A Comparison of Public Cloud Managed Kubernetes Services

In this article, I’ll look to provide some comparisons of public cloud vendors when deciding where to run Kubernetes. Obviously, this assumes that you’ve already decided that Kubernetes is the way to go.
It’s important to understand the main features and capabilities of the main cloud providers and present what I think are some crystal clear criteria for choosing your target platform.

DIY or managed service?
Before I get into public cloud vendors its important to highlight that Kubernetes is so modular, flexible, and extensible that it can be deployed on-prem, or in a third-party data center, in any of the popular cloud providers and even across multiple cloud providers. With a varying array of choices, what should you do for your business and your peace of mind?
The answer, of course, is “it depends.”
Should you run your Kubernetes systems on-prem or in third-party data centers. You may have already invested a lot of time, money, and training in your bespoke infrastructure. The challenges of DIY Kubernetes infrastructure become more and more burdensome as you need to invest time and operational cycles in standing up and ongoing daily management of the environment.

Or should you run your Kubernetes system on one of the cloud providers? You may want to benefit from the goodness of Kubernetes without the headache of having to manage it and keep it in tip-top form with upgrades and security patching.

What’s also important to note is that you’ll need to be already containerized — if you’re already there then great, taking that monolithic application to a brave new world is going to be a challenge but it does bring its benefits as you drive your business forward.

Choosing to run Kubernetes managed by your cloud provider is probably a no-brainer. You already run workloads in the cloud, right? Kubernetes gives you the opportunity to replace a lot of layers of management, monitoring, and security you may have to build and more importantly have the skillset to integrate with your processes and maintain yourself.

There are actually quite a few cloud providers that support Kubernetes and I’ll focus here on the Big Three: Google’s GKE, Microsoft AKS, and Amazon’s EKS and provide a view on what IONOS Enterprise Cloud is offering also.


Google GKE (Google Kubernetes Engine)
Kubernetes, if you didn’t know already, came from Google. GKE is the managed offering of Kubernetes by Google. Google SREs will manage the control plane of Kubernetes for you and you get auto-upgrades. Since Google has so much influence on Kubernetes and it used it as the container orchestration solution of the Google cloud platform from day one, it would be really weird if it didn’t have the best integration.

GKE may be the most up to date on releases. On GKE, you don’t have to pay for the Kubernetes control plane which is important to bear in mind if controlling costs is important to your business, which I assume would be. So with Google, you just pay for the worker nodes. Google also can provide GCR (Goole Container Registry), integrated central logging and monitoring via Stackdriver Logging and Stackdriver Monitoring all be it very pricey, and if you’re interested in even tighter integration with your CI/CD pipeline you can use Google Code Build which will add even more costs, which is all great but as with most PaaS offerings once you get locked in you’re locked in, so the main thing to keep in mind is that flexibility is key with Kubernetes, most ancillary services can be bolted on to your hosted servers so you’re not stove-piped into using the vendors tools if you don’t want to be.

GKE takes advantage of general-purpose Kubernetes concepts like Service and Ingress for fine-grained control over load balancing. If your Kubernetes service is of type LoadBalancer, GKE will expose it to the world via a plain L4 (TCP) load balancer. However, if you create an Ingres object in front of your service then GKE will create an L7 load balancer capable of doing SSL termination for you and even allow gRPC traffic if you annotate it correctly, of course setting up your own Ingress Controller is also possible should the need arise.


Microsoft Azure AKS (Azure Kubernetes Service)
Microsoft Azure originally had a solution called ACS that supported Apache Mesos, Kubernetes, and Docker Swarm. But, in 2017 it introduced AKS as a dedicated Kubernetes hosting service.

AKS is very similar to GKE. It also managed a Kubernetes cluster for you free of charge. Microsoft invested a lot in Kubernetes in general and AKS in particular. There is strong integration with Active Directory for authentication and authorization, integrated monitoring and logging, and Azure storage. You also get built-in container registry, networking, and GPU-enabled nodes.
One of the most interesting features of AKS is its usage of the virtual-kublet project to integrate with ACI (Azure Container Instances). The ACI takes away the need to provision nodes for your cluster.

Setting up a cluster on AKS takes a long time (20 minutes on average) and the startup time has high volatility (more than an hour on rare occasions). The developer experience is relatively poor. You need some combination of a web UI (Azure Portal Manager), PowerShell, and plain CLI to provision and set everything up.


Amazon AWS EKS (Elastic Kubernetes Service)
Amazon was a little late to the Kubernetes scene. It always had its own ECS (Elastic Container Service) container orchestration platform. But, customer demand was for Kubernetes was overwhelming. Many organizations ran their Kubernetes clusters on EC2 using Kops or similar eventually AWS decided to provide proper support with official integrations. EKS today integrates with IAM for identity management, AWS load balancers, networking, and various storage options.

AWS has promised integration with Fargate (similar to AKS + ACI). This will eliminate the need to provision worker nodes and potentially let Kubernetes automatically scale up and down for a truly elastic experience.
Note that on EKS you have to pay for the managed control plane. If you just want to play around and experiment with Kubernetes or have lots of small clusters that might be a limiting factor.

As far as performance goes EKS takes 10–15 minutes to start a cluster. EKS is probably not the simplest to set up as with AKS you’re moving between the management consoles, IAM and CLI to get the cluster up and running, it’s probably the most complex setup out of all the three cloud vendors so in reality, it could take a little under an hour from the initial deployment to getting the cluster up and running.

IONOS Enterprise Cloud
So what about the other vendors, well there are quite a few from the likes of Oracle, IBM and Digital Ocean there is also IONOS Enterprise Cloud. If I was to compare how we IONOS fared against the top three then I would say there is some catch up to make with ancillary PaaS services, but for creating a cluster and providing worker nodes to the cluster then IONOS does this with ease and simplicity actually much better than the competition. IONOS has UI integration with the data center designer which is missing from the top three providers, it’s such a simple process to get up and running that clusters can be ready to use in under 15 minutes.

Having the ability to choose the amount of CPU and RAM is a huge deal, you’re not forced into certain sizes for your worker nodes, adding and removing worker nodes is simple too, just remember to drain your nodes before you remove them. IONOS also has full API ingratiation, in fact, a cluster and worker nodes can be up and running with four API calls. With IONOS you get dedicated CPU and RAM resources so performance is a given. IONOS also brings GDPR compliant cloud infrastructure without having to worry about the US Cloud Act which should be top of your list for cloud service requirements.

There are also services such as persistence volumes in the shape of HDD and SSD storage and load balancer services just like the other vendors, with services on their roadmap to come, also as it’s vanilla Kubernetes, it’s easy to add things like Istio, Prometheus, Grafana and Ingress load balancers too. I’ve not even touched on cost yet but compared to the other vendors IONOS comes under the competition reserved instance pricing too, making it very attractable. Here are some rough figures though to help you determine costs when choosing a Kubernetes platform. This monthly cost comparison assumes that you have 3 master nodes, 15 worker nodes, and each node has 4 vCPU and 16GB of RAM.

AWS Google Cloud Platform Microsoft Azure IONOS
£0.18 per hour £0.18 per hour £0.17 per hour £0.15 per hour
18 Nodes (3 Control) 15 Nodes (Free Control Plane) 15 Nodes (Free Control Plane) 15 Nodes (Free Control Plane)
£2332 Compute Cost £2194 Compute Cost £1836 Compute Cost £1620 Compute Cost
M5 xLarge Instance type: n1-standard-4 D4 v3 4 vcpu 16gb 4 vCPU (2 Dedicated CPU Cores)  16Gb Ram

Conclusion
Kubernetes itself is platform agnostic. In theory, you can easily switch from any cloud platform to another as well as run on your own infrastructure. In practice, when you choose a platform provider you often want to utilize and benefit from their specific services that will require some work to migrate to a different provider or on-prem.

There are a number of container orchestration tools out there with the likes of Rancher, Swarm etc. it looks like Kubernetes has won the container orchestration wars. The big question for you is where you should run it. Usually, the answer is simple. If you’re already running on one of the cloud providers then check to ensure that your vendor is the right choice, this is where multi-cloud is giving you benefit allowing you to leverage the best the cloud has to offer so you can run your Kubernetes cluster with confidence.

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