Rejected talk proposal: Design at scale: OpenStack versus Kubernetes

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This proposal was submitted for pyconau 2018. It wasn’t accepted, but given I’d put the effort into writing up the proposal I’ll post it here in case its useful some other time. The oblique references to OpensStack are because pycon had an “anonymous” review system in 2018, and I was avoiding saying things which directly identified me as the author.


OpenStack and Kubernetes solve very similar problems. Yet they approach those problems in very different ways. What can we learn from the different approaches taken? The differences aren’t just technical though, there are some interesting social differences too.

OpenStack and Kubernetes solve very similar problems – at their most basic level they both want to place workloads on large clusters of machines, and ensure that those placement decisions are as close to optimal as possible. The two projects even have similar approaches to the fundamentals – they are both orchestration systems at their core, seeking to help existing technologies run at scale instead of inventing their own hypervisors or container run times.

Yet they have very different approaches to how to perform these tasks. OpenStack takes a heavily centralised and monolithic approach to orchestration, whilst Kubernetes has a less stateful and more laissez faire approach. Some of that is about early technical choices and the heritage of the projects, but some of it is also about hubris and a desire to tightly control. To be honest I lived the OpenStack experience so I feel I should be solidly in that camp, but the Kubernetes approach is clever and elegant. There’s a lot to like on the Kubernetes side of the fence.

Its increasingly common that at some point you’ll encounter one of these systems, as neither seems likely to go away in the next few years. Understanding some of the basics of their operation is therefore useful, as well as being interesting at a purely hypothetical level.

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