Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Thursday, May 28, 2020
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Kubernetes Everywhere: Rancher Labs’ ‘Lightweight’ Version Scales to the Edge 

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As enterprise distributions of the Kubernetes cluster orchestrator stabilize, and more features are added with each quarterly version release, the expanding community of platform vendors are attempting to extend deployments of the de facto standard container manager beyond datacenters and cloud-native deployments.

Among them is Rancher Labs, which on Tuesday (March 31) unveiled the latest iteration of its Kubernetes management platform designed to extend the infrastructure technology to the network edge via a “lightweight” distribution of the orchestrator. Emphasizing edge scaling, the company touts its “Kubernetes everywhere” strategy as a path to eventually deploying up to 1 million clusters, a capability currently planned for a future release.

The latest 2.4 version currently supports 2,000 clusters and 100,000 nodes.

Rancher Labs’ strategy is based on projections that Internet of Things and other edge networks will drive Kubernetes deployments over the next two years as the processing of enterprise data shifts from datacenters and cloud deployments to the edge.

Demand for more agile computing and storage capacity in support of IoT networks is forecast to skyrocket over the next several years, driven initially by industrial IoT deployments. Juniper Research forecasts the industrial sector alone will account for an estimated 60 billion IoT connections through 2024. Overall, the market tracker estimates a 130-percent jump over the next four years to 83 billion IoT connections.

Vendors such as Rancher Labs are betting all that network traffic and the torrent of data generated by edge devices and sensors will require industrial-strength cluster orchestration capabilities. Kubernetes continues to be the platform of choice as management platform expand out from datacenters.

The company’s turnkey approach emphasizes a reduction in maintenance tasks and tighter data security as deployments expand to the edge. For example, the latest version includes cluster security features based on Center for Internet Security benchmark scanning.

On the assumption that more customers want to avoid the hassles associated with deploying and maintaining Kubernetes deployments, Rancher Labs also is offering a hosted version. The package includes a dedicated Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN) instance of a server management controller.

Rancher Labs is betting more companies are prepared to move beyond a cloud-based, monolithic cluster to what it calls a “fleet management” approach. That framework uses a lightweight Kubernetes distribution known as K3 on network endpoints while clusters are managed from a central control plane.

Rather than managing “dumb” edge devices via a monolithic cluster in a datacenter, Rancher Labs said its fleet management approach would “run production-grade, lightweight Kubernetes clusters on ‘smart’ low-powered edge devices and manage them consistently as a ‘fleet’.”

The company said it tested the scheme using its lightweight Kubernetes distribution to scale “tens of hundreds of clusters” on a single virtual machine running on the AWS cloud.

Rancher Labs said it expects to launch its Kubernetes-based cluster “fleet management” capability later this year. The result will be “edge scale Kubernetes deployments,” the company said in a blog post.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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