100 Days of Cloud – Day 88: Azure Kubernetes Service

Its Day 88 of my 100 Days of Cloud journey and as promised, in todays post I’ve finally gotten to Azure Kubernetes Service.

On Day 86, we introduced the components that make up Kubernetes, tools used to manage the environment and also some considerations you need to be aware of when using Kubernetes, and in the last post we installed a local Kubernetes Cluster using Minikube.

Today we move on to Azure Kubernetes Service and we’ll look first at how this differs in architecture from an on-premises installation of Kubernetes.

Azure Kubernetes Service

As always lets start with the definition – Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is a managed Kubernetes service that lets you quickly deploy and manage clusters. The operational overhead is offloaded to Azure, and it handles critical tasks such as health monitoring and maintenance.

When you create an AKS cluster, a control plane or master node is automatically created and configured, and provided at no cost as a managed Azure resource. You only pay for the nodes attached to the AKS cluster. The control plane and its resources reside only on the region where you created the cluster.

Image Credit: Microsoft

AKS Cluster Nodes are run on Azure Virtual Machines (which can be either Linux or Windows Server 2019), so you can size your nodes based on the storage, CPU, memory and type that you require for your workloads. These are billed as standard VMs so any discounts (including reservations) are automatically applied.

Its important to note though that VM sizes with less than 2 CPUs may not be used with AKS – this is to ensure that the required system required pods and applications can run reliably.

When you scale out the number of nodes, Azure automatically creates and configures the requested number of VMs. Nodes of the same configuration are known as Node Pools and you define the number of nodes required in a pool during initial setup (which we’ll see below).

Azure has the following limits:

  • Maximum of 5000 Clusters per subscription
  • Maximum of 100 Nodes per cluster with Virtual Machine Availability Sets and Basic Load Balancer SKU
  • Maximum of 1000 Nodes per cluster with Virtual Machine Scale Sets and Standard Load Balancer SKU
  • Maximum of 100 Node Pools per cluster
  • Maximum of 250 Pods per node

When you create a cluster using the Azure portal, you can choose a preset configuration to quickly customize based on your scenario. You can modify any of the preset values at any time.

  • Standard – Works well with most applications.
  • Dev/Test – Use this if experimenting with AKS or deploying a test application.
  • Cost-optimized – reduces costs on production workloads that can tolerate interruptions.
  • Batch processing – Best for machine learning, compute-intensive, and graphics-intensive workloads. Suited for applications requiring fast scale-up and scale-out of the cluster.
  • Hardened access – Best for large enterprises that need full control of security and stability.

If we go into the Portal and “Create a Resource”, select “Containers” frm the categories and click on “Create” under Kubernetes Service:

As we can see this throws us into our screen for creating our Cluster. As always, we need to select a Subscription and Resource Group. Down below this is where it gets interesting, and we can see the preset configurations that we described above:

We can see that “Standard ($$)” is selected by default, and if we click on “Learn more and compare presets”, we get a screen showing us details of each option:

I’m going to select “Dev/Test ($)” and click apply to come back to the Basics screen. I now give the Cluster a name and select a region. We can also see that I can select different Kubernetes versions from the dropdown:

Finally on this screen, we select the Node Pool options and can select Node size (you can change the size and select whatever VM size that you need to meet your needs), manual or auto scaling and the Node Count:

We click next and move on to the “Node Pools” screen, where we can add other Node Pools and select encryption options:

The next screen is “Access” where we can specify RBAC access and also AKS-managed Azure AD which controls access using Azure AD Group membership. Note that this option cannot be disabled after it is enabled:

The next screen is Networking and this is where things get interesting – we can use kubenet to create a VNet using default values, or Azure CNI (Container Networking Interface) which allows you to specify a subnet from your own managed Vnets. We can also specify Network policies to define rules for ingress and egress traffic in and out of the cluster.

The next screen is Integrations, where we can integrate with Azure Container Registry and also enable Azure Monitor and Azure Policy.

At this point, we can click Review and Create and go make a cup of tea while thats being created.

And once thats done (the deployment, not the tea….), we can see the Cluster has been created:

One interesting thing to note – the cluster has been created in my “MD-AKS-Test” Resource Group, however a second RG has been created that containes the NSG, Route Table, VNet, Load Balancer, Managed Identity and Scale Set, so its separating the underlying management components from the main cluster resource.

So at thsi point, we need to jump into Cloud Shell and manage the cluster from there. When we launch Cloud Shell and the prompt appears, run:

az aks get-credentials --resource-group MD-AKS-Test --name MD-AKS-Test-Cluster

This sets our cluster as the current context in the Cloud Shell and allows us to run kubectl commands against it. We can now run kubectl get nodes to show us the status of the nodes in our node pool:

At this point, you are ready to deploy an application into your Cluster! You can use the process as described here to create your YAML file and deploy and test the sample Azure Voting App. Once this is deployed, you can check the “Workloads” menu from your cluster in the Portal to see that this is running:

If we click into either of the “azure-vote” deployments, we can see the underlying Pod in place with its internal IP and the node its assigned to:

To delete the cluster, run az aks delete --resource-group MD-AKS-Test --name MD-AKS-Test-Cluster --yes --no-wait.

Azure Kubernetes Service or run your own Kubernetes Cluster?

So this is the million dollar question and there really is no correct answer – it really does depend on your own particular use case.

Lets try to break it down this way – Deploying and operating your own Kubernetes cluster is complex and will require more work to get the underlying technology set up, such as networking, monitoring, identity management and storage.

The flip side is that if you go with AKS its a much faster way to get up and running with Kubernetes and you have full access to technologies such as Azure AD and Azure Key Vault, but you don’t have access to your control plane or master nodes. There is also the cost element to think of as Kubernets can get expensive running in the cloud depending on how much you decide to scale.

Conclusion

So thats a look at Azure Kubernetes Service and also the benefits of running Kubernetes in Azure versus On-Premises.

The last few posts have only really scratched the surface on Kubernetes – there is a lot to learn about the technology and a steep learning curve. One thing for sure is that Kubernetes is a really hot technology right now and there is huge demand for people who have it as a skill.

If you want to follow some folks who know their Kubernetes inside out, the people I would recommend are:

  • Chad Crowell who you can follow on Twitter or his blog. Chad also has an excellent Kubernetes from Scratch course over at CloudSkills.io containing over 30 real world projects to help you ramp up on Kubernetes.
  • Michael Levan who you can follow from all his socials on Linktree and who has published multiple content pieces on his social channels.
  • Richard Hooper (aka Pixel Robots and Microsoft Azure MVP) who you can follow on Twitter or his blog which contains in-depth blog posts and scenarios for AKS. Richard also co-hosts the Azure Cloud Native user group which you can find on Meetup.

Hope you enjoyed this post, until next time!

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