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Kubernetes and Rancher are both open source solutions for working on containers. However, they aren’t alternative solutions. The first one is a container orchestration technology, while the second allows users to manage multiple Kubernetes’ clusters more efficiently. How exactly do they differ, and how do they complement each other? Read our comparison of Kubernetes vs. Rancher to find out.

As Rancher is not obligatory for those who work with Kubernetes on a daily basis, many developers don’t even know exactly how it differs from the popular container orchestration platform. Is it an alternative solution? Or is it maybe something completely different? The fact is that combining these two can improve your productivity and make your work easier. Read more to learn if it is really “Kubernetes vs. Rancher” or maybe more like “Kubernetes and Rancher” and what is the optimal number of clusters to get started with Rancher.

What workloads do businesses run on Kubernetes?

If you haven’t started with Kubernetes yet, you are probably curious how it can enhance your business reality and how other companies are leveraging this platform on a daily basis. Check out this report on the state of workloads adoption on containers and Kubernetes from Red Hat if you want to learn more about Kubernetes’s business applications1. It may be rather surprising that one of the workloads that was supposedly the least appropriate to be put in containers is in fact one of the most often hosted – databases and data caches. According to the report, 80% of respondents said that they are using Kubernetes this way. Although the popularity of such an approach may be unexpected, nowadays Kuberenetes is stable and reliable enough to handle this type of workload. 

Businesses tend to relocate their existing workloads and also expand into new ones, often related to AI, ML, advanced analytics and data management. Data ingestion tools were the second most popular workloads mentioned in the Red Hat survey, which is quite understandable considering the great interest in Big Data in recent years. 66% of users declared that they are deploying popular solutions such as Apache Kafka or Apache Spark. A bit more than a half of the respondents deal with AI or ML workloads with Kubernetes. The number of users that run AI-related workloads is growing extremely fast – according to the authors of the survey, such workloads just began to show up about three years ago, and now more than half of the survey participants are actually running them. 

What is Kubernetes?

In the Cloud Native Computing Foundation 2021 annual survey2, last year, 96% of the respondents declared evaluating of using Kubernetes on a daily basis. It is certainly a world leader among the container orchestration solutions available worldwide. Its users can run containerize workloads across multiple public clouds and hybrid cloud environments efficiently and easily. It is a flexible, scalable platform with exceptional scheduling capabilities. Though it is performative, its main focus is on managing resources within a single cluster. Still, it remains the most popular solution of this type.

The most important advantages of using Kubernetes: 

  • Scaling is easier in Kubernetes compared to traditional applications hosted on virtual machines.
  • Users have good control over cluster density and autoscaling, so they can keep an eye on how resources are being used. 
  • Kubernetes doesn’t leave any nodes incomplete. If a node failure occurs, pods (the smallest deployable objects in Kubernetes) will be automatically rescheduled to other nodes. 

What is Rancher? 

If you haven’t heard much about Rancher yet, it is about time you learn more. This platform has been designed in order to manage multiple Kubernetes clusters. If you need to manage Kubernetes clusters in large environments, you will certainly appreciate it. Rancher simplifies various Kubernetes-related operations such as, for example, cluster provisioning, centralized security management or monitoring workloads with other tools. It seems like a lot already, but Rancher also provides users with a big catalog of helm charts, which are helpful when defining, installing and upgrading even the most complex Kubernetes applications.

Some benefits of using Rancher that you should know about:

  • You can leverage Rancher to create new clusters and add those that already exist to the new ones. 
  • This platform introduces the concept of projects – this allows easier management of the namespaces (which are objects which partition a single Kubernetes cluster into multiple virtual clusters).
  • You also have better control over configuring user permissions (you can configure them per project across clusters), which increases the security of your projects.
  • There is no need for updating a YAML file in order to deploy workloads. You can simply use Rancher UI for that purpose. 
  • Users can create notifications and move cluster logs to different backends if they think it best.

Kubernetes vs. Rancher – the most important differences

The main and only difference to point out in our comparison of Kubernetes vs. Rancher is that they serve totally different purposes. You can’t really use Rancher instead of Kubernetes – it is actually just a solution that makes it easier to work with Kubernetes and its clusters on a massive scale. Kubernetes, on the other hand, enables users to manage containers organized under a cluster of virtual or physical machines.

When you understand their functions, you will realize that you can use them both together to increase your efficiency. Let’s learn how Rancher and Kubernetes can work in tandem.

Kubernetes vs. Rancher or Kubernetes AND Rancher – can they be complementary? 

Yes, instead of focusing on a comparison of Kubernetes vs. Rancher, you should rather think of what level of efficiency can be achieved if you use them both – as they are, in fact, complementary. DevOps teams quite often choose to leverage the potential of this combination, as Rancher is quite helpful when operating multiple Kubernetes clusters.

What exactly does Rancher make easier and how? It simply helps automate and scale tasks across multiple Kubernetes clusters. These tasks can include:

  • Deploying application stacks.
  • Auditing security policies. 
  • Optimizing resources, etc.

So, for example, let’s assume we’re running a medium sized company with 5-6 departments. One cluster is only accessible to one department, while another can be used by a totally different department. When an organization is only dealing with a few clusters, configuring the access to a cluster can be done manually in a short amount of time. Now, imagine you’re running an actual enterprise that requires hundreds of Kubernetes clusters… And that is precisely where Rancher comes into play to help you deal with this problem. 

Is combining Rancher and Kubernetes the right approach for you?

Managing too many clusters without the proper tool may be difficult and time-consuming. Many organizations (if not most of them) keep production and staging workloads in separate Kubernetes clusters and, of course, it is very common that DevOps teams have more than one production distributed across many geographical regions. The number of clusters reflects an individual company’s needs, so it often happens that DevOps teams really require additional solutions, such as Rancher, to deal with workloads more efficiently. 

Would you like to start using Kubernetes, and you want to know everything there is to know before implementation? Or perhaps, you’d like to enhance your workload management by combining Rancher with Kubernetes, but you don’t know where to start? Contact us to learn more.

1  State of workloads adoption on containers and Kubernetes, https://www.redhat.com/en/resources/state-workloads-containers-kubernetes-analyst-paper

2 The year Kubernetes crossed the chasm, https://www.cncf.io/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/CNCF-AR_FINAL-edits-15.2.21.pdf


  • Tomasz Stachera

    Tomasz is a Kubernetes Team Leader and CI/CD expert, evangelizing DevOps culture in DS Stream. For our customers, Tomasz is delivering end-to-end MLOps solutions on GCP and architecting Airflow as a Service mutli-cloud product. Never stopping to learn new technologies and spreading them in the organization. In previous life was Barça and Premier League fan, currently all free time spending on preparing a 2-year-old son to be a Robert Lewandowski's successor.

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