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Deploying Kubernetes With Rancher Kubernetes Engine (RKE)

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration/management platform for managing services within containers, usually Docker. It encompasses management of all layers of the infrastructure stack (compute, networking, storage, etc.) and is designed to provide service portability across various public and private cloud providers.

Why do I care? 

Personally, I'm an infrastructure operations guy in my day job and a lot of my current job duties include managing what can best be described as "traditional infrastructure" - on-premises compute, storage, networking, etc. So you may be saying "I care about storage and hypervisors, I don't care about containers and applications!" And to a point, I agree. Infrastructure is important and will always exist in some context, for sure, but the relationship between infrastructure components and applications is symbiotic - applications need infrastructure and infrastructure is pretty usually with no workload to run. A more complete understanding of how infrastructure can help applications run more efficiently doesn't sound like a bad thing.

From an application owner's perspective, (at least in my experience) they typically don't care at all about any of the infrastructure, as long as they can get the features/performance they need. I don't think anyone ever asks what flavor of RAID their AWS server has or what brand of servers they're running, they just expect a certain level of performance. To that end, I've been endeavoring to better understand enterprise applications and services to figure out how the infrastructure that I manage can fit into the puzzle.

So now what?

I run a simple Docker deployment on Ubuntu (with persistent NFS volumes via FreeNAS) in my home lab to support various mission-critical functions (read: Plex Server). But what if I want to manage multiple Docker hosts? How do I handle the networking in an easy-to-manage way? How do I handle persistent storage across multiple hosts? How would I make it easy to deploy applications in an enterprise environment? How do I recover from application failures? So many questions!

This is where Kubernetes comes in! But after reviewing the manual deployment process, it looked like there was a fairly steep learning curve with lots of new terms and acronyms. So, my advice would be to check out this Kubernetes 101 post from a Google engineer, Daniel Sanche (@DanSanche on Twitter) which I found very helpful when trying to wrap my head around the components of the Kubernetes architecture.

 Armed with a (very) basic understanding of Kubernetes and my typical "learn by tinkering" mentality, I looked for an "easy" way to deploy a on-premises Kubernetes cluster that would provide me with an environment to learn about Kubernetes. And so, I discovered Rancher Kubernetes Engine.

RKE is, essentially, a Kubernetes installer. It is designed to make rolling out a Kubernetes cluster a simple process that is driven by a single YAML file and populated with relevant information from your environment. You can find the installer at https://github.com/rancher/rke along with some good documentation on the requirements, installation, and upgrade procedures.

Once you have your Kubernetes cluster up and running, you're free to manage it from the command line or install something like Rancher to provide a graphical management plane.

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