If you're looking to run Kubernetes at the edge and notice that managed solutions aren't quite meeting your requirements, you may be exploring bare-metal as an option. This document helps you find the best available option for your use case when configuring Kubernetes clusters at the edge.
This article is not an exhaustive comparison; rather, it presents potential paths for making decisions based on major qualifiers between common options.
Decision tree for bare-metal Kubernetes at the edge
Reference the following tree when deciding between the options presented below for bare-metal Kubernetes at the edge.
MicroK8s: Conformant "Low Ops" Kubernetes by Canonical
K3s: Certified Kubernetes distribution built for IoT and edge computing
kubeadm: Kubernetes tool for creating ground-up Kubernetes clusters; good for standard compute (Linux/Windows)
Low Ops refers to the decreased cost of operations when some operational tasks are abstracted or made easier, like auto updates or simplified upgrades.
MicroK8s by Canonical
MicroK8s is delivered as a single snap package that can be easily installed on Linux machines with snap support. Alternative installs are available for Windows, macOS, and raspberry PI/ARM. When installed, MicroK8s creates a single-node cluster, which can be managed with the MicroK8s tooling. It's packaged with its own kubectl, and certain add-ons may be enabled (for example, helm, dns, ingress, metallb, and more). Multinode, Windows nodes, and high-availability (HA) scenarios are also supported.
There are various resource requirements depending on where you want to run MicroK8s. Reference the product docs for minimum resource requirements. For example:
Ubuntu: 4-GB RAM, 20-GB disk space
Windows: 4-GB RAM, 40-GB disk space
Windows workloads are only supported for MicroK8s clusters with Calico CNI.
Each node on a MicroK8s multinode cluster requires its own environment to work in, whether that is a separate VM or container on a single machine or a different machine on the same network.
Difficulties may crop up when running MicroK8s on some ARM hardware. Reference the docs for potential remedies.
K3s by Rancher
K3s is a lightweight distribution of Kubernetes. K3s is deployed as a single binary and comes with embedded tools such as kubectl and ctr, similar to MicroK8s.
The binary is less than 100 MB, but there are still minimum resource requirements depending on your scenario. Reference the docs for minimum resource requirements.
SQLite3 is the default storage system, though other options are supported.
Windows nodes aren't currently supported for K3s.
Kubeadm is a plain vanilla installation of Kubernetes from the ground up.
Requires 2 GiB (gibibytes) or more of RAM per machine.
Requires at least 2 CPUs on control-plane node.
The control-plane node must be a machine running a deb/rpm-compatible Linux OS.
The Kubernetes version and version skew support policy applies to kubeadm and to Kubernetes overall. Check that policy to learn about what versions of Kubernetes and kubeadm are supported.
When it comes to automation and management of the provisioning of bare-metal clusters, there are a couple of options to explore: Ansible and Metal3.
Ansible provides an easy way to manage remote resources and therefore is a prime candidate to manage and join remote nodes to a Kubernetes cluster. All you need is the Ansible binary, running on a Linux machine, and SSH on remote machines. This method provides a flexible mechanism to run arbitrary scripts on target machines, which means you could use Ansible with any of the tools mentioned above.
Metal3 takes a different approach to solve this problem by utilizing similar concepts to Cluster API. You'll need to instantiate an ephemeral cluster to provision and manage bare-metal clusters using native Kubernetes objects. At the time of writing, Metal3 uses kubeadm and therefore doesn't support lightweight Kubernetes distributions.
For management beyond cluster provisioning, consider learning about Azure Arc–enabled clusters to manage your clusters in Azure.
For more information, see the following articles: