First of all my apologies for choosing a catchy headline – as much as I
have derided such posts, I genuinely had only three things to talk about
which I felt had a connection and added value to many users and their
workloads. Autoscaling is often not as clearly understood as I think it
should be, at least by the consumers who may not want to understand all
the nuts and bolts of how it works. Autoscaling can be of the
application work units (Pods in case of Kubernetes) and of the nodes –
which form the underlying infrastructure. The application work units –
or pods in case of Kubernetes also need slightly different treatment
based on the kind of workloads. The workloads can be divided into two
broad categories – the synchronous workloads such as the HTTP server
responding to requests in realtime. The second kind of workload is which
is more async in nature such as a process being invoked when a message
arrives in a message queue. Both workloads need different ways to scale
and be efficient.
In this post, we will talk about each of the three Kubernetes autoscaling use
cases, which projects solve these problems when using them, etc. For a
quick summary, we will cover three aspects:
- Autoscaling Event-driven workloads
- Autoscaling real-time workloads
- Autoscaling Nodes/Infrastructure
Autoscaling Event-Driven Workloads in Kubernetes
For these workloads, the events are generated from a source and they
land typically in some form of a message queue. Message queue enables
handling scale as well as to manage back pressure etc. gracefully and
divide the workload among many workers. The implementation of consumer
and scaling is to an extent coupled with the message queue being used
here. Also, many organizations may have more than one message queue in
The ideal scenario here would be that when there are no messages in the
queue, the consumer pods are scaled down to zero. When messages start
arriving the consumer pods are scaled up from zero to one and beyond one
based on messages arriving.
One project that solves this problem nicely is the Keda
project. We recently integrated Keda in the
project – which is a FaaS platform that works on Kubernetes. We also
open-sourced the generic Keda
connectors which enable you
to consume messages from message queues and do generic things such as
sending that message to an HTTP endpoint.
I also recently gave a talk where Keda was used to autoscale ACI (Azure
Container Instance) containers using Keda from within a Kubernetes
cluster using Virtual Kubelet. You can find the talk
and the slides
Autoscaling Realtime Workloads in Kubernetes
Many times you want to scale down the HTTP servers to zero or based on
demand so that you can conserve infrastructure or use for some other
workloads which will be processed in off-peak hours etc. While it is
relatively easy for event-driven workloads, it is not so straightforward
for realtime workloads. On one hand you don’t want the end-user to wait
for the pods to spin up etc. – so this is definitely not recommended for
usage in production. This can be used though effectively in stage/dev
environments especially when your users are not going to consume the
Scaling down the standard HPA along with the monitoring system will give
you enough to get it working. You can see this in action in a talk
given by Hrishikesh
and the presentation can be found
If you must scale to zero there are projects like
Osiris – which are highly
experimental but can be still useful for non-prod workloads and to
optimize the infrastructure usage.
Autoscaling Nodes/Infrastructure in Kubernetes
Once you have optimized the workloads, the next natural step is to
optimize the underlying infrastructure. All the benefits of optimizing
the workloads can be only derived only if you can actually shut down a
few instances and save some $$$! Especially for non-prod workloads –
this can be a great cost-saving exercise.
There are definitely details here and the second part of a talk given
by one of the InfraCloud members
discusses these things in detail. The Kubernetes Autoscaler
project gives you all tools
and levers to manage the infrastructure and scale it up and down based
While we are on the topic of cost-saving in your Kubernetes clusters,
you might also want to check out when to switch from CloudWatch to
Prometheus – details in this
There are some interesting projects on KubeCost Github
repo that enable things such as turning
down the clusters at a specific schedule etc. They can be a great
compliment to the other three projects and also give you visibility of
cluster usage & costs. Here’s a handy blog which talks more on
Kubernetes cost reporting using Kubecost.
- Autoscaling can be of workloads & the underlying
nodes/infrastructure. To save costs in pre-prod environments you
will need to look at both aspects.
- For autoscaling event-driven workloads
- Keda project enables and can be used in production too
- For autoscaling real-time workloads
- Projects such as Osiris
enable it but is not recommended for production workloads!
- The real value will be realized only after scaling underlying
nodes/infrastructure and Kubernetes
Autoscaler enables that.
While you can use this in production too – the right design and
testing are crucial to avoid costly mistakes and get it right.
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