Like much of the rest of the cloud native universe, the Kubernetes ecosystem can feel like a sea of acronyms. Names like EKS, AKS and GKE seem to dominate the K8s conversation. (OK, yeah, there IS OpenShift, the one major flavor of Kubernetes to resist acronymization.)
Yet, if you look beyond the acronyms, you realize that there's a thriving ecosystem of alternative flavors of Kubernetes just waiting to be discovered. Many are optimized for use cases that the more famous Kubernetes distros don't always support very well–such as hybrid or multicloud deployments, or developer-centric workflows.
To prove the point, here's a look at five flavors of Kubernetes you may have missed. Bear in mind, this isn’t meant to be an all-encompassing list. These are some examples of the many tools in the ecosystem that stand out for various reasons.
What Are ‘Flavors’ of Kubernetes?
Before the tea gets spilled, a quick note on terminology: We're using the phrase "flavors of Kubernetes" here, instead of "Kubernetes distributions," "Kubernetes platforms," or "Kubernetes services," because the lines separating the latter terms often get distorted.
Which features do you need to offer to qualify as a managed Kubernetes service? If OpenShift runs in multiple clouds, is each version its own distribution, or are they all just variants of the same platform? Are Anthos and GKE the same thing, or are they unique Kubernetes services?
Questions like these are beyond the scope of this article, so we’ll stick with the more neutral, if ambiguous, language of “flavors.” It’s up to you to choose how you want to think about the family trees of the various flavors of Kubernetes out there.
Founded in December 2017, Rafay is a relative newcomer to the Kubernetes scene. But it takes an interesting approach to the container orchestration system by offering a platform that supports full lifecycle management for both Kubernetes infrastructure and applications running on it. It’s kind of a PaaS, but it’s more than that.
The flavor of Kubernetes with a big name that Rafay most closely resembles is OpenShift, which is also more or less a Kubernetes-based PaaS. However, Rafay has a stronger focus in things like governance and GitOps-based management.
If you want a full-featured cloud-agnostic management service for Kubernetes, Rafay is worth a look.
Platform9–which is relatively well known in the Kubernetes world but not as much as flavors like EKS and AKS are–is similar to Rafay in that it’s a cloud-agnostic management service for Kubernetes. It lets you set up and manage clusters running in any major public cloud, as well as in on-prem or colocation data centers.
The main difference between Platform9 and Rafay is that the former leans more heavily on integrations and third-party tooling to fill out its feature set, whereas Rafay tries to bake more native functionality into its core platform. If you like broad accessibility to open source tooling, you may like Platform9 a bit better than Rafay.
Rancher perhaps just barely qualifies as an “alternative” flavor of Kubernetes, especially now that it has been acquired by SUSE. Nonetheless, it arguably commands less mindshare–and certainly less market share–than the more famous distributions and managed services.
Rancher is one of the most flexible flavors of Kubernetes out there. It’s infrastructure-agnostic, meaning it can run in any major cloud or on private infrastructure. Managed implementations are available, or you can deploy it yourself.
Rancher provides some PaaS-like features, like CI/CD integration, that make it comparable in some respects to Platform9 and Rafay. But it’s not as extensive in this regard.
The bottom line: If you want a Kubernetes flavor that can run anywhere but also comes with the backing of a major enterprise software vendor, Rancher may be your ticket.
If you’re a developer, you probably like Kubernetes in general. But you’re bound to like CodeZero especially.
CodeZero basically provides Kubernetes environments that are purpose-built for designing, testing, and deploying applications. The goal is to give developers private clusters where they can easily build apps–which is important, of course, because generally, setting up a cluster and integrating all of your development tools with it is no mean feat. CodeZero simplifies the process greatly by providing private infrastructure and development tools in one convenient package.
Intersight Kubernetes Service
Cisco may not be an obscure name. But its Intersight Kubernetes Service, or IKS, is perhaps not as widely known as the Kubernetes offerings of other large vendors.
IKS is similar to flavors of Kubernetes like Platform9, Rafay, and Rancher in that it’s a general-purpose Kubernetes service that can run on any infrastructure. But it’s notable because it’s part of Cisco’s larger Intersight platform, which can also be used to manage virtual machines. And, because Cisco has made a strong hybrid play around Intersight, IKS may prove especially valuable to organizations looking to run Kubernetes in a hybrid cloud infrastructure.
It’s a testament to the project’s success that only seven years after its debut in the open source community there are now at least a dozen different flavors of Kubernetes available. And while the most famous ones have their merits, it’s worth exploring what the alternative Kubernetes ecosystem has to offer.
Find out how any of the Kubernetes flavors mentioned above (and more) can be supercharged by Equinix Metal on our Partners Ecosystem page.
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