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What is Kubernetes Networking?

Kubernetes (sometimes referred to as K8s) is an open-source platform that is used to manage and automate the deployment, scheduling, monitoring, maintenance, and operation of application containers across a cluster of machines. 

Developed by Google, networking with Kubernetes allows administrators to move workloads across private, public, and hybrid cloud infrastructures. Developers use Kubernetes to package software applications with their required infrastructure and deploy new versions quickly. 

Kubernetes networking allows Kubernetes components to communicate with each other and with other applications. The Kubernetes platform is different from other networking platforms because it is based on a flat network structure that eliminates the need to map host ports to container ports. The Kubernetes platform provides a way to run distributed systems, sharing machines between applications without dynamically allocating ports. 

VMware Container Networking with Antrea - Datasheet

Deploying Antrea for Kubernetes Networking

What is a Kubernetes Pod Network?

A Kubernetes Pod network connects several interrelated components:

  • Pods: Kubernetes Pods are inspired by pods found in nature (pea pods or whale pods). The Pods are groups of containers that share networking and storage resources from the same node. They are created with an API server and placed by a controller. Each Pod is assigned an IP address, and all the containers in the Pod share the same storage, IP address, and port space (network namespace). 
  • Containers: A Kubernetes container is like a virtual machine that shares its Operating System (OS) among several applications. It has its own filesystem, CPU, memory, and process space. Containers are always created in Pods, and multiple containers can be created in one Pod. The containers in a Pod all move together, are scheduled together, and are terminated together. The Pod can move across clouds. Containers can connect through container networking to other containers, a host, and external networks.
  • Nodes: Pods always run inside a worker node. Nodes are machines that run containerized applications. Kubernetes groups these nodes in clusters.
  • Master node: Each cluster of nodes will have at least one master node that manages the worker nodes. The master can communicate with each node in a cluster or it can communicate directly to any individual Pod.

How does Networking work in Kubernetes?

The different components in the Kubernetes platform (Pods, containers, nodes, applications) use different networking methods to communicate. There is container-to-container communication, Pod-to-Pod communication, Pod-to-service communication, and external-to-service communication.

Pod-to-Pod communication is the foundation of Kubernetes. Pods communicate with each other following network policies set by the network plugin, communicating with other Pods without explicitly creating links between them or mapping container ports to host ports. Because Pods share the same network namespace and have their own IP addresses, they can find and communicate with all other Pods on all nodes using localhost, without using network address translation (NAT). 

One of the challenges of Kubernetes networking is addressing how internal (east-west) traffic and external (north-south) traffic interact, because the internal network is isolated from the external network. However, traffic that flows between nodes can also flow to and from nodes and an external physical or virtual machine. There are a few different ways of getting external traffic into a Kubernetes cluster:

  • LoadBalancer: LoadBalancer is the standard way to connect a service externally to the internet. In this scenario, a network load balancer forwards all external traffic to a service. Each service gets its own IP address.
  • ClusterIP: ClusterIP is the default Kubernetes service for internal communications. However, external traffic can access the default Kubernetes ClusterIP service through a proxy. This can be useful for debugging services or displaying internal dashboards. 
  • NodePort: NodePort opens ports on the nodes or virtual machines, and traffic is forwarded from the ports to the service. It is most often used for services that don’t always have to be available, such as demo applications.
  • Ingress: Ingress acts as a router or controller to route traffic to services via a load balancer. It is useful if you want to use the same IP address to expose multiple services.

One more important aspect of Kubernetes networking is the Container Networking Interface, or CNI. The CNI connects Pods across nodes, acting as an interface between a network namespace and a network plug-in or a network provider and a Kubernetes network. There are many different CNI providers and plug-ins to choose from with different sets of features and functionality. CNI plug-ins have the ability to dynamically configure a network and resources as Pods are provisioned and destroyed. They provision and manage IP addresses as containers are created and deleted. Kubernetes is the default networking provider for Kubernetes, but CNI plug-ins such as Flannel, Calico, Canal, and Weave Net offer additional features.

How to implement Kubernetes Networking?

Network administrators can implement the Kubernetes networking model in a wide variety of different ways. Gartner recognized the following Kubernetes networking examples as “Visionary” in its 2019 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Networking report:

  • Big Switch Networks’ Big Cloud Fabric: A cloud-native networking architecture that runs Kubernetes in private cloud environments.
  • Cumulus NetQ: A telemetry-based fabric validation system that provides visibility into container deployments.
  • Dell EMC: A cloud platform that supports both traditional applications and cloud-native environments with integrated support for Kubernetes and containers.
  • VMware NSX-T: Network virtualization and security platform that virtualizes networks for multi-cloud or multi-hypervisor environments, including native container networking.

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