Kubernetes explained: what it is and how it can transform your business

Patrick Smith, CTO EMEA of Pure Storage, offers a plain language guide
Patrick Smith

In the world of tech there is always ‘the next big thing’, a technological advancement with bold claims to transform a business. Some of these innovations fail to live up to their hype and quickly become passing fads, while others stand the test of time as genuinely impactful to businesses long term.

Kubernetes, or K8s as it is often referred, is the latest hot technology: which category does it fall into?

For me Kubernetes is unquestionably the latter. It’s a technology that is driving growth for highly innovative companies, bringing with it digital transformation that increases speed, agility, scalability and simplicity. But, before we dive into why and how all the practical benefits of Kubernetes work, first we need to understand what it actually is.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is a way to manage “containers” (small units of software, often called micro-services, that make up business applications) and run applications efficiently. It is referred to as an orchestration system because it acts like the conductor would in an orchestra. Instead of unifying the musicians, Kubernetes coordinates the container. These containers run across a group of servers, known as a cluster, Kubernetes manages the varying needs of each container automatically and divides resources efficiently across the cluster.

Kubernetes manages resources to deliver an application to the user on-demand, using whatever server resource is appropriate and available for that task. For example, if you have an application that has many users during the day, but less at night, you can instruct Kubernetes to automatically scale available resources in conjunction with the number of users. Equally, when that application is no longer in use at all, Kubernetes automatically shuts down and removes the application, freeing up capacity on that cluster for other uses.

If one server within the cluster which hosts containers for your application were to fail, Kubernetes can relaunch the application immediately, diverting processing power to other working servers and allowing your business to keep running that service quickly and without human intervention.

The practical benefits

Kubernetes is a scalable solution designed to provide increased application agility, speed of delivery and advanced troubleshooting while enabling cost efficiency by allowing multiple containers to share the same operating system and network connection. As lightweight containers take up fewer resources, using Kubernetes can save both hardware and datacenter outlay compared to applications running on virtual platforms.

It also allows companies to deploy and operate cloud-native applications regardless of the environment and underlying infrastructure, whether it is a public cloud (e.g. AWS, GCP or Azure), a private cloud, or an on-premises solution. Meaning companies can adopt Kubernetes without having to spend budget on rebuying different infrastructure; you can operate and finance fewer machines for an equal number of applications.

Who is Kubernetes right for and when should it be implemented?

The short answer is that Kubernetes is right for any company that is looking for rapid innovation from its developers. It doesn’t matter what size a company is, the strategy around innovation is more important when it comes to assessing if Kubernetes is the right fit.

Most application developers will already be aware of and using Kubernetes thanks to its benefits of flexibility, portability and productivity. This flexibility means that app developers can easily drop their applications into any infrastructure knowing that Kubernetes will be able to manage them according to the containers’ needs. It also allows for quick deployment and application feature updates, supporting agile methodologies.

As more people become aware of the benefits of Kubernetes, there are some questions to consider before deciding whether it makes sense to adopt the technology. For example, does your company’s application need to scale capacity up or down quickly based on varying workloads? Does your application consist of multiple services that need to be scaled? Are you investing in moving workloads to the cloud as cost effectively as possible?

If the answer to all or some of the above is yes, then Kubernetes should be incorporated into your future strategy. But remember, not every app will benefit from the microservices approach, so business leaders need to really understand their current tech stack in order to determine whether they will really reap the benefits from Kubernetes adoption.

The future of Kubernetes

With some of the largest companies in the world trusting Kubernetes as a core part of their cloud strategy, every business that’s serious about rapid innovation should be considering it.

But adoption is not a “fix all” solution, it is a complex technology with a lot of moving parts and teams need the skills and resources to utilise the technology properly. As the growth of Kubernetes in the mainstream continues, the biggest challenge for organisations will be the supply of developers with the knowledge and experience to work in this domain. Only when you have built out a strategy and a skilled team to execute this will you truly see the benefits of Kubernetes in your business.

Written by
Patrick Smith
CTO EMEA, Pure Storage
February 24, 2022