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CI/CD / DevOps / Kubernetes

Kubernetes Operators: The Real Reason Your Boss Is Smiling

The benefits of using operators are straightforward: less time spent on manual processes, more time spent on coding and innovation.
Jun 14th, 2023 6:30am by
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It’s no industry secret that the cloud native segment around Kubernetes has shifted toward hosted Kubernetes providers who build, run and partially manage the Kubernetes infrastructure for organizations. Compared to organizations building and maintaining their own Kubernetes infrastructure, hosted Kubernetes providers allow you to offload a measurable amount of technical complexity so staff can focus on operations and innovation.

Along with the rise of hosted Kubernetes providers, more enterprises are favoring larger Kubernetes distributions from the likes of OpenShift, Rancher, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) and others rather than building their own homegrown distribution from the upstream codebase.

These trends are not limited to the Kubernetes platform itself but showcase a general movement toward letting the providers of strong core platform layers do what they do best so companies can focus on the business value that comes from building on top of Kubernetes. This was a chant heard in 2017 to “make Kubernetes boring,” and I think that we are getting there as an ecosystem.

But that was six years ago. What does “boring” look like in 2023 and how do new trends like the rise of Kubernetes operators fit into this picture? There are three ways I think of this when evaluating modern Kubernetes deployments:

I want my organization to build value on top of Kubernetes.

Similar to the mantra of 2017, the “value” we mean here is everything that is built on top on Kubernetes and the infrastructure layers, which has seen substantial progress and evolution from the community over the past six years.

I want Kubernetes to be simple.

Every organization is unique, and roles within your organization may differ depending on not only size, but also Kubernetes maturity. Because of this, skill sets vary, and not everyone has the time or ambition to become an expert. Those who aren’t experts want Kubernetes to be easy so daily tasks aren’t intrusive.

I want Kubernetes to be scalable.

Deployment models for Kubernetes are expanding, and enterprises are taking advantage of using Kubernetes across on-premises, multicloud and hybrid cloud environments. Kubernetes needs to be flexible across these environments while also enabling cluster growth with streamlined scalability as the practice matures.

Building Value on Top of Kubernetes

Once the Kubernetes infrastructure layers are solid for your organization, it’s time to build the “value” on top, whether that is an application end users interact with or a platform layer that adds advanced data services such as observability. Developers need to start somewhere, and this usually consists of finding the right Kubernetes resources for the workload, such as creating deployments, services, jobs, statefulsets, daemonsets, persistent volumes, pod security policies, role-based access control (RBAC) rules, secrets, service accounts and much more.

Managing and tracking all these resources can get quite complicated, and it’s likely that your team doesn’t need to control all these objects but must adhere to resources that affect how applications run. There are cases where this development practice is something that must happen: For instance, if the application you are building is unique to your organization, then the API resources prevent you from having to start from scratch.

However, on the flip side, we see DevOps teams, developers and application owners turning to trusted, prebuilt Kubernetes operators to run, configure and manage common applications so they can focus on the value above these layers.

Operators: Bringing Together Value, Simplicity and Scalability

If you’re not familiar with what a Kubernetes operator is, then I suggest reading the documentation.

Switchboard operator

However, whenever I hear the term “operator,” my mind immediately jumps to a switchboard operator with a massive telephone network in front of them moving wires in and out at a rapid pace while transferring calls.

You may remember them from the pilot of the hit show “Mad Men” or recall the popular saying, “Operator, please hold.”

Much like the way a switchboard operator in the 20th century assisted in the routing and transfer of phone calls, a Kubernetes operator facilitates the deployment, management and ongoing operations of a Kubernetes application. Except instead of having a person move wires behind a telephone switchboard, think of it as a robot who is listening to the inputs and commands and outputting the Kubernetes resources in the appropriate namespaces.

It’s Like a Robot, but without the Attitude

Unlike the switchboard operator, the core tenet of a Kubernetes operator is automation. Automation is a necessity as the community forges ahead with Kubernetes, allowing end users to focus on what matters to them while relying on operators to automate deployments, operations and management of common components in their stack.

There is a community propensity to use trusted operators for applications and not reinvent the wheel when running a particular service on Kubernetes. Take the database landscape’s use of operators as an example.

As seen at KubeCon EU in Amsterdam, the operator pattern has a strong use case for databases because in general; they are a common denominator to many application stacks. Applications may use Postgres or Redis in slightly different ways, but they are common services that need to be installed, configured and managed. Databases on Kubernetes deployed via operator in a trusted way for production is a major win for time-to-value when it comes to DevOps development cycles.

It doesn’t stop at databases, though; operators can be used for all kinds of applications. Operators can be used for almost anything from monitoring and alerting software, to storage integrations, to fully customized applications that may be delivered to internal customers.

It’s great to see the focus move northbound as the Kubernetes ecosystem matures. As end users and organizations are gravitating to hosted Kubernetes and application automation through operators, I’m excited to see the innovations that come next focus on what can be built on top of Kubernetes.

How Do We Use Operators?

Operator frameworks are extremely popular among Dell’s customers, and we are actively working to introduce deeper operator capabilities for our Kubernetes storage capabilities, such as our container storage modules, as well as container storage interface drivers, which are available on Operators are also a key part of our future portfolio offerings and will be integrated into our upcoming user interface for Kubernetes data storage.

The benefits of using operators are straightforward: less time spent on manual processes, more time spent on coding and innovation. If you haven’t started with operators today in your business, I highly suggest exploring the world of Kubernetes operators and seeing how to take advantage of automation to make your life a little easier.

Simple, scalable and adding value on top of Kubernetes.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Pragma.
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