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What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes Overview

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration platform that allows you to manage automated workloads at scale. A workload is any job that needs to get done, such as hosting a website, migrating a database, or sending a simple email. Kubernetes workloads can be broken down into two categories:

  1. External workloads, which interface with external users. This could be a website or an API.
  2. Internal workloads, which operate inside of Kubernetes to help other workloads do their jobs. This includes activities like logging, networking and certificate management.

These workloads could be long-running deployments, or short-lived jobs. Regardless of the type, Kubernetes enables you to automate and manage all of your workloads under one roof.

Benefits of Kubernetes

As your application development scales, you need an infrastructure that can intelligently manage applications and resources without human intervention. Otherwise, you run the risk of slow applications, system downtime and lost productivity.

Kubernetes excels at resource management. You can use its declarative configuration syntax to enter your desired outcome, and the platform will find the most efficient way to get there on its own. This ensures that your hardware, memory, hard disk space and other resources are always allocated in a way that’s sustainable and scalable — and you can spend more time on the work that matters.


As an open-source platform, Kubernetes is inherently flexible and customizable. It provides a layer of abstraction between your cloud provider's APIs and your development infrastructure, greatly reducing the need for vendor-specific code, and with it, the chances of getting locked in to a single cloud provider.

Additionally, a vast ecosystem of both open source and commercial tooling has grown up around Kubernetes. You can easily find enterprise-grade solutions for:

• Logging
• Network Policy and Ingress
• Certificate Management
• Serverless Workflows
• and just about anything else you'd want to do with software infrastructure.

The best part is, you can deploy, update, scale, and remove individual pieces of your architecture independently. In effect, Kubernetes is an open, modular platform-as-a-service, allowing companies to build a customized infrastructure to meet their needs.


As your team scales, automation becomes crucial to maintaining efficiency. Kubernetes gives you the power to deploy your containerized workloads, automatically scale them, and schedule them across multiple machines. Once your application is scaled up, it can even open up a load balancer in your cloud platform, so you can start receiving traffic.

Kubernetes workloads are also self-healing. If you accidentally introduce a memory leak or other performance-killing bug, Kubernetes will start a new instance of the application every time one of its replicas crashes. This saves you — and your users — from unexpected downtime while you diagnose the problem.

Faster Better Development

Most importantly, Kubernetes lets you focus on what you do best: shipping a great product. It takes care of the "busy-work" of maintaining healthy infrastructure, so you can spend your time hardening your architecture, improving developer workflows, and shipping new features. That’s good for customers — and good for business.

Challenges of Kubernetes

Kubernetes is not “batteries included”. Compared to other platforms that work out-of-the-box, making Kubernetes fully operational is easier said than done.

You’ll be responsible for things like configuring add-ons for ingress and certificate management, implementing a CI/CD process, and creating deployment configurations. Without the guardrails and opinions of other platforms, this step alone can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Thankfully, there is a solution to almost any problem on Kubernetes, whether that be an open source tool, a commercial service, or a simple troubleshooting guide.

Read about Kubernetes best practices.


Designing robust, self-healing infrastructure isn't enough - you also have to make sure it's secure. Whether you need to meet a particular compliance standard, or just want to make sure user data is protected, there are three major attack vectors you'll need to consider:

Denial of service attack: Kubernetes can handle this type of attack by automatically scaling your applications, and rate limiting individual IP addresses.

External threats: While Kubernetes can’t overcome buggy code, it can wall off particular applications from the rest of the cluster, limiting the blast radius if an attacker gains access to its container.

Internal threats: Kubernetes' RBAC configuration allows you to configure fine-grained permissions, ensuring that people only have access to what they need to do their jobs.

Read more about Kubernetes security best practices.

Kubernetes vs. Competitors

Heroku is an off-the-shelf platform, making it a great choice for companies just starting out. It comes with automatic security compliance and workload automation built right in, so you can get an app working very quickly.

But eventually, the limitations of Heroku will catch up to you.

Size: Heroku sets limitations on things like database size.
Cost: Heroku costs about double what any other solution would cost.
Scale: Heroku waits until your applications slow down before it scales them.

The differences between Heroku and Kubernetes don’t just stop there. For more information, check out our article: Heroku vs. Kubernetes: The Big Differences You Should Know

Ultimately Heroku has the same limitation as other commercial solutions like as Amazon ECS - you're locked into a proprietary platform.

But even other open platforms like Mesos and Docker Swarm have failed to offer the same flexibility and functionality as Kubernetes. If you're weighing options, our free guide can help you decide which container orchestration tool is right for you.

Migrating to Kubernetes

If you’ve decided it’s time to migrate to Kubernetes, it’s important that you prepare properly. You'll need to do a lot of testing, planning, and prototyping.

On your own, the journey from a different platform (such as Heroku) to Kubernetes can take up to six months, costing you valuable time and money. With the help of a dedicated Kubernetes support you can shorten the process to just six weeks.

Managed Kubernetes
Managing your Kubernetes Infrastructure

Ultimately, Kubernetes is not a set-and-forget platform; even perfectly built infrastructure needs to be managed by dedicated DevOps resources.

If you choose to manage Kubernetes internally, it can be time-consuming and inefficient for your team to stay up-to-date on new releases from Kubernetes, as well as all the tooling you'll need to layer on top. Given how quickly the ecosystem evolves, your team will be always be learning on the fly, and may miss important issues related to security, best practices, and backward-compatibility.

For many companies on Kubernetes, it’s easier to rely on a managed Kubernetes support team to keep their infrastructure optimized and running properly. Outside firms manage dozens or hundreds of clusters, and have built battle-tested teams, processes, and architectures. They can provide a team of experts to answer questions, train internal employees, and even manage the entire process end-to-end.

Kubernetes enablement
Fairwinds: your choice for Kubernetes

Having airtight infrastructure is crucial for a healthy business. A system failure can impact revenue, reduce productivity, or expose security weaknesses — problems that impact your entire organization.

At Fairwinds, we have the experience, know-how, and insights to make your Kubernetes journey safe and successful — no matter what your organization's needs.

ClusterOps Managed Service: A fully managed Kubernetes platform that offers 24x7 Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) support.

ClusterOps Advisory: A Kubernetes support service to supplement your team’s expertise

Fairwinds Insights: Kubernetes configuration validation software that proactively monitors, identifies and prioritizes recommended fixes for your your Kubernetes and containers for misconfigurations

We manage critical updates and Kubernetes best practices with ease, and embrace the complexities of the platform with years of experience. Ready to see for yourself? Get in touch today to find out how we can help.