Kubernetes is while easy to install, it’s a complex piece of technology that is hard to run, manage, and maintain. That’s why managed services are gaining traction. While there are many managed services, the area where Linode’s Kubernetes offering stands out is that it’s designed for typical cloud users – all the way from an individual running theirs sites to enterprise customers wanting full control without getting locked into a hyper-scale cloud provider. In this interview, Howie Ross, Director of Engineering at Linode talks about Linode’s Kubernetes Engine.
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Howie Ross: Thanks Swap. It’s great to be here.
Swapnil Bhartiya: My first question to you, Howie, is that, do you agree that Kubernetes is really that hard to run and manage and even configure? It’s very easy to install, but the rest of the things are complicated. What are the thoughts about that?
Howie Ross: I would agree with you that Kubernetes is very complicated. I mean, it’s a highly complex distributed system by its nature. And I think you can ramp up and install it on a managed cloud provider relatively easily and get started with some of the core concepts, and get something up and running relatively quickly.
But it is an operator’s platform meant for professional and potentially enterprise use. I mean, if you were running a simple website or web application, it’s not going to be necessary for those purposes. But at the scale that many of us are running and operating applications and distributed systems, it has a lot to offer.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Right. And also, the adoption of Kubernetes is also unexpected. In most cases, it is beyond the use cases that it was originally created to address. So, what are the main challenges that customers or users face when they tackle Kubernetes?
Howie Ross: Your first challenge, if you’re not quite already there, is going to be just containerizing your applications. And then from there, also moving in towards more of an immutable application approach to software development and delivery. So, you can no longer rely on data persisting directly on disk and in your application, or rely on strict IP whitelisting for certain security features. So, you have to get comfortable and get used to the new containerized and orchestrated container paradigm.
Swapnil Bhartiya: So, there either you have to refactor your application and containerize it. Are there any workarounds where you can use your existing application and somehow wrap in a container without doing too much refactoring? I mean, how to make it easier for customers to easily move without doing a lot of refactoring.
Howie Ross: The services that Linode and many of the other cloud providers offer now make that much easier. And if you’re starting a greenfield application, you can take on a cloud-native approach. But even if you have an existing application, you can pivot to relying on object storage for file persistence and potentially a managed database as a service for your database. And in that way, you no longer rely on local disk storage and persistence.
Swapnil Bhartiya: The position that Linode is in is unique because traditionally… A disclosure that I, myself, am a Linode user at TFiR, but traditionally it was seen as one of those providers where you just get some resources on the cloud and you started using it. That was very basic. But now, Linode is getting into the market of storage, and now Kubernetes is there, which also means that Linode is seeing use cases that typically you won’t see from hyperscale cloud providers because sometimes you actually don’t need to go all the way to hyperscale. So, talk about some of the unique use cases that you are seeing, where people do want to leverage Kubernetes, but they also want it to be easier. So, talk about some of the use cases.
Howie Ross: Sure. Well, I think that’s a pretty typical use case, especially for people and companies that are getting started or have applications that are that middle scale, right there. They’re running a number of services. You’re running a back end and front end service. You want all of the observability tooling to see how your application is running and performing. So, these applications these days have a way of quickly adding on a number of services, right? You’re going to want something to do log aggregation and monitoring, performance monitoring and things of that nature.
So, before you know it, you’re running a half a dozen, if not a dozen, different services, just for a relatively basic web app or a mobile app with a back-end server. That said, you may not be at the scale or frankly, the sophistication and knowledge level where one of the more complex clouds is going to be a good fit for you. You may want to be able with a few point and clicks or even taps on a mobile device, deploy a cluster with some really smart defaults selected for you, and get a kubeconfig, and away you go deploying your application.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, let’s talk about LKE, why Linode created LKE. What problem did you see your users are facing that you wanted to address them?
Howie Ross: It wasn’t just our users or, it was our users and we are one of them. But we were finding it relatively difficult at the time, which was two, three years ago at this point, to even install Kubernetes in a DIY, roll-your-own-fashion on Linode or any provider where you’re just installing it directly on VMs.
And yes, you can leverage tools like Rancher. And we, of course, had our own scripts to facilitate this, but it was a relatively complex process that relied on scripts and pretty extensive documentation to get it to work. So, we wanted to make it simple for us and our customers to be able to deploy and run Kubernetes on Linode.
Swapnil Bhartiya: The fact is that there are already… You mentioned Rancher, and there are already a lot of players. They are offering managed Kubernetes. So, how different is what Linode is doing in comparison to what is already there in the market?
Howie Ross: So, Linode’s Kubernetes offering is in line with our mission and our approach in general, which is to make the clouds simple, accessible, and affordable. And I think that you’ll find that Linode’s Kubernetes offering is far simpler to deploy, as I’ve mentioned than some of the competitions. And then also, as is the case with just our standard compute products, it’s very affordable comparatively.
And in addition, we don’t charge for the master either. So, I think it’s a really attractive option for folks that are a bit more cost-conscious and are looking for the simplicity and the great support that we provide to even our smallest customers.
Swapnil Bhartiya: There are a couple of things; one would be the performance, one would be cost, one would be simplicity or ease of use, and another aspect is trying to offer an experience which is closest to the upper stream Kubernetes experience. So, which of these are critical to Linode, which also means that this is what the customers get?
Howie Ross: I would say all of the above. I mean, that is our mission, to deliver on all the points you mentioned, to deliver a great performance for the price and to keep it simple and to be there and give a great overall support and customer experience if and when you need some help.
Swapnil Bhartiya: If you look at Kubernetes, it’s just one of the many pieces of moving your workloads to the cloud-native world. There are so many adjacent projects that you have to leverage and work with. So, when we look at LKE, is it purely just Kubernetes, or you also allow customers to… Because what is happening is, a lot of times, especially in the open source world, customers mix and match a lot of different technologies. Somebody may use Istio, somebody may use Linkerd. There are so many different components for different storage or whatever you’re talking about. So, is it fully stacked, where you come to LKE and you get everything, or customers still can bring in or use whatever they have?
Howie Ross: Our customers can still use and leverage whatever software, and particularly cloud-native compatible software, they would like. That said, LKE relies on all of the cloud primitives that Linode offers, including block storage, object storage, and node balancers as well.
And very easily, using whether it be Helm and Helm charts or Kubernetes operators, you can deploy additional instances of those primitives. But yeah, I mean, you’re more than welcome to deploy any of the cloud-native software, whether it be Istio to create a service mesh with your cluster or clusters, or other software as well.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Now, I do know that you cannot share a lot of things that are in the pipeline for the future, but I have seen that you’re offering storage, you’re also offering GPU and now the Kubernetes is there. What else do you think that your customer needs? I mean, of course, as I said, you’re not making any product announcements today, but where do you feel that, “Hey, this is what Linode should also be doing.”?
Howie Ross: So, as I mentioned, in addition to building LKE for our customers, of course, we also built it to scratch our own itch. We needed to use it as well. And we intend for it to be a foundational component of things we are going to build in the future, including database as a service, and then potentially, maybe a more streamlined, simple container runtime, or a function as a service system.
Swapnil Bhartiya: We already talked about it earlier, that there are already solutions that are there, managed Kubernetes solution. Why should a user come to Linode?
Howie Ross: I think many users are going to find Linode through the great guides and documentation that we provide. And that is reflective of the overall approach and culture at Linode. But many of our customers are frankly getting frustrated with the large public clouds and the inevitable customer support experience that they’re going to have to endure there.
And then also, we also have a number of customers whose cloud costs are exploding as the growth of their service increases. So, if you’re looking for a simple Kubernetes experience that’s going to give you great performance for the price, and an awesome customer support experience when you need some help, then Linode is the place for you.
Swapnil Bhartiya: Thank you, Howie, for talking to me today, not only about LKE, but also in general the whole community landscape and how it’s really important and critical today to help customers leverage these technologies without having to get their hands dirty. And I look forward to talking to you again, because I’m pretty sure that Linode will be doing a lot of work in the cloud-native space.
Howie Ross: Sounds good, Swapnil. It’s been great speaking with you.