August 30, 2022

10 open source Kubernetes tools you need to know

Sheldon Lo-A-Njoe
Sheldon Lo-A-Njoe
Senior Solutions Architect

Kubernetes is a powerful orchestration system, but there are many things it can’t do natively. It doesn’t have a software package management system. It lacks built-in monitoring software. It can’t detect configuration mistakes that may create security risks. The Kubernetes dashboard is pretty basic. And so on.

When managing your Kubernetes clusters, you've probably noticed that there is a lot of functionality that you'd love to have, but that Kubernetes doesn't provide natively. Fortunately, there's a solution: Third-party K8s management tools that fill gaps in Kubernetes's native functionality and help you build a complete stack.

Keep reading for a look at the ten most important cost-free tools you’ll probably want to use to simplify your Kubernetes management experience.

1. Simplify package deployment with Helm

Perhaps no Kubernetes tool is more important than Helm, the open source package management system. Helm lets you install Kubernetes software using packages, rather than having to deploy applications with kubectl. Plus, in addition to installing software, Helm can automate the processes of updating and removing software from a cluster. In other words, Helm is like apt, snap or dnf, but for Kubernetes.


2. Test Kubernetes on your laptop with Minikube

If you’re just learning Kubernetes, or you want to set up a local environment where you can test a deployment, Minikube is a Kubernetes tool you’ll want to know. Minikube lets you create Kubernetes clusters on a local machine running Linux, Windows or macOS. Other Kubernetes distributions, like K3s and MicroK8s, offer similar functionality, but Minikube has the advantage of being the “official” lightweight Kubernetes variant because it is developed under the auspices of the Kubernetes project itself.


3. Monitor clusters with Prometheus

While there are a variety of solutions for monitoring and observing Kubernetes, a popular and simple open source choice is Prometheus. Prometheus is not the most powerful Kubernetes observability tool`out there (other popular options include Grafana and Kibana), but it’s free, and it’s useful if you need just basic monitoring and metrics collection for your clusters.


4. Streamline YAML management with Kustomize

You don’t need to use Kubernetes very long before you start to feel like you’re drowning in YAML files. Kustomize is a Kubernetes configuration management tool that makes YAML-based settings easier to work with by overlaying YAML artifacts without changing the underlying files. In this way, Kustomize simplifies the task of updating and customizing applications running in Kubernetes.


5.Track your clusters with Kubewatch

Wouldn’t it be great if you could track the status of your Kubernetes clusters right from Slack? With Kubewatch, you can. Kubewatch can be configured to send alerts about Kubernetes events to various external communication and collaboration platforms, including but not limited to Slack. Although Kubewatch is no substitute for a full-fledged Kubernetes observability tool, it’s a handy solution for making major alerts more visible to your team.


6. Grab logs quickly using Kubetail

One thing that Kubernetes doesn’t make especially easy, at least via its native tooling, is accessing log files. You can use kubectl logs or the Kubernetes dashboard to view logs for individual Pods, but you have to repeat the command for each Pod you want to monitor.

Kubetail solves this problem by letting you tail logs for multiple Pods with a single command. That may not seem like a big deal, but the time and effort Kubetail saves can add up over time if you tail logs frequently.

That said, when you have not only dozens of pods, but dozens of nodes in hundreds of clusters, this is impossible to scale, so you'll want a more efficient log management solution, like the EFK stack, Splunk or Datadog.

7. Manage traces with Jaeger

You probably know that logs, metrics and traces are the three “pillars” of observability. And you may also know how to get log files and metrics from your clusters, since they are readily available within most Kubernetes distributions.

Distributed traces, however, are a different story. You can’t simply run a few kubectl commands to do a trace. But you can use Jaeger, an open source distributed tracing system that lets you generate traces within Kubernetes and include them in observability workflows.


8. Add serverless functions to your clusters with Knative

Why settle for running just containers in Kubernetes? With Knative, you can also use Kubernetes to host serverless functions and perform event-driven computing. In other words, you can turn your clusters into something approximating AWS Lambda or Azure Functions – except your serverless code runs in an environment that you fully control, giving you cost, security and configuration advantages that you may lack in a cloud-based serverless computing service.


9. Run VMs with KubeVirt

Speaking of running workloads other than containers on Kubernetes, did you know you can also host VMs in your clusters? If not, check out KubeVirt, a virtualization API for Kubernetes. In essence, KubeVirt lets you deploy and manage VMs just like any traditional Pod.


10. Set up a service mesh with Istio

You don’t need a service mesh to use Kubernetes. But deploying a service mesh – like Istio, one of the most popular meshes today – within your Kubernetes environment can help to give you a handle over managing all the traffic flowing within the various networks that unite your nodes, Pods and clusters. Istio also offers security and observability features, too.

And if you don't like Istio, there are other service mesh options for Kubernetes, like Envoy and Linkerd.



From simplifying Kubernetes software installation with Helm, to monitoring with Prometheus, to turning Kubernetes into a serverless computing environment with Knative, and beyond, there are a variety of ways to leverage third-party Kubernetes tools to make Kubernetes management even more powerful than it is out-of-the-box.

In this blog post, we've covered mainstream Kubernetes tools. We'll cover lesser-known Kubernetes tools that you may have overlooked in a future post.

You can manage each of these tools separately. But to simplify the process, consider Spectro Cloud Palette. Palette is an easy way to wrap these elements up into repeatable profiles so you have them all deployed when you build your clusters. Learn more about Palette here.

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