Are all Kubernetes services in the cloud the same? Azure Container Apps: Limitations & Awesome Features

By: Stackify
  |  October 30, 2023
Are all Kubernetes services in the cloud the same? Azure Container Apps: Limitations & Awesome Features

An advanced, open-source technology called Kubernetes is used to manage, scale and deploy containerised applications automatically. Kubernetes offers a strong architecture that enables development and operations teams to effectively manage applications of several containers.

Kubernetes was made by Google engineers. They shared it for free in 2014, and now a group called CNCF takes care of Kubernetes. People really like using Kubernetes to manage apps inside containers.

Kubernetes is frequently the preferred solution for overseeing the interaction between various components of an application. Kubernetes possesses the capability to manage component behavior in the event of failures, simplify the authentication process and distribute resources among microservices.

What services are required to run Kubernetes in the cloud? 

A Kubernetes service is an abstraction that describes a logical set of pods (containers) and the policy that governs how they are accessed. Kubernetes service provides a consistent and dependable method of exposing Kubernetes cluster apps to the network.

Kubernetes services provide load balancing and automatic scaling, ensuring that your applications stay available and responsive even when the number of pods or their locations vary.

In the cloud, Kubernetes services often interface with cloud provider networking features to expose applications to the outside world. Kubernetes services are classified into four types:

  1. ClusterIP: The default service type. It gives a virtual IP address that can only be accessed from within the cluster. ClusterIP enables communication between different components of your application inside the same cluster.
  1. NodePort: This type provides the service on a static port on each cluster node and exposes the service externally by mapping the node’s IP and NodePort to the service’s IP and port.
  1. LoadBalancer: In cloud setups that allow for load balancers, this Kubernetes service type builds a load balancer that splits incoming traffic to the service among several nodes.
  1. ExternalName: This type enables you to offer a service with a name that is distinct from the cluster, thereby serving as a proxy for an external service.

Most Hyperscalers are providing Kubernetes in the cloud

A Kubernetes cloud provider, often known as a “cloud provider,” is a module or plugin within the Kubernetes ecosystem that allows Kubernetes to connect with and manage resources offered by a particular cloud architecture. In other words, Kubernetes cloud provider allows Kubernetes to effortlessly integrate and operate with the services and capabilities provided by various cloud platforms.

Some of the well-known Kubernetes cloud providers are listed below:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)
  • Microsoft Azure – Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP) – Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)
  • IBM Cloud – IBM Kubernetes Service
  • Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) – Oracle Kubernetes Engine (OKE)
  • DigitalOcean – DigitalOcean Kubernetes
  • VMware – Tanzu Kubernetes Grid (TKG)
  • Red Hat OpenShift
  • Alibaba Cloud – Alibaba Cloud Container Service for Kubernetes (ACK)
  • Huawei Cloud – Cloud Container Engine (CCE)

Every significant cloud service provider, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, has its own Kubernetes cloud provider implementation. These implementations enable Kubernetes to utilize the underlying infrastructure, services and features of the cloud provider, including load balancers, storage options, virtual machines and networking.

Kubernetes cloud providers simplify the complexity associated with interacting with distinct cloud APIs and services, streamlining the process for users to deploy and oversee applications consistently across diverse cloud landscapes. Additionally, these providers enable users to harness the unique features offered by each cloud environment, all while maintaining alignment with Kubernetes’ fundamental orchestration and management functionalities.

Are all Kubernetes services in the cloud the same?

Whether or not all Kubernetes services in the cloud are the same depends on many variables, including the cloud provider, the specific Kubernetes offerings they offer, and the configuration picked by the user. Here are a few things to think about:

Cloud Provider: Various cloud vendors provide managed Kubernetes solutions that come with distinct attributes and functionalities. These offerings may diverge in aspects such as performance, accessibility and how well each offering integrates with other services.

Managed vs. Self-Managed: Cloud service providers present a choice between managed and self-managed Kubernetes alternatives. Managed Kubernetes solutions, exemplified by Amazon EKS, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), handle a significant portion of the foundational infrastructure management, streamlining the user experience. On the other hand, self-managed Kubernetes grants greater control but demands increased operational involvement.

Feature Set: Although Kubernetes’ essential functionality is the same across all platforms, cloud providers could provide different extra features, connectors and tools. Networking solutions, monitoring, logging and security features may be some of these variations.

Pricing and Cost: Pricing models for managed Kubernetes services vary by cloud provider. Users must take into account not just the base pricing but also any additional fees for features or resources.

Performance and Reliability: The underlying design of the infrastructure and networking can affect the performance and reliability of Kubernetes clusters. Depending on the workload, alternative cloud service providers might present more favorable configurations.

Ease of Use: Although managed Kubernetes services seek to simplify cluster management, their usability varies. Some systems might feature easier-to-use user interfaces and greater cloud service integration.

Vendor Lock-In: Depending on the services and features used, variable degrees of vendor lock-in may exist. Some cloud-specific features may make switching to a different provider more difficult.

Community and Support: Although Kubernetes is an open-source project with a vibrant community, the level of participation and support might vary across various platforms. Some cloud service providers might provide more varied support choices.

Kubernetes provides a uniform orchestration framework. However, cloud providers offer different features, performance, user-friendliness and pricing for available services. To make an informed decision, developers should meticulously assess needs, compare offerings and scrutinize the Kubernetes services each cloud provider offers. This process will aid in identifying the most fitting option for your requirements.

What are Microsoft Azure Container Apps?

Azure Container Apps is a serverless container service provided by Microsoft Azure that allows you to launch and manage containers using Kubernetes. Using Azure Container Apps enables you to focus on your application logic rather than the underlying infrastructure. 

You may package your applications as containers and then deploy and scale those applications automatically based on incoming traffic or events using Azure Container Apps.

Utilizing Microsoft Azure for Small Businesses

Azure boasts support for a variety of programming languages and frameworks, empowering the cloud platform to provide numerous services, including:

  • Business Analytics
  • Cloud Services
  • Data Management
  • Identity
  • Media Services
  • Messaging
  • Mobile Services
  • Virtual Machines
  • Websites

Key Container services available in Azure

To deploy, administer and orchestrate containerized applications, Microsoft Azure offers many containerization services. Some of the well-known container-related services on Azure are listed below:

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS): A managed Kubernetes service, AKS simplifies scaling, managing and deploying containerized applications. AKS also has capabilities that make running containerized workloads at scale simpler, including automated upgrades, monitoring and scaling.

Azure Container Instances (ACI): With ACI, you can quickly deploy a single container without having to handle the supporting infrastructure. ACI is appropriate for workloads that need to be deployed quickly and have a brief lifespan.

Azure Service Fabric: Although not a container service entirely, Azure Service Fabric supports both containerized and non-containerized microservices. Azure Fabric Services also offers sophisticated features for creating and administering microservices applications.

Azure Container Registry (ACR): While ACR is not a container runtime in and of itself, it does offer a safe means of managing and storing Docker container images, which are then used by other container services on Azure.

Common use cases of Azure container Apps

  • Setting up API endpoints
  • Hosting applications for background processing
  • Managing event-triggered processing
  • Executing microservices

Awesome Features of Microsoft Azure Container Apps

  1. Serverless Experience: Azure Container Apps provides a serverless paradigm, which eliminates the requirement for infrastructure provisioning, scaling and management plus handles the container instances for you automatically.
  1. Container Support: You can use Docker containers to deliver applications which lets you use the containerized format to encapsulate your program and its dependencies and maintain consistency across different contexts.
  1. Event-Driven Scaling: Unlike other cloud providers, Azure Container Apps may automatically scale based on event-driven triggers. For example, you can scale up or down depending on the volume of incoming requests or messages. Triggers that drive scaling fall into three categories: HTTP, which is determined by the number of concurrent HTTP requests to your revision; TCP, based on the amount of concurrent TCP connections to your revision; and Custom, which is determined by factors such as CPU and memory, or supported event-driven data sources like Azure Service Bus, Azure Event Hubs, Apache Kafka, and Redis. If you specify multiple scale rules, the container app scales when the first criterion of each rule is satisfied.
  1. Integration with Azure Services: Enables you to create intricate workflows and event-driven systems and smoothly connects to other Azure services, including Azure Logic Apps, Azure Functions, Azure Spring Apps and Azure Event Grid.
  1. Multi-Container Applications: Enables you to deploy several containers as part of a single application. This is especially beneficial for applications made up of microservices or multiple components. Azure Container Apps offer a superior solution for running multiple containers, especially when compared to AWS and GCP. With Azure container apps, you may run multiple container revisions and manage the container app’s application lifecycle.
  1. Pay-Per-Use Billing: Azure Container Apps has a cost-effective, pay-as-you-go billing approach, where you are only billed for the resources that are used. Charges are determined by the usage of resources and the number of requests on a per-second basis.
  1. Easily Connect to Data Sources: You may quickly link your containerized apps to Azure’s data sources, databases and storage solutions.
  1. Hybrid Deployment: You can deploy container apps both in the cloud and on-premises, allowing you to take advantage of hybrid cloud capabilities. Azure container apps hold a stronger position in the hybrid cloud sector when compared to AWS, which is still undergoing development. Azure container apps also offer comprehensive hybrid cloud capabilities that span on-premises data centers and provide an array of services to facilitate the integration of your private cloud.
  1. Built-in Security: The service has built-in security measures, including network isolation, authentication and encryption for the protection of your application and its data. You may securely manage secrets directly in your application using Azure container apps. Azure Container Apps enables your application to safely store critical configuration settings. Once secrets are defined at the application level, secured values are available for revisions in your container apps. You can also use secured values within scale rules. When comparing Azure Container Apps with AWS container services, Azure Container Apps presents a superior security solution. However, this superiority can be subject to variation depending on the specific use case, users’ level of expertise and the implemented security configurations.
  1. Continuous Deployment: Azure Container Apps works in conjunction with Azure DevOps and other CI/CD pipelines to provide constant deployment and automated updates.
  1. Monitoring and Logging: Utilizing Azure Monitor, you can track the performance and well-being of your container applications, and you can also seamlessly incorporate additional monitoring tools to gain more comprehensive insights. Azure Container Apps seamlessly integrates with Azure Monitor Log Analytics, facilitating the monitoring and analysis of logs for your container applications. Opting for this log monitoring solution entails the inclusion of a Log Analytics workspace within your Container Apps environment. This workspace serves as a centralized repository for storing system and application log data generated by all container apps operating within the environment. By the year 2022, Azure Monitor has accrued more than 702 stars, 316 forks, engaged with 40 contributors, and witnessed 308 commits. Similarly, AWS CloudWatch, as of 2022, has amassed over 324 stars, 132 forks, engaged 44 contributors, and witnessed 519 commits.
  1. Language and Framework Agnostic: You can create applications in whatever programming language and framework you like. Azure Container Apps is compatible with a diverse set of languages and runtimes.
  1. HTTP and TCP Ingress: Azure Container Apps enable you to make your container app accessible on the open internet, your virtual network (VNET) and other container apps in your ecosystem through ingress functionality. The rules within ingress govern how external and internal traffic is directed to your container app. By activating ingress, the need for an Azure Load Balancer, public IP address or other Azure resources to facilitate incoming HTTP requests or TCP traffic is eliminated.
  1. Microservices: Azure Container Apps forms the basis for deploying microservices, encompassing features such as autonomous scalability, version management, and updates. It also offers capabilities for service detection and identification, along with seamless integration with Dapr.
  1. Revision: Azure Container Apps enforces versioning of container apps through the creation of revisions. A revision stands as an unchangeable snapshot representing a specific version of a container app. Revisions in Container Apps facilitate the administration of update releases for your container application, generating a fresh revision whenever you introduce a change that impacts the scope of the revision. You retain authority over which revisions are operational, as well as the external traffic directed to each active revision.
  1. Run Containers from any Registry: Utilizing Azure Container Apps, you can execute containers sourced from any registry, whether public or private. This encompasses repositories like Docker Hub and Azure Container Registry (ACR).

Azure Container Apps handles the details of Kubernetes and container orchestration for you. Containers in Azure Container Apps can utilize any runtime, programming language or development stack of your choice.

Limitations of Azure Container Apps

  1. Privileged Containers: Azure Container Apps cannot execute privileged containers. If your program attempts to execute a process that requires root access, the application inside the container encounters a runtime error.
  1. Operating System: Linux-based (Linux/amd64) container images are required. AWS ECS provides the capability to work with container images for both Windows and Linux. However, it’s worth mentioning that the current public preview phase of Azure Container exclusively accommodates container images based on Linux.
  1. Limited Container Support: Unlike AWS, which supports more than just Docker containers. Azure Container Apps now support just Docker containers, which may limit the containerization technologies you can utilize.
  1. Resource Limits: Azure Container Apps has resource constraints for CPU and RAM, which may be unsuitable for resource-intensive applications.
  1. Networking Limitations: Although Azure Container Apps lets you interface with Azure Virtual Networks, the level of network customization and control is lessened in comparison to other Azure container services like Azure Kubernetes Service.
  1. Persistent Storage: While Azure Container Apps supports Azure Files and Azure Blob Storage for minimal state persistence, more complicated storage situations may necessitate other Azure services or configurations.
  1. Scaling Constraints: Although Azure Container Apps can grow based on traffic, scaling is limited. A service like Azure Kubernetes Service may be more appropriate for applications with very high traffic or complex scalability requirements.
  1. Lack of Advanced Orchestration: Unlike Azure Kubernetes Service, Azure Container Apps do not offer sophisticated functionality for container orchestration, such as manual scaling controls, custom deployments and fine-grained control over pod placement.
  1. Dependency on Azure Services: While this may not be a worry for consumers who are highly invested in the Azure ecosystem, it is worth noting that Azure Container Apps is intimately connected with Azure services. If you’re searching for more cloud-agnostic solutions, you might want to check out other options.
  1. Limited Container Networking Features: Advanced networking features such as Kubernetes Network Policies and custom load balancer setups are not accessible in Azure Container Apps.
  1. Long-Running Jobs: Azure Container Apps is intended for short-term jobs and microservices. If you have long-running batch tasks or services, you may want to look into alternative Azure services that are better suited to such workloads.
  1. Cost Considerations: While Azure Container Apps has a serverless pricing mechanism, the costs might still add up over time. Analyze your application’s requirements and usage patterns to appropriately predict possible expenditures.
  1. External instances: AWS ECS permits the registration and utilization of external physical or virtual machine instances for executing applications in containers. In contrast, Azure Container Apps lacks the feature to support external instances.
  1. Cold Start Latency: Like many serverless applications, Azure Container Apps may encounter cold start latency, which occurs when the first request to a container is delayed due to container initialization.

How to create and deploy your first container app using Azure container apps?

Just tap the below link to develop and launch your initial container application using Azure Container Apps service.

https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/container-apps/get-started?tabs=bash

Summary

Kubernetes streamlines operational responsibilities related to container administration, offering intrinsic commands for application deployment, seamless application updates, adaptable application scaling in response to varying requirements, comprehensive application monitoring and additional functionalities. All these simplify the overall process of application management.

Even though built on the same basic Kubernetes open-source platform, Kubernetes services provided by different cloud providers are not identical. While the underlying concepts and capabilities of Kubernetes remain identical among providers, there are changes in terms of functionality, integrations, administrative interfaces and additional services offered.

Azure offers a managed Kubernetes solution called Azure Kubernetes Service, enabling you to utilize Kubernetes for deploying, overseeing and expanding containerized applications.

Whether using Kubernetes with Microsoft Azure is preferable relies on your unique requirements, current infrastructure, tool comfort level and business objectives. 

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