Is Kubernetes free as open source software?

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adopted and integrated into other tools, services and platforms.

Kubernetes is an open-source container management and orchestration tool maintained by the vendor-neutral Cloud Native Computing Foundation. While tools like Docker provide the engine to build and drive containers, tools like Kubernetes automate their deployment, scaling, and management.

So, is Kubernetes free?

Yes, but no too.

Pure open source Kubernetes is free and can be downloaded from its repository on GitHub. Administrators must build and deploy the Kubernetes version on a local system or cluster, or on a system or cluster in a public cloud, such as AWS, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure.

the last version Kubernetes — version 1.23.4 as of February 2022 at the time of writing — can be downloaded for free. These downloads provide binaries for major architectures or platforms, such as amd64, arm, ppc64le, and s390x. These architectures span operating systems like Darwin, Linux, and Windows.

Additionally, Kubernetes administrators can purchase the free command-line tool, kubectl, which runs commands on Kubernetes clusters. The kubectl tool deploys applications, manages clusters, and accesses logs. Users can To download and install kubectl for Linux, Windows, or macOS via the Kubernetes download webpage.

Although the “pure” distribution of Kubernetes is free to download, open source software still incurs costs. Without professional support, Kubernetes adopters must pay internal staff for help or hire a competent person. The Kubernetes administrator needs detailed working knowledge of building Kubernetes software releases, as well as a keen understanding of software development and deployment pipelines in a Linux environment.

When is Kubernetes not free?

The complexity of orchestrating and automating application containers is often beyond the knowledge or experience of an organization’s IT staff. Companies can turn to paid versions of Kubernetes offered by third-party consultants or integrate the service into other paid platforms to bridge this gap.

Rather than a company deploying Kubernetes in a cloud computing instance, the cloud provider deploys and manages Kubernetes and offers it as a cloud service. Users pay for compute instances and other cloud resources to deploy and support their access to Kubernetes. For example, Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) all provide managed Kubernetes container orchestration services.

Since March 2022, Amazon EKS $0.10 fee per hour for each cluster created by a user through Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), AWS Fargate, and AWS Outposts, the latter being an on-premises option. A single EKS cluster can run multiple applications. Additionally, EC2 users pay for resources, such as compute instances and storage instances needed to create and run Kubernetes worker nodes. Kubernetes, as software, is always free, but cloud resources are not.

Similarly, GKE charges $0.10 per hour for cluster management, as well as per-second charges for associated processor cores, memory, and ephemeral storage. In comparison, AKS is free, and Azure users only pay for the costs of the compute, storage, and monitoring services used to design the cloud application deployment.

EKS and GKE cluster management overhead can be low, but the compute and storage costs associated with running Kubernetes clusters can add up quickly. Cloud users need to assess the service costs associated with Kubernetes and assess the value of those costs for container support.

Other paid versions of Kubernetes abound. For example, Kubernetes is integrated with Red Hat OpenShift, a container application platform designed with an array of cluster management, cluster security, and global registry features. OpenShift Kubernetes cluster services include installation, updates, networking, data migration, storage, monitoring, and virtual machine support. Additionally, OpenShift is available on various platforms and can be adopted internally using self-managed releases, such as the following:

  • Red Hat OpenShift Platform Plus
  • Red Hat OpenShift container platform
  • Red Hat OpenShift Kubernetes Engine

Users can also opt for various managed cloud deployments, including:

  • Microsoft Azure Red Hat OpenShift
  • Red Hat OpenShift Dedicated
  • Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud
  • Red Hat OpenShift Service on AWS

OpenShift pricing varies by deployment and commitment. OpenShift Dedicated promotes hourly pricing up to $263 per year for the control plane and up to $1,500 per year for worker nodes based on four vCPUs. These prices are lower with one-year and three-year commitments, and vary more with different compute resources for worker nodes.

In comparison, on-demand pricing for Red Hat OpenShift Service on AWS includes an hourly cluster fee of $0.03 per hour and a worker node price of $0.171 per hour, again based on four vCPUs . These prices do not include AWS EC2 and storage charges. However, costs can come down with one-year and three-year Reserved Instances.

VMware Tanzu, formerly VMware Pivotal Container Service, supports Kubernetes along with its other container provisioning and management features. Platform9 provides Kubernetes as a managed service and supports hybrid clouds across public clouds, edge locations, and local on-premises server infrastructure. IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service brings cluster management, container security, and isolation capabilities to container environments deployed with other IBM services, such as Watson, IoT, and Big Data projects. Exact pricing for these services requires a quote directly from the Kubernetes provider.

Ultimately, Kubernetes software is free, but expensive to deploy and maintain, whether it’s an in-house, cloud-based version or an optimized or extended version from a third-party vendor. Business owners should research pricing and features, and engage vendors in a detailed pricing discussion before using a paid platform version. Next, they should carefully review the monthly bill to ensure that costs stay within expectations.

Editor’s note: This article, originally published in 2018, has been updated to reflect changes in the Kubernetes ecosystem, including vendor and pricing details.

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