There are many Kubernetes management tools available today. These tools can vary in complexity, functionality, and price.
Finding the right solution for a specific use case can be challenging with so many options. These tools cover Kubernetes cluster management categories, including cluster provisioning and application Installation to monitoring and cost management.
This article will explore the different free and open-source Kubernetes management tools available for common use cases and help you make an informed decision by detailing the strengths and drawbacks of each tool in our list.
Kubernetes management tools summary
The table below categorizes and summarizes the Kubernetes management tools we will review in this article.
|Written in Go by Hashicorp, Terraform is a declarative, Industry standard tool for creating and managing Infrastructure as Code (IaC).
|A declarative API-driven control plane for Kubernetes that allows you to provision and manage your infrastructure in a modern, Kubernetes-based fashion.
|A developer-friendly, versioned package manager for deploying Kubernetes applications.
|A declarative GitOps Kubernetes controller that continuously deploys your applications and Kubernetes resources.
|A self-managed Hashicorp tool that allows identity-based secret and encryption management.
|A mechanism for defining Custom Resource Definition (CRD) based rules enforced by a general-purpose policy engine.
|A flexible tool for Kubernetes networking that manages communication between applications.
|A Kubernetes-based Event Driven Autoscaler (KEDA) that enables Kubernetes autoscaling opportunities.
|A convenient collection of tools and manifests for monitoring, dashboarding, and alerting on Kubernetes.
|Created by Grafana, Loki is a scalable Kubernetes log aggregation tool.
|Cost monitoring and allocation
|A tool for Kubernetes cost-visibility and management.
Kubernetes management tools by category
In the sections below, we’ll explore each Kubernetes management tool in our list in more detail.
Kubernetes cluster provisioning tools enable infrastructure as code (IaC) and streamline the process of setting up clusters.
Written in Go by Hashicorp, Terraform is a declarative, Industry standard tool for creating and managing Infrastructure as Code (IaC).
Terraform is probably the most widely used tool for managing Infrastructure as Code. As well as provisioning Cloud infrastructure, you can also use Terraform to create managed Kubernetes clusters with ease on AWS, Azure or GCP. If you would like to install Kubernetes yourself on-premises or on bare-metal virtual machines (VMs) in the Cloud, you will need another tool to provision your Kubernetes clusters, such as Kubeadm or KOPS.
|✅ Cloud agnostic: you can use terraform with any Cloud provider.
|📖 Applying Terraform changes locally can be error-prone. It’s best to use an automated pipeline to Plan and Apply your Terraform, such as Atlantis.
|✅ Reliably and quickly deploy Infrastructure.
|📖 No API, Terraform is a Command Line Interface (CLI)
|✅ Terraform’s modularisation can abstract away environment-specific variables and be re-used multiple times.
|📖 Any manual changes to Cloud Infrastructure via console or API will need to be replicated in Terraform code or face Infrastructure drift repercussions.
|✅ Pre-built, publicly available modules.
A declarative API-driven control plane for Kubernetes allowing you to provision and manage your infrastructure in a modern, Kubernetes-based fashion.
Crossplane, a Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) project, is frequently compared to Terraform. However, while Terraform is a declarative command-line tool, Crossplane is an extension of the Kubernetes API. It extends a cluster’s capabilities to provision, manage, and orchestrate cloud infrastructure, services, and applications.
The ability to deploy infrastructure alongside your Kubernetes YAML is remarkable. However, unless you’re using Kubernetes at scale, Crossplane may not be the tool for you yet.
|✅ Always-on control loops (think Kubernetes operators) that watch and correct infrastructure configuration, which, unlike Terraform, can’t be circumvented by making changes manually.
|📖 It doesn’t make sense to use if you are not using Kubernetes or want to deploy other infrastructure unrelated to Kubernetes.
|✅ Easily enables self-service infrastructure.
|📖 Steeper learning curve if Developers aren’t hands-on with Kubernetes.
|✅ Easy installation with Helm.
|📖 More complexity and abstraction, especially during debugging and troubleshooting.
Comprehensive Kubernetes cost monitoring & optimization
Kubernetes management tools in this category act as Kubernetes package managers.
A developer-friendly, versioned package manager for deploying Kubernetes applications.
Helm is a CNCF graduated project written in Go. Helm allows you to define and deploy Kubernetes applications in versioned, source-controllable packages called ‘Charts’. Charts contain Templates for Kubernetes resources. You need a Helm Chart and a YAML configuration file to make an application release.
|✅ Versioned, self-contained application packages. Helm charts use semantic versioning.
|📖 Error prone when applying configuration files containing variables to templates. Alleviated by running ‘helm validate’ and ‘helm template’ locally or as part of a deployment pipeline.
|✅ Easy application rollbacks
|📖 Slight learning curve and another layer of abstraction.
|✅ Public Charts available for many applications
This category of Kubernetes tools deals with CI/CD pipelines and GitOps.
A declarative GitOps Kubernetes controller that will Continuously Deploy your applications.
GitOps is a set of DevOps practices that uses Git repositories as a single source of truth for declarative infrastructure and application deployment.
|✅ Immutable deployments. ArgoCD keeps your application deployments synchronized with your Git repository.
|📖 Easy to cause havoc through the UI without further RBAC configuration. By default, the basic users are read-only or Admin.
|✅ Allows developers to manage applications without interacting with Kubernetes
Tools in this category are designed to keep sensitive data like API keys safe.
K8s clusters handling 10B daily API calls use KubecostLearn More
A self-managed Hashicorp tool that allows identity-based secret and encryption management.
Vault, like Terraform, is a Hashicorp product that you install and manage yourself, and can be used to manage Kubernetes secrets that can run within Kubernetes or as a standalone. Vault allows you to manage and create secrets and even manage certificates dynamically.
|✅ Secure secret management
|📖 Self-hosted. Although this does have benefits, it also introduces plenty of complexity with backups, Disaster Recovery, and User management.
|✅ Inject secrets directly into Kubernetes pods.
This category of Kubernetes management tools focuses on Kubernetes security policies.
A tool for defining Custom Resource Definition (CRD) based rules enforced by a general-purpose policy engine.
Open Policy Agent (OPA) is an open-source, general-purpose policy engine, again part of the CNCF. OPA Gatekeeper is a Kubernetes-based validating admission webhook that enforces OPA policies on interactions with Kubernetes resources.
For instance, you could enforce that all container definitions require resource requests and limits. If a resource doesn’t meet this specification, OPA Gatekeeper rejects this resource. OPA Gatekeeper will also show any policy violations on existing resources. There is a baseline set of policies you can use as a starting point to build.
|✅ Greater support and adoption than alternatives
|📖 OPA Gatekeeper uses Rego, a specialized programming language that one must learn.
|✅ Policies can be extremely sophisticated
|📖 Capability limited to Validation
|✅ Highly available and scalable
Kubernetes tools in the service mesh category manage inter-app networking.
A flexible tool for Kubernetes networking that manages communication between applications.
A service mesh is a dedicated layer of abstraction that controls service-to-service communication over a network. Istio, another CNCF project on this list of tools, is a service mesh consisting of two parts:
- A control plane, Istiod, manages service discovery, configurations, and certificate management.
- A data plane consisting of an Envoy proxy.
Envoy is a proxy and communication bus for single services and applications and a data plane for large microservice “service mesh” architectures.
|✅ You can extract telemetry data from proxy containers for observability dashboards.
|📖 Added complexity due to an additional infrastructure layer.
|✅ Seamless traffic management.
|📖 Slightly slower application speeds due to using a proxy sidecar.
|✅ Complements and enhances microservice architectures.
|✅ Load balancing and Scaling.
Kubernetes autoscaling tools help streamline how clusters scale up and down based on requirements.
Learn how to manage K8s costs via the Kubecost APIsWATCH 30 MIN YOUTUBE VIDEO
A Kubernetes-based Event Driven Autoscaler (KEDA) that enables Kubernetes autoscaling opportunities.
KEDA serves as a Kubernetes Metrics Server, enabling users to scale Kubernetes workloads based on specific events. KEDA complements and adds more functionality than the native Kubernetes Horizontal Pod Autoscaler (HPA), which only has a limited number of metrics that users can use to perform autoscaling. The HPA also cannot scale a deployment to 0 pods.
Some example use cases include:
- Scaling up the number of Kafka consumers when the consumer group lag metric climbs above a certain threshold.
- Scale pods up in response to RabittMQ queue length
- Scale up in response to AWS Simple Queue Service (SQS) number of messages
|✅ Extended autoscaling functionality
|📖 Slightly more complex to use than native autoscaling options
|✅ Scale down to 0 replicas
Kubernetes management tools in this category enable visibility and observability to help improve cluster uptime and performance.
A convenient collection of tools and manifests for monitoring, dashboarding, and alerting on Kubernetes.
Prometheus is an open-source system monitoring and alerting toolkit, built initially by SoundCloud, now part of the CNCF. If you want metrics and cluster monitoring on Kubernetes, Prometheus is an excellent place to start. Alertmanager integrates with your notification service integration for on-call, such as email, PagerDuty, or OpsGenie. Grafana is a flexible dashboard service that plugs neatly into Prometheus.
Kube-Prometheus-Stack is a handy Helm installation of the Kube-Prometheus library, which includes:
- The Prometheus Operator
- Highly available Prometheus
- Highly available Alertmanager
- Prometheus node-exporter
- Prometheus Adapter for Kubernetes Metrics APIs
In other words, almost everything you need for Kubernetes cluster monitoring in a single Helm chart.
|✅ Convenient, no-hassle installation.
|📖 No integrated solution for Log collection.
|✅ Scrape metrics for any application using Prometheus.
|📖 Needs an extra component for long-term retention.
Created by Grafana, Loki is a scalable Kubernetes log aggregation tool.
Loki is a scalable, highly available, multi-tenant log aggregation solution inspired by Prometheus. Loki doesn’t index the full content of the logs but just a set of labels for each log stream.
Loki has three components:
- The agent, Promtail, sends logs to Loki.
- The server, Loki, stores logs and processes queries.
- Dashboards, Grafana, for visualization.
Hence, the informal name PLG stack, for Promtail, Loki, and Grafana.
|✅ Switch between Metrics and Logs using the same Prometheus labels
|📖 No rich text search capabilities due to lack of full indexing
|✅ Doesn’t fully index log text. Only indexing metadata is cheaper to run.
|📖 Uses its own language for querying logs, called LogQL
|✅ Far simpler and less resource intensive than an alternative deployment of the Elasticsearch/Logstash/Kibana (ELK) stack
Cost monitoring and allocation
Kubernetes cost management tools enable cost visibility and optimization to help you spend more efficiently.
A tool for Kubernetes cost-visibility and management.
Kubecost is a cost-monitoring and optimisation solution for Kubernetes. Its use cases include:
- Cost allocation
- Unified cost monitoring
- Optimization insights
- Cost alerts and governance.
You can install the community edition with a Helm chart and use the free tier for unlimited individual clusters.
|✅ Real-time cost allocation.
|📖 Technical support is only available in Pro and Enterprise tiers.
|✅ 15-day metric retention with free version.
|📖 Free tier has limited data retention, which means that users can only access cost data from the past 15 days.
|✅ Breakdown of monthly cluster cost, deployment resource costs, and cost efficiency.
|📖 Advanced features such as granular cost allocation, detailed reports, and integration with third-party tools are not available in the free tier.
|✅ Generate reports and set alerts when thresholds are crossed.
Comprehensive Kubernetes cost monitoring & optimization
In order to strike a balance between management complexity and feature richness, we have compiled this list of some of the best Kubernetes management tools. Depending on your specific requirements, you can select any or all of these tools to help you create a feature-rich and resilient production-grade Kubernetes environment. By now, you should at least have some ideas of your preferred Kubernetes management tooling options. While using such tools is not mandatory, doing so can simplify your management tasks, save time, and reduce stress.