The 2018 KubeCon and CloudNativeCon in Copenhagen, Denmark

This post is my recap of the KubeCon and CloudNativeCon conference which took place in Copenhagen (Denmark) from May 1-4, 2018. I’ll go briefly through the sessions I attended and the notes I took.

Change history:
Date Change description
2018-05-11 The first release
The room for the keynotes.

All sessions can be found here: https://kccnceu18.sched.com/mobile/#page:page-schedule

All 300+ recordings of the whole event can be found in this playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUYTNywPk-s&list=PLj6h78yzYM2N8GdbjmhVU65KYm_68qBmo

Be aware that the 35 minute session limit takes its toll. They speak really fast sometimes.

If you want to sound smart in the next weeks and months, use these keywords:

  • serverless / FaaS
  • service mesh with istio
  • chaos engineering
  • security with gVisor

Top 3

If you’re low on time, watch only these three videos, which were my highlights of the event:


Tuesday

Lightning talks

On Tuesday evening, there were some lighting talks. In case you don’t know what that means, it’s a series of different topics, each typically presented within 5 minutes. Apparently I’m not into that kind of format, although the topics were interesting. If you do such a format in the future, please don’t try to squash 20 min of content into the session by talking extra fast. I didn’t note down anything in the 90 minutes, but it was a nice start for the next three days.


Wednesday

Day 1 Keynotes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1kwY0N4PUk

I’ve had bad experiences with keynotes at other conferences in the past. They tended to be either boring or some executives didn’t have a clue what they are talking about. I gave it another try this time, and it was a much better experience than in the past. The sessions were quite good and entertaining with some interesting announcements (see the other keynotes blocks later on in this post). The most interesting thing at this morning where the presentation of the maturity model of the CNCF projects https://www.cncf.io/projects/ which sorts projects either in Sandbox or Incubating or Graduated depending on different criteria. Interesting new projects are:

Let’s go through the sessions after the keynotes one by one.

Whats Up With All The Different Container Runtimes?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHv0LVEIPk8

There is containerd, rkt, cri-o, LXC, kata and others. I was still a little clueless after this session, to be honest. The criteria chosen in the presentation didn’t really struck with me. If there are no strong reasons (and experiments to prove theories), I guess it’s safe to keep on going with Docker as a runtime.

My main takeaway from this session is, that the different competing runtimes are encouraged to fulfill a common behavior, the Container Runtime Interface (CRI) https://github.com/opencontainers/runtime-spec/blob/master/spec.md specified by the the Open Container Initiave (OCI). This enables portability and avoids vendor lock-in.

Evolving Systems Design: From Unreliable RPC to Resilience with Linkerd

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EqkvPqk7JU

This is one of the many talks about a service mesh, this time with Linkerd. The speaker shared his experiences of replacing a messaging queue with a service mesh, built with Linkerd. A few features made Linkerd very interesting:

  • possibility of A/B testing
  • built-in bulk head pattern
  • automated retries on fails

I think those things are possible with common message queues too, but apparently he was quite happy with the results and it solved the problems he faced well enough.

I’ll probably take a closer look at Linkerd in a separate post.

Open Source and Building Online Communities using Social Media and Communications

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0qaU512zrg

Communication is key. I don’t know many people who doubt that. How to have good and efficient communications, that’s the hard question. The speaker shared some insights and most of it boils down to know your audience. As a way to deal with all the different platforms, using Twitter for engagement with the audience and other social media channels for sharing expertise where suggested.

Continuously Deliver your Kubernetes Infrastructure

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xHmCrd8Qn8

A few of the more interesting practices the speaker shared were:

  • no pet clusters (the variance is too much maintenance effort)
  • do operations by Github pull request (so called gitops) https://www.weave.works/blog/gitops-operations-by-pull-request
  • there is no maintenance window. For example, security fixes need to be applicable at every point in time.
  • run etcd outside of the Kubernetes master nodes

The folks from Zalando open sourced their Cluster Lifecycle Manager (CLM) at https://github.com/zalando-incubator/cluster-lifecycle-manager and think it’s worth having a look.

They use Ginkgo as Behavior Driven Development (BDD) testing framework https://onsi.github.io/ginkgo/ to ensure no regressions slipped through with an upgrade.

There was much more than what I noted down. It was an excellent session which condensed the 2 years long operations knowledge down into 35 minutes.

Building a Cloud Native Culture in an Enterprise

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tm4VfJtOHt8

I have not expected to see people from The New York Times (or any other traditional print medium) at a cloud conference. It was surprising to hear that they also don’t see themselves as a print company anymore, but simply a news company, which makes sense, as the consumption habits change fast. In one of the keynotes, it was mentioned that more than half their users were getting their news online, so it’s not surprising to hear that they need to manage their online content.

One of the challenges was the transition from a print company to a content delivery company. To aid in the transition, they made good experiences with having office hours and support channels in slack. I think that can be a general pattern for dealing with cultural change.

To enable the internal teams, they see themselves in a delivery engineering way and mentioned this blog post: http://gregdmd.com/blog/2015/07/19/delivery-engineering-team/

Lastly, they weren’t the only one which continuously mentioned the importance of having well defined Service Level Objectives (SLO) which can be measured and improved over time.

Serverless WG BOF

The Serverless working group consists of all major cloud providers and one of the first goals is the harmonization of an event format. Otherwise the interoperability suffers and the hook-in cost is too high. The spec can be found at https://github.com/cloudevents/spec/blob/master/spec.md

The latest whitepaper of the group can be found at https://github.com/cncf/wg-serverless/tree/master/whitepaper It also contains a link to the current Serverless landscape at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10rSQ8rMhYDgf_ib3n6kfzwEuoE88qr0amUPRxKbwVCk/ which is an interesting overview.

An aspect of Serverless could be to serve as an enabler for a ChatOps model.

Evening keynotes

There were also some keynotes at the evening, and the highlight of it was the post mortem of an outage the Monzo bank had some time ago. The previous link brings you to the video, I can highly recommend it. It’s great to listen to the experiences others made, and especially the things which went wrong. I wish we would all be more open with the things which aren’t traditional success stories. That story also showed, that chaos engineering as a discipline is a necessity. Kudos to Monzo for being open here!

Google announced two things here:

They also mentioned their podcast I wasn’t aware of: https://www.gcppodcast.com/categories/kubernetes/

Last but not least, Prometheus in version 2 is out and fast as hell, thanks to the new implementation of the underlying time series database.


Thursday

Day 2 Keynotes

The keynotes this morning also set more focus on security which was a major theme throughout the conference. Naturally, gVisor got mentioned again. Also, Prometheus is everywhere and it was not the first (or the last time) istio was mentioned https://istio.io/.

The operator framwork got mentioned here and in later sessions. In short, it’s a way to write code for all the tasks a human application operator would do, including the necessary operations knowledge. I’ve probably need to invest some time in the future to think this through: https://coreos.com/blog/introducing-operator-framework.

Managing Kubernetes: What You Need to Know About Day 2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TBelL8UBQU

The main takeaways from this excellent session were:

  • user experience matters for adoption of change
  • cultural change and technical change are equally necessary
  • think simple

It was obvious throughout the session that the speaker had a lot of experience when it comes to manage Kubernetes. Luckily, he wrote it down and it will be published this summer: https://www.safaribooksonline.com/library/view/managing-kubernetes/9781492033905/

Some specific tips were:

  • define “high availability”
  • Mean Time to Recovery (MTTR) is THE metric
  • organization specific logic can be done with dynamic admission control: https://kubernetes.io/docs/admin/extensible-admission-controllers/
  • a bootstrapping machine helps to commoditize deployments
  • volumes are bound to availability zones, so think about that in failover scenarios

Stories from the Playbook

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2JUGnwinbQ

The speakers work in the Google Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) team and shared some best practices:

  • playbooks improve the Mean Time to Recovery (MTTR)
  • playbooks reduce the cognitive load
  • have probers as part of observability https://github.com/google/cloudprober
  • use resource limits on pods
  • have an established escalation path
  • use coordinate -> communicate -> control as an escalation protocol
  • do blameless post mortems
  • solve issues in four steps:
    1. symptom analysis
    2. apply mitigation
    3. find root cause
    4. apply fix
  • a fast track for emergency rollouts might also prove useful

They also currently work on problem fingerprinting as a technique to identify problems faster and automatized.

Another interesting read is the SRE book at https://landing.google.com/sre/book/chapters/introduction.html

And lastly a hint to the Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and its new beta offering of private clusters: https://cloud.google.com/kubernetes-engine/docs/how-to/private-clusters

Challenges to Writing Cloud Native Applications

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=di6oFceM_CQ

The key takeaways were:

  • Persistent data in cloud native environments is a hard problem.
  • Having multiple data stores with data replication between them is hard to do but useful.
  • Service coupling and latency have impact on scheduling because of resources.
  • Design for isolated testability even for end-to-end tests of your service.
  • Include the operators in the architecture decision process as many issues are platform specific.

Among others, the speaker recommended the book Designing Distributed Systems https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/designing-distributed-systems/9781491983638/ So much to read, so little time...

Kubernetes Multi-Cluster Operations without Federation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVOIk7nO_ts

As an example, that probably every organization has at least 3 clusters, the common setup of having a development cluster, a test/staging cluster and a production cluster was shown. In the speakers experience, having 5-10 clusters is the average. How do you deal with operations which span multiple clusters?

The Kubernetes Federation concept in its current form is seen as not fit for that at the moment: https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/cluster-administration/federation/ One of the main problems is the necessary root access of the federation server, which is a security problem.

A possible solution cloud be the Cluster Registry project at https://github.com/kubernetes/cluster-registry and by creating a workflow with custom Kubernetes resources https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/api-extension/custom-resources/ which get managed by the operator pattern https://coreos.com/blog/introducing-operators.html

According to the speaker, the user experience is best with Kubernetes tools, that’s why the extension points are preferred.

Building Event-Driven Pipelines with Brigade

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhfc0FKdFc8

Brigade is a tool, running in Kubernetes, which allows to create workflows based on events. I’m not sure how this differs from Function as a Service (FaaS), e.g. OpenFaaS https://github.com/openfaas/faas

The main use case is probably in the continuous integration / continuous delivery area. The speaker created an example pipeline with a CLI tool brigateterm during the session. In it’s simplest form, it resembles the popular mobile app IFTTT, but on steroids. Said that, writing glue code between legacy applications with Brigade might be a useful area for that technology too. There should be enough of that in your company :)

Observability and the Depths of Debugging Cloud-Native Applications using Linkerd and Conduit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RC_9ywj0yz8

Conduit is another example of a service mesh tool. It uses the sidecar pattern to serve as a proxy: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/architecture/patterns/sidecar

Injecting the sidecar besides the application to debug, enables us to add debugging functionality without altering the application itself. It’s worth noting that service mesh debugging is very different to monolith debugging. As the proxies have now all the knowledge about the communication of your distributed application, you can start querying them for various metrics to pin down the problematic service. This session walked us through that process.


Friday

Day 3 Keynotes

The third day of the keynotes was also very good. The folks from Google showed how they could save energy my machine learning https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6iMznIYwM8. The KubeFlow project is the toolkit which enables that: https://github.com/kubeflow/kubeflow. Another example of machine learning was the keynote by folks from booking.com, who use it to recognize pictures for assets they can use to promote locations.

Regarding security, the keynote from Liz demonstrated wonderfully the flaws of using root inside a container https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltrV-Qmh3oY. Apparently most Dockerfiles out there don’t use the USER keyword. I also learned about the $ capsh --print command. Very recommendable video.

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the best talk for me was the one named Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones. It’s about strategy and how to communicate it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlNYYy8pzB4. If your company or organization has a strategy which is similar to one of the auto-generated ones at https://strategy-madlibs.herokuapp.com you should have a lot of fun with that talk. It was also the first time I heard about the evolution:

  1. from genesis
  2. to custom build
  3. to service / product
  4. to utility / commodity

I have read this post more in detail https://blog.gardeviance.org/2015/09/how-commodity-is-something.html and think more about this.

Kubernetes 101: DIY Workshop

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYsp_cGY2O0

As mentioned in another section here, the acceptance of change in your organization is one non-technical problem you need to solve before sustainable change actually happens. This session suggested doing a hands-on workshop to increase that acceptance and pointed to Kubernetes learning material at https://github.com/jpetazzo/container.training.

A few tips for your own workshop are:

  • No need to be an expert to teach something
  • Limit unnecessary options
  • Hand out printed credentials
  • Consider network timeouts, maybe do the actions from a controller node

What Does “Production Ready” Really Mean for a Kubernetes Cluster?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjSiZgGdRqk

TL;DR: There are many possible definitions, you should have one.

The speaker went through several aspects, be it High Availability (HA), single point of failure, safe application of changes, you name it. The summary for me is, that being “production ready” isn’t easy, and even harder if the stakeholders have no common understanding what it means or costs. To get a feeling if your Kubernetes goes out of sync with what is commonly accepted, the conformance test suite is helpful: https://github.com/cncf/k8s-conformance.

Prometheus Monitoring Mixins: Using Jsonnet to Package Together Dashboards, Alerts and Exporters

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7-DtFfsL6E

Jsonnet is a domain specific language (DSL) concerned with JSON configuration. Prometheus Dashboards, for example, are just big JSON objects. This is awesome if you want to store them in your Github project or want to share it with others. The downside of JSON is, that you cannot have variables or control structures or anything which can increase maintainability. Jsonnet allows you to more easily share your JSON configuration by providing configuration entry points as variables. It can do more that that, have a look at the examples at https://jsonnet.org/. Jsonnet is the base for Ksonnet, a DSL for Kubernetes resources https://ksonnet.io/. This configurability allows the creators of a service to also offer a best practice template with specific configuration extension points.

Kubernetes Runs Anywhere, but Does your Data?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot66g1WzXEU

The most important thing here is the Container Storage Interface (CSI) which helps to abstract the storage back-end and allow data migration https://kubernetes.io/blog/2018/01/introducing-container-storage-interface/. Because, if your data cannot migrate, the migration of your application might be impaired. If you rely on a specific storage back-end, you might be in a vendor lock-in. The concept described in the link before reminds me of the driver concept in the OpenStack Cinder project.

OpenStack SIG Deep Dive

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l03heU_uG1s

With my history of OpenStack, I was wondering what the according special interest group was working on. The project can be found at https://github.com/kubernetes/cloud-provider-openstack and like others SIGs, the enablement of a common set of standards for external cloud providers is one of the goals. The cloud controller manager is still in alpha state at the time of this post: https://kubernetes.io/docs/tasks/administer-cluster/running-cloud-controller/

Multi-Tenancy in Kubernetes: Best Practices Today, and Future Directions

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xygE8DbwJ7c

The session was fully packed with content and I think the speaker could talk about that topic much longer and in-depth than the 35 minute limit allowed him to.

The first and important thing is, that you need to define multi-tenancy when you talk about it. For example, Kubernetes doesn’t care about application internal multi-tenancy. The other cases could be:

  • one tenant per cluster
  • one tenant per Kubernetes namespace
  • tenant specific nodes

Especially the multi-tenancy per namespace, which can be seen as semi-trusted within a company, could be enough. Role Based Access Control (RBAC) can already do a lot here.

As pods can talk to each other too, the network policy is a fine grained mechanism which could help your problem.

The scheduler related features also can help you to isolate workload from each other, for example tains and tolerations https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/configuration/taint-and-toleration/ as well as affinity and anti-affinity https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/configuration/assign-pod-node/.

A work in progress are security profiles, but I didn’t find a spec for it.

Event Recap

It was a great conference with fantastic content and speakers. The room sizes were perfect. I always found a seat and didn’t have to fall back to another session. The conference center also had a reasonable size, so that the 10 minute window to get to the next session was enough time. The lunch, coffee and snacks were plenty. Everything was well organized. The only thing to complain about was the lack of power supplies.

The whole event, and the way the people speak about Kubernetes, reminded me of my first OpenStack experiences 3 years ago, where the project was at its peak of the hype cycle. Don’t get me wrong, Kubernetes (and OpenStack for that matter) is a great project which solves a specific problem space very well, but I’m convinced that the hype cycle is inevitable, and it might me reasonable to remind ourselves that Kubernetes is just another tool in the toolbox where you need to know how and when to apply it, and when another tool might be more appropriate.

The sponsors room.

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