Traditional hosting or containers with Kubernetes? And should this latter option involve a hyperscaler?
Containers and Kubernetes have become very popular in recent years. But do you always have to make the leap from traditional hosting to containers if you want to keep up with the competition? And does that automatically mean you have to consider American hyperscalers in the cloud?
Do you want to start working with containers? Think twice before you get started! Containers and Kubernetes are super trendy and offer obvious advantages, but that does not necessarily mean that they are the most suitable solution for everyone.
"Those who choose Kubernetes go for scalability", says Johnny Bouckaert, Teamlead SRE at Combell. "Its flexibility is an important asset. With containers, you can run components of an application as small pieces of code. And if you need to scale up components, you can do so very efficiently.
Not for every app
That sounds great, but of course it means you need an application that can be split into components. "Not everyone needs Kubernetes, or can make optimal use of it", adds Bouckaert, who is part of a team at hosting provider Combell that offers Kubernetes to customers. Bouckaert is well aware that companies sometimes need a bit of guidance with the containers they are planning to use.
"First of all, we examine with the customer whether a particular application is ready for Kubernetes", Bouckaert clarifies. "A large monolithic application will not benefit from it. In that case, traditional cloud hosting is a better option, until the application is modified."
This is only logical: a large application that cannot be split up has no components that can be scaled up or modified to meet changing needs. Such traditional applications run as a whole and are perfectly suited for use on a virtual machine running on traditional cloud hosting. This does not mean that Kubernetes cannot be a solution for such applications in the long run, but that the application in question is not yet ready for it.
Frederik Vandersteene, Solutions Architect at Combell insists on this: “There have been times when we have advised customers to wait and not to switch to containers right away.”
To split or not to split?
To recap, things are quite simple. For modern applications that can be split into components that will fit into containers, Kubernetes is a better option than traditional hosting. A Kubernetes cluster offers more functionality, but it also allows customers to scale more efficiently and thus to save money.
"If, for example, you want to host one simple website, it does not make sense to use Kubernetes", says Vandersteene. "On the other hand, applications for which you already run multiple virtual machines on multiple servers will certainly benefit from the use of containers."
Applications for which you already run multiple virtual machines on multiple servers will certainly benefit from the use of containers.
Frederik Vandersteene, Solutions Architect at Combell
That happens faster than you think. Bouckaert: "If you need more capacity for a monolithic application, then you have to duplicate the database as well as the application itself. And this can quickly add up to a few additional virtual machines. But that is not an efficient solution, as containers offer a better alternative."
Getting started just like that?
Containers and Kubernetes are so often useful, but can you start using them right away? Hyperscalers suggest so. The solutions provided by the big cloud providers may seem attractive at first glance. But... "The threshold is indeed very low", comments Vandersteene. "You can get started with just one click, but setting up a properly functioning Kubernetes cluster is not that simple. There is a lot more to it than just clicking around."
Running containers in well-organised clusters requires more expertise, which not every team has. So that is what Combell is trying to achieve with its own local offering. And that is why the company developed a service tailored to the needs of companies that want to get started with containers and be able to use their applications, but that also need help setting up, maintaining and backing up the clusters and the infrastructure.
From internal use to external service
"We have been using containers with Kubernetes in-house for quite some time", Bouckaert clarifies. "In recent years, an increasing number of customers have asked us whether we can help them with this. They usually have some technical knowledge, but not of Kubernetes."
Combell set up the service inspired by its existing range of cloud hosting services. "With hosting, we are responsible for monitoring, maintenance and backup. And we do exactly the same for Kubernetes", Bouckaert explains.
Combell's key strength lies in its personal approach. Customers do not just get a ready-made, one-size-fits-all solution. Combell currently has a dedicated team of experts working on the service. They work closely with the customer to set up an infrastructure tailored to his ambitions.
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Vandersteene: "We provide a Slack channel for one-to-one communication between our Kubernetes engineers and our customers. The whole process is collaborative, with short communication lines between all parties involved. We move forward together." This is combined with a fixed invoice, which is not affected by communication. "No matter how often customers consult with our team, the budget remains the same."
Maintenance and management
Combell also takes care of the maintenance of the Kubernetes environment. Customers mainly have to deal with their application, and the provider takes care of everything that happens behind it. The similarity with hosting, where the customer provides the website and Combell keeps it up and running, is striking.
This does not mean that the monitoring is carried out behind closed doors. Quite the contrary. Bouckaert points out that customers can perfectly analyse logs themselves using their favourite tools. Combell ensures close integration with existing solutions and the CI/CD pipeline across the board.
The provider also takes care of backups, security and updates. "Every six months, we upgrade Kubernetes to a new version," Bouckaert explains. "We then contact the customer proactively and identify issues that might cause problems in advance. The customer then gets a clear overview of what might need to be changed within the container application to prevent such problems."
This way, Combell removes a major obstacle to timely upgrades, which is very important. After all, an environment that is up to date is much less vulnerable to cyberattacks. But there is more. "Among other things, we automatically perform CVE scans on images in order to identify possible security flaws", says Bouckaert.
In the unlikely event that something goes wrong at some level, whether because of a cybercriminal or simply because the customer made a mistake, a phone call is all it takes to fix the problem. Both gentlemen insist on the fact that the environment can be restored using a backup within 30 minutes.
Enthusiastic market response
Combell's experts are extremely pleased with the pace at which new customers are taking the plunge. This does not only concern companies that are new to Kubernetes, but also companies that are making the switch from hyperscalers because they are seeking more peace of mind.
Bouckaert has noticed that Kubernetes customers are usually more tech-savvy, although he points out that experience with containers or Kubernetes is not an essential requirement. "New customers ask a lot of questions, which is why we organise extensive calls. In practice, this means that one of our experts spends most of his or her time helping the customers. We usually see that after about three weeks, everything is on track and they no longer need to call us for assistance as much as they used to."
This initial period can be very instructive for the customer. "We work with people who already know Kubernetes, but also with people who have never developed anything for containers. We then explain to them how to create an image," Bouckaert continues. "We help them say Hello world for the first time using a container."
We also work with people who have never developed anything for containers.
Johnny Bouckaert, Teamlead SRE at Combell
Bouckaert and Vandersteene consider the personal support tailored to the needs of the customers to be the main asset in Combell's range of services. The company's ambition is not to compete with hyperscalers on price or scalability. A direct customer relationship, a tailored approach and predictability through a fixed monthly fee should be reason enough to convince the right target groups. "We too can scale quickly", Vandersteene clarifies, "but you have to let us know. This allows us to ensure the predictability of the costs and to check with you whether scaling up is really necessary."
The experts are confident that their Kubernetes-based approach has a niche in the market and the fast-growing enthusiasm confirms their belief. Traditional cloud hosting remains the mainstay for the hosting specialist, but Kubernetes is clearly gaining momentum. Moreover, as more traditional monolithic applications evolve into modern component-based applications, the relevance of Kubernetes will only continue to grow.
"The support we offer appeals to a lot of people, but we also excel in terms of stability and security", adds Bouckaert. For the future, Combell will continue to pay close attention to the latest developments. The company will further expand its range of solutions, based on customer demand. After all, there seems to be room in the market for the face of an involved expert as an alternative to the anonymity of hyperscalers.
This article was written by ITdaily and was first published on their blog.