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The Single Most Important Kubernetes Best Practice: Apply Policy

Kubernetes, the de facto standard for container orchestration, works best when applying a set of best practices that guide users towards reliable, cost efficient, and secure deployments. But in reality, it doesn't matter what the individual best practices are unless they are applied consistently across all teams, clusters, and Kubernetes environments. Best practices are only as effective as the policies and enforcement mechanisms that support them. In Kubernetes environments, it’s simple to have configuration drift due to inconsistent policies and policy enforcement, making it far more difficult to manage Kubernetes risks effectively.


  • Kubernetes best practices  significantly improve reliability, cost efficiency, and security, but are ineffective without policy and enforcement.

  • Policies transform best practices into actionable, enforceable standards.

  • Automated enforcement ensures consistent application and adherence to these standards.

  • The absence of policy and enforcement leads to operational inconsistencies like pods missing cost allocation labels, over-provisioned resources, and security misconfigurations.

  • Automating policy enforcement reduces overall Kubernetes risk

Policy in Kubernetes

Best practices in Kubernetes provide a roadmap for optimal configuration, deployment, and management of containerized applications. But without policies, these practices remain suggestions that are impossible to align to and enforce as use of Kubernetes expands beyond a single developer or dev team. Policies in Kubernetes serve multiple critical functions:

  • Standardization: Policies establish consistent standards across all K8s clusters within an organization.

  • Cost optimization: Policies requiring devs to set CPU and memory requests and limits can help to manage costs effectively

  • Reliability: As a business scales, policies can help dev teams avoid incorrect configurations, thereby improving overall reliability and availability.

  • Security: Policies enforce appropriate security context, adding defense in depth and reducing overall exposure to malicious actors.

  • Compliance: Most organizations are subject to regulatory requirements; policies can help ensure that Kubernetes deployments comply with common frameworks, security standards, and laws.

Policy Enforcement

Policies without enforcement are ultimately ineffective. Automatic policy enforcement ensures that the established policies are not just written somewhere but are actively adhered to. In a scalable, dynamic environment like Kubernetes, automation is critical. Solutions that enforce policies automatically can enable organizations to:

  • Block or flag releases that don’t align with established policies automatically.

  • Maintain consistency in configurations and deployments across multiple clusters.

  • Minimize the risk of security vulnerabilities and misconfigurations due to manual oversight.

Ignoring the need for policy and enforcement in Kubernetes may increase vulnerability to breaches and other cyberattacks, allow inconsistent coding practices that make management and troubleshooting more complex, and result in challenges complying with legal and regulatory requirements. Here are a few key policies platform teams need to include and enforce, created based on years of experience in building and running efficient, reliable Kubernetes workloads, broken down by policy type:



  • tag not specified, or is “latest”

  • pull policy is not set to “Always”




Kubernetes enables each organization to tune the orchestration tool to its unique needs, which makes it an incredibly powerful tool. These best practices exist because many capabilities are enabled by default that allow inefficient, unreliable, or insecure operations. Understanding the policies, why they exist, and then applying these policies consistently is critical to success. 

Implement Effective Policies and Enforcement

To effectively implement policies and enforcement in Kubernetes, organizations must first define clear policies. Each organizations’ policies should align with their unique goals and business objectives, as well as Kubernetes best practices. Leverage tools that can help with policy enforcement, such as Kubernetes admission controllers, policy engines (such as Open Policy Agent and Polaris), and CI/CD pipelines for automated policy enforcement. Platform engineers also need to make certain that all stakeholders understand the policies and the reasons behind them, from the platform engineering team to the development team. Security, compliance, and finance teams also have a vested interest in aligning to many of these policies. It’s also essential to review all policies to make sure that they stay up-to-date with evolving best practices, security threats, and regulatory changes.

The following are some of the benefits gained by using a solution that automatically identifies policy issues and makes it easy for developers to do the right thing:

  1. Ensure consistency - Automate deployment and security best practices at the CI/CD stage. 

  2. Identify mistakes - Detect issues automatically during application development to ensure mistakes do not enter production environments. 

  3. Improve security - Increase visibility into overall Kubernetes security posture by auditing workloads for misconfigurations and weaknesses continuously. 

  4. Manage costs - Increase the efficiency of Kubernetes resource usage to save money in the cloud or capacity in the data center. 

  5. Save time - Choose a solution that includes collaboration tools, notifications, workflows and integrations into the tools that dev teams already use.

While Kubernetes best practices lay the groundwork for effective container orchestration, putting comprehensive policies and robust enforcement mechanisms in place is what truly ensures reliability, cost efficiency, security, and compliance. Enforcing these policies consistently and automatically is an essential component of a successful Kubernetes strategy.

Fairwinds Insights can help you apply policies consistently at scale. Get started today!