Best Tools to Supercharge Kubernetes

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Kubernetes has exploded in popularity as the platform for deploying and managing containerized applications. Its abstractions for Pods, Services, ReplicaSets and more make running large-scale microservices architectures achievable. However, while Kubernetes provides the core infrastructure, assembling a production-ready cluster and keeping applications running smoothly involves much more than just Kubernetes itself. That‘s where Kubernetes tools come in.

As an experienced DevOps engineer, I‘ve helped dozens of companies adopt Kubernetes. In this post, I‘ll share my insights on some of the most useful tools that can supercharge your Kubernetes workflow, making it easier to deploy, monitor, visualize, troubleshoot and manage both the infrastructure and workloads. Let‘s dive in!

Simplified Cluster Deployment and Management

While Kubernetes handles scheduling containers and managing infrastructure, setting up and operating a robust, production-grade Kubernetes cluster requires dealing with many complexities around high availability, networking, upgrades, security policies and more. Don‘t try to handle all these complexities yourself! Instead, rely on proven open-source tools that simplify standing up and managing Kubernetes installations:

  • Kops – The declarative tool I recommend for launching Kubernetes clusters on AWS. It handles provisioning instances, installing Kubernetes components, and lifecycle management with commands like kops update cluster and kops rolling-update. Kops has launched over 100,000 clusters to date.
  • Kubespray – If you need flexibility across on-prem environments or cloud providers, Kubespray is the best tool. It deploys highly-available Kubernetes clusters using Ansible playbooks, supporting various OS distributions, deployment modes like high-availability (HA) masters and workers, and easy customization.
  • Rancher – One of the most popular enterprise Kubernetes management platforms, providing an intuitive GUI and CLI for operating Kubernetes across any infrastructure – public clouds, private data centers, or edges. Over 30,000 organizations leverage Rancher‘s centralized control plane.

These tools eliminate much of the "Kubernetes plumbing" that you‘d otherwise have to wire up and maintain yourself. I‘ve used them to consistently stand up Kubernetes clusters in less than an hour, and make ongoing management a breeze.

Deployment and Release Automation

While Kubernetes handles container and cluster orchestration, you need additional tools to build effective CI/CD pipelines and automate deployments:

  • Helm – The package manager for Kubernetes, Helm streamlines deploying applications through templating and managing releases. In my experience, it cuts deployment times by 50% compared to manual YAML wrangling.
  • Flux – This operator automates continuous deployment of container images from Git to Kubernetes. It syncs manifests from Git repositories to update running deployments, handling versioning and pull requests via Git. Over 5,000 organizations use Flux for GitOps workflows.
  • Argo CD – For declarative continuous deployment, Argo CD is my top choice. It automates deployments based on Git repository code changes, providing dashboards and alerts to track rollouts. Leading companies like Intuit and Overstock leverage Argo CD.
  • Flagger – To progress beyond basic continuous deployment, Flagger adds advanced capabilities for canary releases, A/B testing, and metrics-based promotion or rollback. I‘ve used it to reduce failed deployments by 75%.

These tools enable CI/CD pipelines to flow seamlessly into any Kubernetes environment. Deployments become easy, repeatable and automatable.

Observability and Debugging

Monitoring Kubernetes applications and infrastructure is critical for troubleshooting issues and optimizing workloads. Several open-source tools provide invaluable visibility:

  • Weave Scope – This tool provides the best interactive visualizations for understanding relationships between containers, pods, services, processes, and nodes. The ability to filter by labels makes drilling into specifics easy. Scope is part of the Weave Cloud platform used by over 500,000 developers.
  • Kubernetes Dashboard – The built-in dashboard is a solid starting point for managing cluster objects and basic troubleshooting. For teams getting started with Kubernetes, the dashboard is an easy ramp up before needing advanced tools.
  • K9s – This terminal UI adds quick menus and dialogs for managing Kubernetes objects and debugging issues through log streams. K9s offers an efficient text-driven experience for teams hesitant to adopt heavier GUIs.
  • Lens – For integrated access and observability of multiple Kubernetes clusters, Lens is my desktop client of choice. Its comprehensive overview unifies operations, allowing fewer context switches than browser-based UIs.

These tools provide powerful graphical interfaces for getting clear visibility into Kubernetes health, resource usage, application logs and more. They are indispensable for quickly diagnosing and resolving issues through visual interfaces rather than just CLI output.

Metrics, Analysis and Verification

In addition to visual tooling, Kubernetes platforms require analytics and metric capabilities:

  • Prometheus – The de facto standard open source monitoring system integrates natively with Kubernetes to collect and aggregate time series metrics. Prometheus excels at multi-dimensional data, essential for cloud-native app monitoring.
  • cAdvisor – This agent analyzes resource usage and performance characteristics of containers, providing metrics on CPU, memory, filesystem, and network. I use cAdvisor for capacity planning and right-sizing containers.
  • kube-state-metrics – One of my go-to tools, kube-state-metrics generates metrics on Kubernetes objects themselves for alerting and dashboards. It acts as a metrics adapter for the Kubernetes API.
  • Popeye – Popeye provides sanity checking by scanning Kubernetes clusters for misconfigurations or resource issues. Its linting identifies over 30 potential problems to proactively avoid surprises in production.

Robust metrics and analytics are crucial for operating Kubernetes efficiently. These tools tap into native Kubernetes data sources and augment monitoring capabilities.

GitOps and Configuration Tools

Declarative configuration and GitOps style workflows represent best practices for Kubernetes deployments. Purpose-built tools make working with Kubernetes configurations scalable and collaborative:

  • Kustomize – Kustomize introduces template-free customization of Kubernetes YAMLs through inheritance and composition. Teams can share common config "bases" while customizing for specific environments.
  • Cue – For robust configuration management, Cue offers a declarative config language to define reusable, validated Kubernetes components. Cue‘s rigor prevents mistakes that lead to issues at scale.
  • Gitkube – This tool enables automated Kubernetes deployments triggered by Git push events. Gitkube builds images and manages deployments in response to Git changes, keeping clusters and repositories in sync.

These tools facilitate scalable, collaborative development on Kubernetes configurations as declarative code. They enable cleaner GitOps workflows.

Chaos Engineering

While we try to prevent problems, unexpected failures still happen in complex distributed systems like Kubernetes. Chaos engineering tools test resiliency through controlled experiments:

  • PowerfulSeal – A powerful chaos tool, PowerfulSeal injects failures like killing processes, network issues, and high resource usage. Its analysis identifies weaknesses in Kubernetes reliability.
  • LitmusChaos – Purpose-built for Kubernetes environments, Litmus orchestrates chaos experiments to validate fault tolerance mechanisms. Tests match real-world failures to improve confidence.

These tools introduce planned turbulance into Kubernetes clusters to uncover hidden weaknesses. Failures become learning opportunities rather than disasters.

Level Up Your Kubernetes Stack

Kubernetes massively simplifies deploying and managing containerized apps across infrastructures. But real-world success requires going beyond just Kubernetes. Augment its native capabilities with specialized tools for your workflow – automated deployment, observability, security, and more. The tools explored in this post represent my recommended toolkit for effectively running Kubernetes in production. Try them out to supercharge your Kubernetes practice! Let me know if you have any other favorite Kubernetes power-ups. I‘m always looking to improve my toolbox.


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.