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Choosing Your Kubernetes Cloud Provider: The Pros and Cons of GKE

Kubernetes was released over ten years ago by Google as an open source project to improve container orchestration. While several cloud providers offer managed Kubernetes services, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) was (unsurprisingly) the first to market, released in 2015. Understanding the GKE pros and cons can help you determine which cloud provider best meets the needs of your organization.

Pros of GKE

The main benefits of GKE is that it takes responsibility for many of the underlying infrastructure items. It offers a lot of features out of the box and delivers many automated capabilities. Like the other Kubernetes managed services (typically Azure Kubernetes Service or Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service), GKE takes care of the heavy lifting of managing Kubernetes clusters. This enables developers to not worry about tasks outside of their main focus (building and deploying applications), such as infrastructure provisioning, configuration, and maintenance.

1. Integration with the Google Cloud Ecosystem

GKE integrates seamlessly with Google Cloud Platform (GCP) services, including services such as Anthos, BigQuery, Pub/Sub, Google Cloud Operations, and Cloud Storage. This makes it the logical choice for organizations already invested in GCP. GKE also provides simple access to Google Cloud’s networking, storage, analytics, and security services. In addition, the native integration of GKE with other Google Cloud services ensures that developers enjoy a smooth experience when building and deploying applications on GCP. GKE also offers the Cloud Code console extension for Visual Studio Code and IntelliJ for developer environments.

2. Simplified Deployment

GKE offers a lot of tools and features that enable streamlined container deployment, such as rollbacks, scaling, and automated rollouts. This makes it easy for devs to push code updates and get applications running quickly in production environments. GKE also integrates well with popular DevOps tools and CI/CD pipelines, enabling developers to deploy containerized apps easily as part of their already existing workflows. It’s quite easy to deploy a Kubernetes cluster in GKE, and the command line tool and web console are both very user friendly. GKE also simplifies ongoing management with features such as:

  • Standard mode: You manage the underlying infrastructure, including configuring the individual nodes.
  • Autopilot Mode: A "hands-off" mode where GKE manages most aspects of the cluster for you.
  • Node Auto-Provisioning: Automatically scales and provisions node pools based on your application's resource needs.

3. Straightforward Pricing

GKE offers a straightforward pay-as-you-go pricing model based on the number and types of nodes deployed. It also offers different pricing plans based on the level of support your organization needs. And while not directly related to pricing (but relevant to costs), GKE offers features for resource quotas and monitoring, which enables developers to optimize resource utilization and improve cost efficiency.

4. Security and Stability

GKE provides Container-Optimized OS, which is an operating system engine for Compute Engine virtual machines optimized for running containers. It’s maintained by Google and helps you bring containers up on GCP quickly and securely. It comes with the Docker and containerd runtimes and cloud-init. Because Container-Optimized OS has a small footprint, it reduces the potential attack surface for your instance. It also includes a locked-down firewall and other security settings by default, a perk as Kubernetes is known not to be secure by default. It also includes Identity and Access Management (IAM) features that help GKE customers better protect sensitive workloads as well as Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) for network isolation.

The Cons of GKE

1. Steeper Learning Curve

While GKE simplifies many tasks, it can be more complex for those new to Kubernetes or Google Cloud. Concepts like node pools, load balancers, and Ingress can require a deeper understanding compared to simpler managed services, such as AKS.

2. Costs

While straightforward (cluster management is free), GKE can be expensive, particularly if you use various Google Cloud services with your clusters. In addition, only one zonal cluster or Autopilot cluster is free. Basically, the GKE free tier provides $74.40 in monthly credits for each billing account, and these are applied to zonal and Autopilot clusters. (The fee doesn’t apply to GKE Enterprise clusters.) Also, GKE meets the 99.95% SLA if  you use Regional Clusters, which costs $0.10 per cluster per hour.

3. Vendor Lock-In

Similar to Amazon EKS and Microsoft AKS in their respective ecosystems, GKE is deeply integrated with Google Cloud, which can lead to vendor lock-in. This can make GKE less portable if you adopt a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud approach. In addition, if you are now supporting clients in the public sector (or you’re thinking about doing so in the future), GKE does not have a government cloud, so if you need that for your Kubernetes engine, you may wish to pick another provider.

4. Cluster Type Considerations

GKE offers Zonal and Regional clusters, each with trade-offs:

  • Zonal Clusters: Simpler and cost-effective, but less resilient to zonal failures.
  • Regional Clusters: More fault-tolerant and meet higher SLA requirements, but can be more costly.

Choosing the wrong cluster type can lead to unexpected issues later on.

GKE vs. Other Managed Kubernetes Services



Amazon EKS

Azure AKS

Cloud Integration

Deeply integrated with Google Cloud

Deeply integrated with AWS

Deeply integrated with Azure

Ease of Use

Can be complex for beginners

Offers a good balance

Considered easier to use than GKE

Advanced Features

Wide range of features, including Autopilot

Strong on networking and security features

Good for Windows-based workloads


Can get expensive with heavy usage


Competitive pricing


How Fairwinds Accelerates Your GKE Journey

Fairwinds provides white-glove Kubernetes managed services specifically tailored for GKE. We help you:

  • Get Started Quickly: Launch production-ready GKE clusters without deep in-house Kubernetes expertise.
  • Optimize for Production: Configure GKE with best practices for security, reliability, and cost efficiency.
  • Ongoing Support: Manage and maintain your GKE or other clusters with expert support and troubleshooting.

Is GKE Right for You?

Overall, Google Kubernetes Engine offers a powerful, scalable, and integrated solution for managing containerized applications, particularly for organizations already working in the Google ecosystem. GKE makes it easy to get started quickly, offering cutting-edge Kubernetes features and improvements in a system that is highly reliable and well optimized, which is appealing for many organizations.

Understanding the pros and cons of GKE will enable you to make informed decisions when choosing a managed K8s provider and harness the full power of Kubernetes for your organization. Fairwinds can also accelerate your GKE journey by providing white-glove Kubernetes managed services. Learn how you can get started with GKE fast without requiring in-house Kubernetes expertise or specialized training with a production-grade GKE cluster, best-in-class tooling and add-ons, and a seamless way to move your workloads to production.

Explore Managed Kubernetes-as-a-Service