OpenShift vs Kubernetes: Which is the best container orchestration Software?

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Today containers are being used in almost every production environment. Their popularity grows because they are cost-effective, easily scalable, faster deployable and use resources far better than virtual machines. Also, most of the applications are based on microservices architecture and therefore, containers are best suited for them.

Comparing Kubernetes with OpenShift is like a classic example of comparing an engine with a car. You can’t do much with an engine and you need to assemble it with other components. OpenShift is built on Kubernetes and it includes its core components. But OpenShift bundles some essential features that are missing in Kubernetes and which will ultimately provide the best experience to both developers and operations teams.

Kubernetes

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration tool which is used for automated deployments, scaling and management of containers. It was initially originated by Google and developed by Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2014 in go programming language.

A Kubernetes cluster has a master node and multiple worker nodes.  Each worker node can handle multiple pods. Pods are just a bunch of containers clustered together as a working unit. It uses YAML to define the resources that are sent to the API server, which end up creating the actual application.

Below are the advantages of Kubernetes:

  • A very large and active community of engineers and developers releasing new features constantly
  • 100% open-source (free to use) and can run on any platform
  • Uses the infrastructure resources efficiently and reduces the overall cost
  • Supports automated rollouts and rollbacks to handle the downtime
  • Provides flexibility in using different programming languages and frameworks

Offers load balancing capabilities for network traffic distribution

Red Hat OpenShift

OpenShift is an enterprise-grade Red Hat’s container application platform. It was created by Red Hat software company in 2011 and its written in Go and AngularJS. It is built for both traditional and cloud-native applications.

It allows you to run containerized applications and workloads and is powered by Kubernetes. OpenShift has multiple flavours and it’s an offering that comes with Red Hat support. It provides both CLI and web interface dashboard which help developers in building their application codes and operations team in managing and monitoring the Kubernetes cluster.

Below are Red Hat OpenShift advantages:

  • Provides security checks for the builds throughout the application lifecycle
  • Faster builds and deployments with agility and confidence
  • Implements and enforces policies through a unified console on Red Hat
  • Monitors the cluster easily using built-in tools like Prometheus and Grafana
  • Easy integration with multiple DevOps tools
  • Easy to use with on-premises (bare metal) or any cloud providers (virtual hardware)

Red Hat OpenShift vs Kubernetes

Deployment

Deploying an application to Kubernetes can be a little time consuming. Firstly, let’s assume that you have your code a version control system like GitHub. You will pull that code to your local machine and spin up a container. Once you have got that container, you will have to figure out where you want to host the registry. It can be something like Docker Hub or a private registry or your favourite cloud provider. Once it’s on the registry, you have to figure out your CICD story. And this is where things get complicated because there’s so many different options for deploying your applications.

On the OpenShift side of things, they have an opinionated approach. So, all you really have to do is create an application and a project, at which point OpenShift does the heavy lifting on the back end. So, it’s going to create those pipelines, it’s going to create all automation that you need to do things like creating development, test and production environments for your applications. So, it makes the deployment a lot easier.

Flexibility

You have a lot more flexibility in Kubernetes as you don’t have a prescribed way of working with it. You can run Kubernetes on any operating system, there is no limitation. So, for team and users that are influenced by legacy architectures, Kubernetes will be more effective.

But OpenShift cannot run on all the operating systems. You can use OpenShift only on Red Hat distributions, CentOS and FedoraOS.

Management

In Kubernetes, you can take advantage of the default dashboard that comes with any Kubernetes distribution to manage the cluster. But unfortunately, for most operations teams that’s not quite enough. So, they will have to take it a step further and install additional dashboards using ELK stack, Grafana, etc. the options are kind of endless. It’s a lot of digging around to figure out the exact solution that fits their use-case.

On the other hand, OpenShift has an awesome web console that builds on the Kubernetes API’s and comes with a lot of different capabilities for SREs (Site Reliability Engineers) and operations teams to really manage their workloads. In addition to that, they suggest an EFK stack and have different ways to integrate capabilities like Istio if you wanted to use it. So again, by taking advantage of some of their automated installers and Ansible playbooks, managing applications is easier compared to Kubernetes.

Scalability

A cluster is going to be made up of several virtual machines. Whether they are virtualized or bare metal, the cluster is going to have some VM’s within it.

The Kubernetes way of adding additional VM’s into that cluster can be time consuming. Setting up self-registration for VMs, or the different cloud automation of setting up or creating new VMs and bringing them into the cluster, this is time consuming and requires scripts to be developed.

On the OpenShift side of things, it’s a little bit easier. They have Ansible playbooks and installers to bring in new VM’s into your cluster. So, it’s a straightforward process, and they even have ways to handle auto-scaling or spinning up new VMs in response to load.

Security

In Kubernetes, mostly you will not be working on a project by yourself, there’s a team of people, each of which need to have different permissions. In the beginning, Kubernetes didn’t even have something like RBAC (Role Based Access Control) but now they have it. They can have some other capabilities to do things like IAM, but at the end of the day, these are all things that you must build and are time consuming.

OpenShift and Red Hat tries to fill the gaps where the open source community maybe hasn’t done so in terms of security. By working with real enterprise customers, they realize that by creating best security practices from scratch, they can tackle some of the problems that the customers need in order to use Kubernetes.

In OpenShift, when you create a project you just have to add the users and it will handle things like Kubernetes namespaces and creating different security policies with the best practices, and you can get all of that from scratch. However, there is a small trade-off. For example, in Kubernetes you can pretty much take any image out there in Docker Hub and expect that will run as expected, but in OpenShift, there are restricted permissions where the containers don’t run as root. So, sometimes images don’t run as expected.

Web Interface

Do you want to learn all these commands and essentially manage your applications from a command line interface? Or do you prefer to save yourself some time and deploy, run and manage your applications from a simple web console in your browser? Well, the answer is quite obvious!

One of the most distinctive features of OpenShift is its feature-rich web console that allows you to implement Kubernetes tasks and monitor your applications from a simple graphical interface. You can build, deploy, expose, scale, update and almost implement any task in two separate perspectives of developer and administrator.

Whereas Kubernetes has a CLI, and you get a default dashboard that you need to setup separately. But this dashboard is not very user friendly. Most DevOps engineers integrate their Kubernetes clusters with tools like Prometheus and Grafana to visualize the dashboard in a better way.

Differences Kubernetes OpenShift
Developed By Cloud Native Computing Foundation Red Hat Software
Written In Go Go, AngularJS
Release Date 7 June 2014 4 May 2011
Deployment Easily deployable on any cloud or Linux platform Supports only Red Hat distributions, Fedora and CentOS
Management Management of container images is not easy Easy to manage multiple container images using ImageStreams
User Experience Provides better user experience when combined with few other tools By default, better user experience than Kubernetes
Flexibility Better flexibility because of being open source Has limited flexibility
Security Security level can be maintained easily The security policies here are very strict
CI/CD Integration with Jenkins needs to be done separately Provides seamless integration with Jenkins by using certified Jenkins containers
Networking Lacks good networking solution, but lets you add 3rd party network plugins Provides its own networking solution for users
Support Large and active community of developers Small community compared to Kubernetes and limited to primarily Red Hat developers
Updates Easy to update using the kubeadm command Linux package management system of Red Hat Enterprise needs to be updated to go to the latest version
Learning Curve Better for DevOps professionals, not easy for beginners Well suited for beginners

Final Toughts

Now you know what both the container orchestration platforms have to offer.

If you need flexibility in using an orchestration tool, Kubernetes is better suited. But if you are fine with any defined approach and just want to run your application with ease in deployment and management, OpenShift is better suited.

Also, if you are a beginner, working with Kubernetes will be tougher for you. OpenShift on the other hand will make most of the things easy and help you leverage Kubernetes features with ease.

So, go ahead, make your decision and start using Kubernetes or Red Hat OpenShift.

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