How Are Kubernetes and Rancher Related? — A Detailed Evaluation

Written By Ankit Kumar

kubernetes and rancherIn the era of cloud-native development, there are two technologies that are often interchangeably understood: Kubernetes and Rancher. Both these technologies are popular and are complementary rather than competitive. There has been constant comparison between the two, amid certain uncertainties.

Kubernetes is a powerful engine for container orchestration. On the other hand, Rancher possesses a complete Kubernetes distribution, adding value to it. Rancher is an integral part of the Kubernetes landscape that is quite complex and huge, but little is their association and comparison known to developers.

In this post I will show you what these two technologies individually mean, their salient features, organizations using them, and their alternatives. It would be valuable to know the relation between these two technologies and of great help if you seek a career as a developer.

What Is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration system originally designed by Google and is now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Kubernetes, also known as K8s, is an open-source container orchestration platform for automating deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. Its name comes from the Greek word for “pilot.”

Kubernetes groups containers having applications into logical units for the purpose of better management and discovery of processes. It offers a competitive framework to execute distributed systems with resilience, and it monitors the scaling, failover, and deployment of units. It can be used in the public cloud, on-premises, or both.

Kubernetes offers tools for application deployment, manages clusters of containers, scales applications as needed, optimizes usage of underlying hardware under your container, and facilitates the application component to restart and move around the system when required.

In a recent survey, 83% said Kubernetes, although not the only alternative for container orchestration, has clearly become the preferred choice.

Key Features:

  • Easy to use with enriched features
  • Active community support
  • Complete version control with high availability
  • Automated scheduling
  • Automated rollback and rollouts
  • Horizontal scaling and load balancing
  • Self-monitoring of nodes and containers
  • Storage orchestration

Organizations Using Kubernetes:

Google, Udemy, Shopify, Slack, Robinhood, StackShare, Nubank, Babylon, AppDirect, Adidas, Bose, The New York Times, Nokia, Spotify, and Wink.

Alternatives to Kubernetes:

Amazon Elastic Container Service, Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, Google Kubernetes Engine, SaltStack, Cloud Foundry, and Portainer.

What Is Rancher?

Rancher Labs is an open source software company based in Cupertino, California. The company helps manage Kubernetes at scale. Rancher Labs was founded in 2014 and has 30,000 active teams.

From data center to cloud to edge, Rancher lets you deliver Kubernetes-as-a-Service. It is a unified platform for Kubernetes management for teams adopting containers. It contains a comprehensive software stack that looks at the operational and security hurdles of maintaining multiple Kubernetes clusters. It also offers the DevOps teams the integrated tools they need to execute containerized workloads.

Rancher adds a complete user interface and workload management layer to Kubernetes, simplifying adoption and integrating continuous delivery components. It deploys Kubernetes clusters from the data center to the cloud to the edge and unites them with centralized access control. It helps in streamlining cluster deployment with complete security.

Rancher deploys multi-cluster apps in a consistent manner, and it centrally configures security policy, monitoring performance in-depth. It controls access by having a sleek connectivity with service providers like LDAP or Active Directory. It supports DevOps tools like Jenkins, Travis, and GitLab for creating CI/CD pipelines.

Rancher encourages any CNCF-certified Kubernetes distribution containing RKE and K3s. It has seamless integration with popular open-source projects like Prometheus, Grafana, Fluentd, and Istio to make Kubernetes even more valuable.

Yet another important concept of Rancher is Rancher Kubernetes Engine (RKE). It is Rancher’s command-link utility to create, manage, and upgrade Kubernetes clusters. The creation of Kubernetes clusters as an independent part of software.

Rancher contains a full Kubernetes distribution, but it appends value around Kubernetes in three major areas: Cluster Operations and Management, Intuitive Workload Management, and Enterprise Support.

According to Forrester New Wave 2020, “Rancher is ideal for firms seeking a proven multi-cloud container management platform available on a wide variety of cloud platforms and edge environments.”

Key Features:

  • Unified multi-cluster app management
  • Hybrid and multi-cloud support
  • Sped-up DevOps adoption
  • Reliable security policy and accordance
  • Unified app catalog
  • Runtime and orchestration, image management
  • Easy management of multiple clusters in one location

Organizations Using Rancher:

KPN, Bell, Comcast, Cetera, Child Rescue Coalition, Windstream, Alibaba Travels, trivago, Oxylabs, Starbucks, Yousign, and useinsider.

Alternatives to Rancher:

Azure Kubernetes Service, Google Kubernetes Engine, Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform, AWS Fargate, Cloud Foundry, and Mirantis Kubernetes Engine.

Key Comparison Parameters: Kubernetes vs. Rancher

For your convenience, I include here a table with a detailed list of the key aspects of each technology—Kubernetes and Rancher—so that you can clearly see how they compare. Remember, these two technologies are complementary, not competitive.

Parameters Kubernetes Rancher
Key characteristics Light-weighted, simple to use, accessible, highly modular, cloud-friendly, swappable components Effective user management, managing hosts, deploying containers, and monitoring resources
Technology Container orchestration technology for managing containers under a cluster of machines Technology for managing Kubernetes clusters for cloud native DevOps technology stack
Nature Open-source orchestration system for containers, accelerates Dev and simplifies Ops Open-source container management platform for executing a private container service
Ease of use Handles multiple clusters, hence a little complex to use Easier to use, since it manages the clusters well
Categorization Kubernetes comes under the category of container orchestration Rancher comes under the category of IoT Edge Platforms
Network and file isolation Not available Available
Business size Implemented more in the enterprise segment Implemented more in the small-business segment
Integration tools Docker, Microsoft Azure, Ansible, Google Compute Engine, Rancher GitHub, Docker, Jenkins, Amazon EC2, Kubernetes, Digital Ocean
Distribution and installation Complex procedure for distribution and installation Makes it easy to distribute and install
Cloud-based services Cloud-hosted Kubernetes services like GKE, EKS, etc. operate Kubernetes Rancher offers these cloud-based services an enhanced management experience

As seen above, Kubernetes and Rancher have their individual characteristics that are distinct from each other. At the same time, there are certain elements that hint at them being complementary to each other. Hence, to each its own!

Complementary, Not Competitive

For any organization building a cloud-native infrastructure, both these tools are important. Kubernetes vs. Rancher is a common comparison.

Remember, however, that these two technologies are not competitive; they are complementary, each of them having its own significance and role.

Kubernetes is considered a good choice for container orchestration beneath a cluster of physical/virtual machines. On the other hand, Rancher is mainly focused on the management of Kubernetes clusters. Businesses must understand and analyze their own requirements first and then decide on the preferred option.