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Container Orchestration

Container orchestration involves organizing groups of containers that make up an application, managing their deployment, scaling, networking, and their availability to ensure they're running optimally.

6 min read

What is container orchestration?

The advent of containers and containerization has significantly enhanced the agility of software development teams, enabling efficient software deployment and operation at an unprecedented scale. However, while containers offer advantages like portability and isolation, managing them individually at scale becomes cumbersome. 

Here are some key challenges:

  • Manually deploying, scaling, and maintaining numerous containers across different environments is time-consuming and error-prone.

  • ​Scaling containerized applications manually is difficult, especially during peak loads or sudden changes in demand.

  • Efficiently allocating resources (CPU, memory) to individual containers and ensuring optimal utilization becomes a complex task with a large number of containers.

  • Manually troubleshooting and debugging issues across many containers can be tedious and inefficient.

  • Maintaining consistency in configurations and deployments across multiple containers becomes difficult, increasing the risk of errors and inconsistencies.

Container orchestration addresses these challenges by automating and streamlining the deployment and management of containers. It provides a centralized and scalable solution to efficiently coordinate containerized workloads, giving software developers and their DevOps counterparts a faster and more agile approach to automating much of their work.

How container orchestration works

First, developers utilize declarative programming via a configuration file to specify the desired outcome (e.g., what containers to run and how they should be connected) rather than outlining every step involved. Within the file are details like container image locations, networking, security measures, and resource requirements. This config file then serves as a blueprint for the orchestration tool, which automates the process of achieving the desired state.

When introducing a new container into the mix, these tools or platforms take charge by automatically scheduling containers, and identifying the most suitable host based on predefined constraints from the configuration file, including CPU, memory, proximity, or container/host metadata. 

For instance, a container requiring a GPU might be placed on a host with a dedicated graphics card reflected in its metadata, while a container requiring access to a specific database service might be placed on a host close to that database for faster communication.

Once containers are running, the orchestration tool follows the template defined in the config file to: 

  • Manage their lifecycle, e.g., provisioning, deployment, scaling, load balancing, and resource allocation

  • Handle situations like resource shortages by moving containers to alternative hosts

  • Monitor application performance and health to ensure optimal functionality 

  • Facilitate service discovery, making it easier for containers to find each other

Benefits of container orchestration

Orchestration plays a pivotal role in harnessing the full potential of containers, significantly enhancing the efficiency and reliability of containerized apps.

In cloud environments, container orchestration has become ever more critical, as it enables organizations to leverage the flexibility and scalability of the cloud by managing and orchestrating containers across distributed infrastructures.

Agility and versatility

Container orchestration allows for faster and repeatable app development. It can adapt to diverse requirements, supporting continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, data processing applications, and the development of cloud-native apps. 

Container orchestration platforms are compatible with on-premises servers; public, private, or hybrid clouds; and multi-cloud.

Scalability

Container orchestration allows organizations to scale container deployments effortlessly based on evolving workload demands. Opting for a managed offering additionally provides the scalability of the cloud, allowing you to scale your underlying infrastructure as needed.

Lower costs

The financial benefits of container orchestration are substantial. With fewer resources than virtual machines, containers reduce infrastructure needs, overhead costs, and manual intervention.

Better security

A container orchestration platform can boost security by managing security policies and reducing human error, which can lead to vulnerabilities. Containers also allow application processes to be isolated within each container, thus minimizing the potential attack.

High availability

Container orchestration ensures uptime and availability by automatically detecting and addressing infrastructure failures. If a container fails, the container orchestration solution ensures application uptime by automatically restarting or replacing failing containers. 

Container orchestration platforms

Container orchestration platforms are essential for automating container management. Whether self-built or managed, they integrate with open-source technologies such as Prometheus for logging, monitoring, and analytics. 

We’ll explore some popular container orchestration platforms, but first let’s review some key features any orchestration solution should include:

  • Robust scheduling mechanisms: Efficient scheduling ensures optimal resource utilization and workload distribution.

  • Automated scaling: The platform should respond dynamically based on real-time demands.

  • Comprehensive networking solutions: This feature ensures seamless communication and connectivity between containers.

  • Built-in security features: Any platform should have integrated security measures to enhance application and data security.

When it comes to container orchestration platforms, organizations have two options: 

  • Self-built: Built from scratch or via open-source platforms like Kubernetes; more customization and flexibility, but users must manage and maintain the platform

  • Managed: Installation and operations handled by the provider, so users can focus solely on running their containerized applications; more limited than self-built solutions

Let's briefly discuss some platforms in the managed category.

Kubernetes

Kubernetes is hugely popular with developers for building and deploying containerized apps and services. The open-source platform offers a rich set of features and a large community, making it a good choice for complex deployments. However, while Kubernetes is the industry standard, it can also be challenging to deploy, manage, and secure. 

Figure 1: Kubernetes workflow (Source: Technos.Medium)

Kubernetes features: 

  • Extensive container capabilities that simplify development and deployment using logical units called pods

  • Support for cloud-native application development 

  • Support for microservices-based applications; mechanisms for service discovery and communication, enabling microservices to interact seamlessly

  • Supports multi-tenancy and role-based access control (RBAC)

  • Highly declarative, with features like automated load balancing; enables users to define what the app should look like while handling all underlying tasks 

  • Storage orchestration for managing the persistent storage of containers

  • Facilitation of seamless rollouts and rollback updates

  • Efficient and intelligent resource allocation to containers based on their needs

  • Automatic detection of unhealthy containers and automatic self-healing.

  • Secure storage and management of secrets and application configurations

Docker Swarm

Docker containers have their native orchestration platform, Docker Swarm. It's simpler to set up and use than Kubernetes, making it a good option for beginners or smaller deployments. However, Swarm also offers a less extensive feature set compared to Kubernetes.

Figure 2: Docker Swarm orchestration (Source: K21Academy)

Docker Swarm features: 

  • Seamless integration with Docker, making it a natural choice for organizations already invested in the Docker ecosystem for scaling containerized apps 

  • Automatic scaling of containerized apps based on workload demands; optimizes resource usage and eliminates potential bottlenecks for improved performance

  • RBAC and secrets management 

  • Built-in networking capabilities for communication between containers within a swarm; simplifies managing container communication within a deployment

  • Service discovery of containers, allowing them to discover and connect within the swarm

  • Traffic distribution across multiple container instances for improved performance and scalability; ensures apps can handle increased workloads efficiently

  • Overlay networking to create a virtual network for containers across different hosts, simplifying network configuration

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)

AWS’s managed container orchestration, Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), integrates seamlessly with the AWS ecosystem. Developers get all the benefits of Kubernetes while not having to manage the underlying complex infrastructure. For existing AWS users, EKS is a good option.

Figure 3: EKS project architecture (Source: Sokube)

Amazon EKS features: 

  • Seamless integration with other Amazon services like Elastic Container Registry (ECR), Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) for networking, and IAM (Identity and Access Management) for authentication

  • Simplified cluster creation via automated provisioning of the Kubernetes control plane, freeing users to focus on their applications

  • Autoscaling capabilities to scale containerized apps based on demand

  • Automated management of cluster health, including automatic restarts of failed containers for continuous uptime

  • Serverless deployments, enabled by running containers on AWS Fargate, eliminate the need to manage EC2 instances

  • Pay-as-you-go model, i.e., pay only for the resources the cluster uses

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)

Microsoft Azure offers AKS, a managed Kubernetes service similar to EKS. It provides a similar user experience and is ideal for those already using Azure cloud services.

Figure 4: AKS architecture (Source: Microsoft)

AKS features:

  • Automatic health management and container restarts for continuous uptime

  • Bulti-in container security like RBAC and secure container image storage within Azure Container Registry (ACR)

  • Automated deployments via integration with Azure DevOps and GitHub Actions 

  • Autoscaling policies to easily scale apps up/down based on demand

  • Basic monitoring with integration options for Azure Monitor, including comprehensive logging, proactive alerting, and resource optimization

  • Option to leverage GPU-enabled nodes for apps requiring intensive computational power, e.g., machine learning or scientific computing

Conclusion

Container orchestration efficiently tackles the complexities of handling large-scale containerized apps. The platforms discussed above all offer good options for container management. And their user-friendly and advanced automation is expected to improve, especially now with the growing demand for scalable AI apps.

However, while these platforms offer robust features, their intricate configuration options can lead to misconfigurations if not implemented carefully. This can potentially expose security vulnerabilities or create operational challenges. 

Moreover, the need for comprehensive security extends beyond the tools themselves, encompassing various aspects of the container lifecycle, including images, registries, deployments, runtime, and more. Continuous monitoring and compliance assessments are also crucial in mitigating both known and unknown security threats. 

How Wiz can help

Wiz offers a comprehensive solution: a suite of tools to safeguard your container environment from build time to runtime. Wiz uses a holistic approach that simplifies security processes, ensuring your applications are built faster and remain protected throughout their lifecycle.

Ready to see Wiz in action? Schedule a demo today and discover how Wiz can help you secure your container environments.

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