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Compare Rancher vs. OpenShift vs. Tanzu for Kubernetes

Kubernetes management platforms simplify container orchestration at scale, but each has unique pros and cons. See how SUSE Rancher, Red Hat OpenShift and VMware Tanzu stack up.

To enable efficient operation of your Kubernetes environments at scale, you need automated management. That's where Kubernetes operations management comes into play.

Kubernetes operations management involves using tools and practices to streamline deployment configuration tasks and monitor performance levels to scale as needed. This practice also ensures infrastructure components are chosen based on select hardware elements for high availability post-deployment along with resilience during tough times.

Operations management requirements for Kubernetes

Organizational requirements vary when it comes to effectively managing these complex systems. But regardless of the specifics, there are some core principles everyone should adhere to:

  • Cluster provisioning and management. Ensure appropriate infrastructure component selection before setting up clusters so that high availability remains optimal throughout all stages post-deployment. Configure components properly with appropriate redundancy in place.
  • Application deployment and management. Manage application manifests proficiently by upgrading, handling rollbacks and managing entire application lifecycles to ensure optimal performance levels according to organizational requirements.

To effectively manage your IT infrastructure today using Kubernetes requires a strong focus on three core areas in your operations management plan: monitoring and logging; scalability and autoscaling; and security and access control.

Monitoring and logging involve closely monitoring the health and performance of your Kubernetes clusters while analyzing metrics and logs for potential issues that could harm system uptime. Early detection enables teams to address problems before they develop into major issues.

Scalability is also key as your organization's workload expands over time. Effective management involves using tools such as autoscaling to automatically adjust resource allocation based on demand, ensuring performance optimization without overspending.

Security and access control must be part of any Kubernetes operations management strategy. Implement security and access control policies, secure communication channels between nodes and pods running within a cluster or across other clusters, manage secrets correctly, and adhere to all other security best practices.

Diagram of components of the Kubernetes ecosystem, including open source frameworks, public clouds, tools, security, load balancing, monitoring and logging, and management.
Operations management platforms such as Rancher, OpenShift and Tanzu are a key part of the Kubernetes ecosystem.

Evaluate Rancher vs. OpenShift vs. Tanzu

Managing Kubernetes clusters can be daunting, but platforms such as SUSE Rancher, Red Hat OpenShift and VMware Tanzu simplify Kubernetes management with various features aimed at improving cluster provisioning and deployment capabilities.

Each platform has its own approach to managing Kubernetes clusters, with specific features geared toward addressing different business needs. Actual functionality can vary based on version and deployment architecture for each platform. In addition, these platforms are continuously evolving and introducing new features, and the capabilities of each platform can be customized and extended to meet the specific needs of each organization's environment.

Cluster management capabilities

The Rancher tool set has an easy-to-use interface that lets you quickly create and manage clusters across various infrastructure providers, including on-premises, edge and cloud environments. Rancher's administrative capabilities enable you to monitor several different clusters from one central location through its unified dashboard. You get total control over the entire lifecycle of each cluster without hopping between multiple dashboards.

What sets this tool apart are its added features, such as the ability to create cluster templates or catalogs that significantly speed up provisioning thanks to predefined configurations for your team's use. In addition, Rancher provides an efficient process for upgrading your Kubernetes clusters with minimal disruption, permitting administrators to schedule updates as needed.

OpenShift is designed specifically for enterprise-level Kubernetes environments. It offers tools such as the OpenShift Container Platform and installer that prioritize ease of use while adhering to best practices in cloud computing architecture.

In addition, OpenShift emphasizes streamlining workflows for developers, with built-in CI/CD pipelines, Source-to-Image (S2I) containerized application builds and deployment workflows that considerably reduce setup time. Integration across Red Hat's suite of security tools, such as Advanced Cluster Security, helps IT teams meet compliance requirements.

Tanzu takes a more flexible approach to cluster management, primarily focused on maintaining high availability in clusters across multiple environments. Tools such as Tanzu Kubernetes Grid (TKG) and Mission Control make cluster-related tasks more manageable at scale while keeping management consistent across clouds and on-premises infrastructure.

Unlike OpenShift, security compliance isn't Tanzu's primary focus. But Tanzu is a great choice for companies seeking a flexible option for managing their Kubernetes clusters at scale, especially when it comes to easily deploying clusters across multiple infrastructure providers.

TKG and Tanzu Mission Control not only cater to enterprise needs such as governance, security, observability, and integration with VMware vSphere and NSX security and networking features, but they also support application lifecycle management through tools such as VMware Aria Operations for Applications.

Deployment and application management

One thing that makes Rancher unique in this category is its user-friendly interface, which lets you manage Kubernetes clusters and deploy applications easily. Rancher supports effectively managing application lifecycles as well as smoothly rolling out updates, thanks to automated processes that come in handy during deployments.

Rancher also offers seamless integration with the popular package manager Helm. Rancher's built-in Helm support allows users to deploy apps using predefined templates available in Helm charts.

OpenShift significantly simplifies development workflows with its S2I capabilities, which enable developers to build containerized applications from scratch. Moreover, OpenShift can integrate tightly with other CI/CD tools such as Jenkins or GitOps workflows, effectively automating the application development lifecycle.

Improving the efficiency of deployment processes is quick work for developers using OpenShift's pipeline-based workflows. The platform's reusable application templates enable consistent deployments by providing a defined state of an app as well as related dependencies.

With Tanzu, VMware Application Catalog takes it one step further. Users can quickly deploy popular applications and databases thanks to its curated offerings. For those looking for greater control over managing traffic, observability and security at the service level in Kubernetes environments, Tanzu offers service mesh capabilities through VMware Tanzu Service Mesh.

Similarly, Tanzu's Buildpacks, service brokers and scaling capabilities simplify the complexity of managing modern applications. Using Buildpacks in container image creation can streamline development by automatically detecting an app's language, framework and dependencies.

Monitoring and logging

Each of the three platforms offers unique monitoring and logging capabilities. Though each platform has default monitoring and logging built in, features can differ based on version and configurations. If further functionality is needed, organizations can still add extra monitoring and logging utilities.

With built-in monitoring capabilities powered by Prometheus and Grafana integrations, Rancher supports configuration and visualization of metrics collected from Kubernetes clusters and applications. In addition, it comes equipped with pre-configured Grafana dashboards for critical insights into cluster health status and resource utilization. Log collection and visualization via integration with tools such as Elasticsearch, Fluentd and Kibana -- known as the EFK stack -- is supported in Rancher.

OpenShift comes pre-installed with Prometheus Alertmanager and Grafana integrated into its monitoring stack. This enables users to monitor clusters' operations metrics as well as those of specific applications running in the environment using pre-configured dashboards.

In addition, OpenShift allows for customization or extension when it comes to monitoring specifications across your cluster. For log management functionality, OpenShift integrates with Elasticsearch, Fluentd and Kibana to offer centralized log management services that enable users to search through all applications running within the cluster.

VMware offers VMware Aria Operations for Applications, formerly VMware Tanzu Observability by Wavefront, for monitoring Kubernetes clusters. Real-time metrics and data analytics dashboards are some features included in this offering.

Other features include automatic discovery and real-time monitoring of Kubernetes components and running applications alike. Using Tanzu with Elasticsearch, Fluentd and Kibana gives users a simple way to collect all the logs they need for analysis in one place via Kubernetes clusters.


Addressing changing workloads for containerized applications requires scaling mechanisms that are both flexible and reliable. This is where container orchestration platforms such as Rancher, OpenShift and Tanzu come in handy.

Be aware that scalability functionality and autoscaling integration might depend on each platform's version and configuration variants. Infrastructure provider availability and the underlying Kubernetes distribution also play a role in terms of available features.

In Rancher, configuring horizontal pod autoscaling (HPA) lets users increase the number of pods when CPU usage reaches a certain threshold or custom metrics are met. This can be conveniently done on Rancher using either the UI or Kubernetes manifests. Furthermore, integrated infrastructure providers such as AWS and Microsoft Azure let users implement rules-based cluster autoscaling according to custom metrics or CPU usage.

OpenShift offers native HPA for users looking to autoscale their pod numbers as workload demands fluctuate over time. By harnessing the power of the Kubernetes Cluster Autoscaler integration with OpenShift orchestration tools, you can also enable automatic scaling of your underlying clusters based on changes in resource utilization.

Tanzu makes it simple to adjust your pod numbers automatically while monitoring CPU usage and other relevant metrics through its HPA feature. With integration into Kubernetes' native HPA functionality, application replica count adjustments come naturally when responding promptly to those fluctuating demands. In addition, the cluster autoscaling capabilities offered by VMware vSphere, Azure and AWS allow for automatic node adjustments based on resource utilization metrics configured by specific rules.


Kubernetes environments require tight security controls to ensure organizational data remains safe. Security measures are paramount for Rancher, OpenShift and Tanzu, but the three platforms have different approaches to access control and capabilities.

Rancher uses role-based access control (RBAC) to deliver granular access control policies for users or groups set by administrators. To provide an enterprise-ready Kubernetes environment that's both secure and practical for development teams, Rancher incorporates several core features.

These features include fine-grained permissions management for cluster resources and namespaces, multi-tenancy, and cluster isolation capabilities to create safe and separate environments for multiple teams or applications. Rancher's secure secret management functionality also ensures sensitive information, such as API keys and passwords, is kept private.

OpenShift also offers valuable security functionality, with RBAC capabilities enabling administrators to manage user permissions by defining roles and service accounts within the cluster environment. Further bolstering security best practices are OpenShift's security context constraints; pods cannot run with privileged permissions, ensuring a secure execution environment.

Tanzu offers a variety of tools geared toward safeguarding customer data and maintaining compliance guidelines. One such feature is pod security policies, which let administrators establish rules for specific pods. These policies set limits on container capabilities, host access and privileged operations. RBAC in Tanzu platforms such as TKG and Tanzu Mission Control further bolsters security by permitting administrators to specify user permissions at a granular level through roles and role bindings.

To ensure regulatory compliance, Tanzu platforms include an auditing system that closely tracks activities within the environment. This feature provides critical information about the state of the environment, enabling administrators to make informed decisions about any necessary changes.

About the author
Saqib Jang is founder and principal consultant at Margalla Communications, a market analysis and consulting firm with expertise in cloud infrastructure and services. He is a marketing and business development executive with more than 20 years' experience in setting product and marketing strategy and delivering infrastructure services for cloud and enterprise markets.

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