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How to tackle container orchestration challenges

Container orchestration brings many benefits, like improved productivity and security, but before those advantages can be realized, IT teams must overcome several hurdles.

Container orchestration is an automated process that organizes the functions of containerized, modular components to build an application's infrastructure. This process automates container scheduling, deployment, scaling, monitoring, management and networking.

A container is a lightweight, executable application that isolates the applications from the environments in which they run. It comprises the necessary OS libraries and dependencies, such as executables, libraries and configuration files, to run an application in any environment.

Key benefits of container orchestration include the following:

  • automation
  • resilience
  • better productivity
  • improved security
  • lower costs
  • simplified operations

How does container orchestration work?

There are several methodologies for container orchestration based on which tool admins use. Container orchestration tools communicate with a user-created YAML or JSON file that outlines the application configuration. The configuration file enables the tools to retrieve container images, create a network between them, store log data and mount storage volumes.

Container orchestration tools also automate how containers are deployed in clusters, as well as identify the best host. Once a host is allocated, the orchestration tool manages the container throughout its life span using preset requirements.

The problems: Challenges of container orchestration

Container image security

Containers are built via reusable images. It is possible to reuse only some of their components, rather than build a new image from scratch. However, be aware that code, images and their dependencies are vulnerable to security threats. To mitigate this, implement strict scanning to determine security vulnerabilities. Admins should include a security mechanism in the CI pipeline, such as scanning code for vulnerabilities as a pre-scan job throughout the CI cycle.

Choose the right container technology

While container adoption has increased, a container tool's ecosystem has proliferated as well. Docker is not the only container platform, despite all the hype surrounding it. How should admins determine which container technology is best for their company?

Select a container platform that is compliant with the server's underlying OS. As an example, to deploy applications on Linux, consider Docker or Linux-VServer.

Selecting the right container tool is not easy. While choosing the right container technology for an organization might seem challenging, it is not an impossible task. Evaluate each tool, and choose the one that best meets the needs of the organization.

Ownership

It might be a challenge to determine who should oversee container orchestration. While the development team writes the code deployed into the containers, the operations team manages the deployed containers. DevOps can help bridge this gap successfully and connect these two teams.

Security concerns

A primary container orchestration concern is security. Container ecosystems are significantly more complex than other infrastructures. Developers should be security-conscious and ensure they protect the runtime and all components of their IT organization's technology stack.

Containers present several security threats to the cloud infrastructure. Here are a few issues to keep in mind:

  • Contrary to VMs, containers share the host OS on which they run. If admins don't configure and maintain the settings appropriately, both the container and its host are exposed to security threats.
  • While container orchestration automation has its benefits, it adds to the complexity because the attack surface might increase.

That said, container orchestration platforms are not for securing containers. Their primary purpose is to orchestrate containers. Nevertheless, container orchestration is a critical component of overall container security posture.

An organization's approach to container orchestration helps IT admins determine the safety of their organization's environment and the likelihood of a breach spreading from one container to the whole cluster.

Additionally, a container orchestration strategy has a significant effect on the architecture used to deploy and manage containers and their environmental configurations.

Cultural issues

Cultural challenge is another concern admins must track and address. It should come as no surprise that culture is often at the crux of many technical challenges in the DevOps space. Container orchestration is complicated, as it requires heightened transparency and responsibility.

If an organization wants to be successful in adopting containerized workloads, there should be open-mindedness; teams must be willing to accept shared responsibility and short feedback cycles.

The panacea: Design a secure container orchestration strategy

Container runtimes

A container runtime is a software component that runs containers on a host OS. Users might be able to use security benefits that aren't available with the standard runtimes by choosing a container orchestration strategy and a containerized architecture with an emphasis on security.

Container isolation

This is the most critical factor that determines to what extent an IT organization's architecture and orchestrator should isolate containers. The optimal plan finds the right balance between too much and too little isolation. If containers cannot share and exchange data over the network, container application deployments pose a challenge.

For example, isolation is a concern if an application is built on a microservices architecture. Each microservice might deploy in a container and require communication with other containers. Conversely, too little isolation between containers invites security problems.

Third-party plugins

Third-party plugins are another key consideration for securing container architecture. There are certain orchestration platforms, such as Kubernetes, that use plugins for data and network management, for example. And third-party plugins can provide comparable, or even superior, monitoring and visibility features compared to built-in tools.

On the contrary, other orchestration platforms, like Amazon Elastic Container Service, adopt a less modular architecture: Users are constrained to built-in tools with limited scope.

Container orchestration is especially critical to manage dynamic microservices architectures for enterprise-level applications and is the logical next step in DevOps adoption. Once users are aware of the challenges and know how to combat them, they can reap the benefits of containerization.

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