that provides flexible cluster management and the scheduling and deploying of tasks among the worker nodes in a cluster. Worker nodes within the Kubernetes cluster perform actions facilitated by the Kubernetes API. They can be used to run containerized applications and can also handle networking between applications with and outside the cluster.

Nomad deploys and manages containers and non-containerized applications on various infrastructures at scale in on-site or cloud environments. Beyond containers, Nomad handles the orchestration of any application and offers bin packing to enable effective space management and job scheduling.

SUSE Rancher

SUSE Rancher is a service built for the easy management, organization, and administration of thousands of Kubernetes clusters on any infrastructure.

Rancher allows developers to create Kubernetes clusters with the Rancher Kubernetes Engine (RKE) or with other cloud Kubernetes services, such as GKE and EKS. With SUSE Rancher, developers can import and manage existing Kubernetes clusters from any Kubernetes distribution.

Container orchestration challenges

Setting up container orchestration can be daunting for organizations with little prior experience with containers. Educating yourself about the tools and what they manage will help you address challenges such as:

  • Choosing the right tool
  • Security
  • Networking
  • Cultural change

Choosing the right tool

With the number of container orchestration tools available, it can be difficult to understand what features each offer, why they should be used, and whether they are a fit for your organization’s needs.

Some essential features to look out for when choosing a tool include:

  • Security
  • Scaling
  • Required skills
  • Efficiency
  • Organization-specific needs

Have these in mind when picking a tool to inform your decision-making process.

Security

Container management and orchestration can be more complex than other infrastructures. The entire container orchestration process must be secure as attackers can exploit any misconfiguration, bugs, or other vulnerability. Downtime, loss of money, and exploitation of sensitive data are just some of the by-products of a security problem in container orchestration.

It is crucial to have security-minded developers who manage and maintain the entire process to reduce security risks. By implementing security best practices such as automated vulnerability scans in a continuous integration pipeline, you can significantly reduce your risk exposure.

Networking

An organization developing with microservices needs each service to communicate with the others to enable an easy flow of work. If the organization expects high traffic between the containers, this can cause some problems. However, a good load balancer solves the problem of traffic with ease.

Cultural change

Container orchestration is a field that requires openness and accountability. If this is not an already existing part of an organization’s culture, implementing container orchestration may be difficult, regardless of size. To effectively implement container orchestration, communication, and collaboration, you must encourage the best DevOps practices at all levels.

Container orchestration and CI/CD

You can integrate container orchestration into a continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD) pipeline. Using CI/CD in concert with container orchestration will automate essential tasks. This section discusses some of them.

Automated container builds

A CI/CD pipeline can automate the entire process of building containers, allowing developers to stay focused on delivering new features and responding to customer needs. You can also automate deploying containers to a Kubernetes cluster or other container orchestration tool so your users receive updates swiftly, reducing wait time.

Security scans

Bugs and security issues can occur during the development process of an application as well as during the orchestration process. To reduce your exposure to supply chain vulnerabilities and other potential attack vectors in your containerized applications, it is important to implement a comprehensive automated testing process.

Infrastructure configuration and deployments

Configurations and deployments are vital aspects of the DevOps pipeline. You can automate your container cluster configuration process with CI/CD, reducing the chance of costly misconfiguration errors and other mistakes.

Conclusion

This article discussed the benefits of container orchestration, including advanced security, cost efficiency, simplified deployments, improved application development, and efficient resource management. It surveyed several tools, discussed some challenges posed by container orchestration and how you can address them, and explained how CI/CD pipelines.

Containerization and container orchestration tools are here to stay. Tools like Kubernetes, Docker Swarm, and Nomad make the development to deployment process for complex containerized applications more straightforward, saving organizations from costly manual infrastructure management. However, it is important to consider your organizational needs and capabilities before choosing an orchestration tool. Although container orchestration has its challenges, the benefits far outweigh the problems, which can mostly be mitigated with proper planning.

When your organization is ready to scale its use of containers with container orchestration, you can further automate and secure the build, test, and deployment process with a comprehensive CI/CD pipeline. CircleCI [integrates with Kubernetes] and other container orchestration tools to make your transition to container-based deployments faster and easier. To get started, sign up for a free account today.