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Pavel Rykov

Pavel Rykov

July 31, 2023 ・ Kubernetes

How to choose the right Kubernetes distribution for your business


Kubernetes, frequently referred to as K8s, is an open-source system designed to handle containerized applications across multiple hosts, providing basic mechanisms for deployment, maintenance, and application-scaling. Born at Google and now part of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), Kubernetes has quickly become the de facto standard in managing containerized applications.

Kubernetes is all about applications. Containers are the smallest compute units where applications are packaged along with all their dependencies. The primary goal of Kubernetes is to provide a platform for automating deployment, scaling, and operations of application containers across clusters of hosts.

Key concepts and components in Kubernetes include Pods (the smallest and simplest unit in the Kubernetes object model that you create or deploy), Services (an abstract way to expose an application running on a set of Pods), and Volume (a directory, possibly with some data in it, accessible to a Container). It's essential to understand these and other Kubernetes components to effectively work with Kubernetes distributions.

More details about basic of Kubernetes you can find in Kubernetes 101: Understanding the Basics article.

Understanding Kubernetes Distributions

Definition of Kubernetes Distribution

A Kubernetes distribution is a variant of Kubernetes, often with added functionality, optimizations, or configurations tailored for certain use-cases or environments. These distributions typically come with additional tools or packages to improve the Kubernetes experience for their specific target users.

While Kubernetes provides the core functionalities of a container orchestration platform, distributions can extend these functionalities by including components such as monitoring tools, enhanced security features, storage options, and more. This makes distributions often better suited for production environments, as they aim to solve the problems faced by businesses deploying Kubernetes in the real world.

Key Components of Kubernetes Distribution

While the specifics vary between distributions, they generally consist of the following components:

  • The Kubernetes API server - This is the main management component of Kubernetes. It exposes the Kubernetes API and is the front end for the Kubernetes control plane.

  • Kubelet - An agent that runs on each node in the cluster and ensures that all containers are running in a Pod.

  • etcd - The primary datastore for Kubernetes which stores all cluster data.

  • Controller manager - A daemon that regulates the Kubernetes system, managing different non-terminating control loops.

  • Container runtime - The software that is responsible for running containers.

In addition to these core components, distributions often include additional functionalities and tooling, such as a more advanced scheduler, network plugins for enhanced networking features, or security configurations to comply with various standards.

When it comes to deploying Kubernetes on your own hardware, the process of setting up a Kubernetes cluster can be quite complex. Projects such as Kubespray can be particularly useful in this situation. Kubespray is a Kubernetes distribution aimed at providing an easy way to deploy a production-ready cluster on existing infrastructure. It utilizes Ansible playbooks, allowing you to manage your clusters using familiar tools and processes.

As previously mentioned, the specifics can vary from one Kubernetes distribution to another. Therefore, it's crucial to refer to the specific documentation for each distribution. For example, the Kubespray GitHub page offers detailed information about deploying a Kubespray distribution.

This concludes the second chapter, where we've explored the definition and key components of Kubernetes distributions. Whether you are running in the cloud or on your own hardware, choosing the right Kubernetes distribution can greatly enhance your Kubernetes experience and ensure your cluster meets your specific needs.

Overview of Popular Distributions

Let's compare some of the most popular Kubernetes distributions that are available in the market today:

  • Rancher: Rancher is a complete container management platform that includes a fully certified Kubernetes distribution. It offers centralized policy management, multi-cluster management, and advanced security features. Rancher can deploy Kubernetes onto various infrastructures, including AWS, GCP, Azure, and vSphere.

  • OpenShift: Red Hat OpenShift is a robust, enterprise-grade platform that extends Kubernetes with additional features, such as built-in CI/CD, automated rollouts and rollbacks, and application lifecycle management. OpenShift is an excellent choice for enterprises that require advanced security and scalability features.

  • K3s: Developed by Rancher Labs, K3s is a lightweight, easy-to-install, production-grade Kubernetes distribution. It was designed for developers and operators who need to deploy applications quickly and reliably to resource-constrained environments, such as edge and IoT devices.

  • Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE): GKE is Google Cloud’s managed Kubernetes service. It automates many of the manual tasks involved in managing and orchestrating a Kubernetes environment, making it an excellent choice for organizations that want to focus on deploying their applications instead of managing infrastructure.

  • Amazon EKS: Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) is a fully managed Kubernetes service provided by AWS. It handles the underlying infrastructure so that you can focus on deploying applications.

  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS): AKS is Microsoft Azure's fully managed Kubernetes service. It simplifies the deployment and operations of Kubernetes and enables you to dynamically scale your application with the underlying Kubernetes infrastructure.

  • VMware Tanzu Kubernetes Grid (TKG): VMware's Tanzu Kubernetes Grid provides a consistent, upstream-compatible implementation of Kubernetes, that is tested and supported by VMware. Tanzu Kubernetes Grid is central to many of the offerings in VMware Tanzu, a portfolio of products and services that transform how enterprises build, run, and manage applications on Kubernetes.

All of these projects provide their unique benefits and may be suited to different use-cases based on the requirements of the organization. It's recommended to evaluate each tool based on your specific needs in terms of scalability, integration, support, security, and more.

Key Considerations When Comparing Distributions

When comparing different Kubernetes distributions, here are a few key factors to consider:

  • Ease of use: Some distributions are easier to set up and manage than others. Consider how easy it is to install the distribution, manage clusters, and deploy applications.

  • Compatibility: Ensure the distribution you choose is compatible with the cloud or on-premises infrastructure you intend to use.

  • Support and Community: Consider the level of support provided by the distributor and the activity level of the community around the distribution.

  • Security features: Security is a crucial aspect of any Kubernetes deployment. Compare the security features of different distributions to ensure they meet your requirements.

  • Cost: While some distributions are open-source and free to use, others may require a subscription or come with usage-based costs.

Remember, the right distribution for your business will depend on your specific needs and resources. Take the time to thoroughly evaluate and test the various options before making a decision.

Key Factors in Choosing a Kubernetes Distribution for Your Business

Evaluate Your Business Needs

Before diving into the vast ocean of Kubernetes distributions, it's crucial to evaluate your business needs. This includes understanding the kind of applications your business develops, the infrastructure these applications are expected to run on, and the specific requirements they may have. Questions that can help refine your requirements include:

  • Will your applications be running on-premises, in the cloud, or both?

  • Do you need to support a multi-cloud strategy?

  • What kind of workload will your applications handle?

  • Are there specific industry standards or regulations your applications need to adhere to?

Consider the Infrastructure Compatibility

Kubernetes can run on a wide variety of platforms: public clouds, private clouds, bare metal, and hybrid environments. When choosing a Kubernetes distribution, consider what kind of infrastructure support it provides. Certain distributions might be optimized for specific platforms - for example, Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) is naturally a good fit for applications intended to run on Google Cloud, while Amazon EKS or Azure AKS would be ideal if your applications are designed for AWS or Azure, respectively.

Security and Compliance

Security is paramount in today's world, especially when dealing with applications that handle sensitive data. Different Kubernetes distributions offer different security features - some come with robust built-in security and compliance controls, such as Red Hat's OpenShift, which is designed with enterprise-level security in mind. It's crucial to ensure that the distribution you choose meets all your security requirements.

Support and Community

Another key factor to consider is the level of support provided by the distribution vendor and the community around it. Good documentation, an active community, and commercial support options can make a significant difference in your Kubernetes journey, especially if your team is new to Kubernetes.


While Kubernetes itself is open source and free, Kubernetes distributions often come with a cost - either directly or indirectly. Direct costs could be subscription fees or usage-based charges, while indirect costs could come from needing to hire or train staff to use and maintain the distribution. It's essential to understand the total cost of ownership associated with the distribution you choose.

Remember, the right Kubernetes distribution for your business should align well with your business needs, infrastructure, security requirements, support needs, and budget. It's worth taking the time to evaluate different options and perhaps even testing a few before making your final decision.

Implementing the Chosen Kubernetes Distribution

After you've chosen the Kubernetes distribution that best suits your business needs, the next step is to implement it. This process will vary depending on the specific distribution you've chosen, but here are a few general steps you'll likely need to take:

Planning and Preparation

Start by planning your Kubernetes architecture and preparing your infrastructure. This could involve setting up your cloud accounts, provisioning your on-premises servers, or a combination of both.

Installation and Configuration

Install the Kubernetes distribution according to the instructions provided by the vendor. This typically involves setting up the control plane, which is the collection of processes that control Kubernetes nodes. You'll also need to configure networking, storage, and other necessary components.

Cluster Deployment

Once the control plane is set up, you can start deploying your Kubernetes nodes. A Kubernetes node is a worker machine and may be either a virtual or a physical machine, depending on the cluster. Each node contains the services necessary to run Pods and is managed by the control plane.

Application Deployment

With your Kubernetes cluster up and running, you can start deploying your applications. This typically involves creating Docker images for your applications, creating Kubernetes manifests (which are YAML or JSON files that define your application's requirements), and using kubectl to deploy your applications to the cluster.

Monitoring and Maintenance

Once your applications are running on Kubernetes, you'll need to continuously monitor your cluster and applications to ensure they are running smoothly. This involves setting up monitoring and logging tools, keeping track of Kubernetes and application performance metrics, and troubleshooting any issues that arise.

Remember, implementing Kubernetes in your organization is a significant undertaking that will require time and resources. However, with careful planning, a clear understanding of your business needs, and the right Kubernetes distribution, you can significantly improve the way your business deploys and manages applications.


Choosing the right Kubernetes distribution for your business is a crucial decision that can significantly impact how effectively you can deploy, scale, and manage your applications. The world of Kubernetes distributions is vast and diverse, with each offering its unique set of features, capabilities, and trade-offs.

In this guide, we explored the landscape of Kubernetes distributions, discussed some of the most popular options, and looked at the factors to consider when choosing a distribution for your business. We also discussed the process of implementing the chosen distribution in your organization.

While choosing a Kubernetes distribution can be challenging, the rewards are often worth the effort. Kubernetes can help streamline your operations, increase your applications' scalability and reliability, and enable your teams to deliver better software faster.

Remember that the best Kubernetes distribution for your business is the one that aligns most closely with your specific needs, infrastructure, and resources. Therefore, it's worth taking the time to evaluate different options, consult with your teams, and perhaps even run some tests before making a decision.

As the world of Kubernetes continues to evolve, stay open to learning and adapt to new developments. Kubernetes is more than just a technology; it's a vibrant, thriving ecosystem that can help your business stay agile and competitive in today's rapidly changing digital landscape.

  • Kubernetes
  • Basics