Benjamin Kušen
January 19, 2024

Detailed Guide to Multicluster Management in Kubernetes

This article delves into the complexities of managing multiple clusters in Kubernetes, and recommended strategies for optimal implementation.

Kubernetes has transformed how we handle deploying, scaling, and overseeing applications in the cloud. Initially launched by Google, it focused on managing containerized apps within a single cluster. However, with the growth of industries and advancement in technology, handling apps across numerous clusters became vital.

Employing multiple clusters, even in similar places, offers enhanced scalability, and reliability, and isolates workloads effectively. This Multi-cluster approach allows for precise resource management, better resilience against faults, and stricter adherence to compliance standards. 

The Advantages of Using Multiple Kubernetes Clusters

In Kubernetes, a cluster is comprised of nodes that are responsible for executing containerized applications. The Kubernetes cluster setup is like server farms but is specifically tailored for containerized apps. 

The nodes within a Kubernetes cluster can be physical or virtual machines acting as worker computers. Each node consists of a kubelet that acts as an agent responsible for management and communication with the Kubernetes control plane.

The diagram below showcases a typical layout for a Kubernetes cluster's configuration.

Image of layout of Kubernetes configuration


Within Kubernetes, the control plane plays a pivotal role in managing the status and records of all objects ensuring their matching with the desired conditions.

 It consists of three primary components:

  • The API server (kube-apiserver)
  • The scheduler (kube-scheduler)
  • The controller manager (kube-controller-manager)

For increased reliability, these parts can be dispersed over several nodes or run on a single node. The API server offers APIs to manage the life cycle of applications. It acts as a gateway for the cluster that manages connections from external clients, handles authentication, and proxying to pods, services, and nodes.

In Kubernetes, most resources are accompanied by metadata, a current state, and a desired state. Controllers play a vital role in aligning the desired state with the current state, continuously reconciling any disparities that are detected between these states.

While metadata provides additional details about resources, the controllers' primary function is to automatically adjust the current state to match the specified desired state. This process ensures the system continuously corrects itself, adhering to user-defined configurations and facilitating self-healing.

Various controllers manage distinct aspects of a Kubernetes cluster, such as autoscaling, services, and nodes. The controller manager oversees the cluster's condition and implements necessary alterations, while the cloud controller manager ensures seamless integration with public cloud platforms.

The scheduler evenly distributes containers among the nodes in the cluster, taking into account available resources and specified affinities.

Kubernetes operates through cluster nodes, which execute application containers and are under the control plane's management. Each node hosts a kubelet controller that is responsible for the container runtime (called containerd). Pods that act as conceptual containers representing individual applications running on the cluster are managed by Kubernetes. They're transient and support autoscaling, deployments, and upgrades. Pods can hold multiple storage volumes and containers, serving as the main interface for developers within Kubernetes.

Managing multiple Kubernetes clusters can be cumbersome, especially when dealing with clusters in diverse geographic locations or hosted by different cloud providers. While this setup offers flexibility and better service availability, it substantially increases the complexities of Kubernetes administration.

Limitations of a Single Cluster Kubernetes Setup

A single cluster is adequate for smaller to medium-sized applications. But as the application grows, a single setup will face some limitations as mentioned below.

  • Resource Constraints: A single cluster possesses limited resources. With growing workloads, resource exhaustion becomes a concern and this in turn impacts both availability and performance.
  • Blast Radius: In a single cluster setup, any issue can have a widespread impact on the entire application. Whether it's a misconfiguration or failure of a critical component, it could lead to a complete outage of the application.
  • Regulatory and Geographical Constraints: Due to regulations, data of some applications need to be stored in particular geographical locations. A single cluster confined to one region can't fulfill these requirements leading to data residency limitations.

Benefits of Multiple Clusters

The deployment of multiple clusters can overcome the limitations of using a single cluster. Some of the benefits of using multiple clusters are:

  • Disaster Recover and Zero-downtime: The major benefit of multiple clusters is high availability. Say, a cluster in Europe fails, and at the same time, a backup server in the United States handles the workload. This ensures uninterrupted services to users.
  • Fault Isolation: A fault in one cluster does not affect another cluster. For example, a bug in a production cluster won’t impact a development cluster.
  • Scalability: You can always add more clusters as the demand increases. For example, a surge in traffic during Black Friday can be managed by additional clusters.
  • Data Sovereignty and Geolocation: Using multiple clusters ensures that the local regulations are adhered to. The data of users in Europe is stored in clusters stationed in Europe while the data of Asian users is stored in Asia.
  • Environment Isolation: Each environment is isolated and there is no overlapping since there are dedicated clusters for production, testing, and development.

Challenges to Managing Multi-Clusters

Although there are numerous benefits of using a multicluster setup, at the same time there are equal challenges in managing them. Optimal management of multiclusters requires a deep understanding of networking and Kubernetes architecture apart from having troubleshooting skills. Here are a few of the common challenges to managing multiple clusters.

Complexity in Configuration

Each cluster has its specific settings. A very detailed attention is needed to maintain consistency among all clusters. For example, if a security patch or a security policy is applied to a single cluster, the same should be applied to all the other clusters to avoid any vulnerabilities.

Resource Optimization

Even distribution of resources among clusters is a must for the full optimization of resources. Overutilization of resources in a single cluster can create performance issues. On the other hand, underutilization can lead to unnecessary increases in costs.

Consistency in Configuration

Varying configurations among clusters in a multiple-cluster setup can result in unusual behaviors. For instance, If any of the clusters is using a different network plugin than others, it will result in network issues. Similarly, to prevent any compatibility issues, you must use the same versions of Kubernetes among all the clusters.


In a multi-cluster environment, the clusters are spread across various regions. Every region has its own set of regulatory laws. So adherence to local laws is necessary and at the same time can be challenging. For example, In India, the clusters must follow their DPDPA ( Digital Personal Data Protection Act) and similarly, in Europe, the clusters must follow their GPDR regulatory laws.

Fault Tolerance and Isolation

Achieving fault tolerance and isolation are some of the key advantages of multiple cluster setups, at the same time ensuring the same is quite challenging. Isolation between clusters is required to prevent the disruption of one cluster from affecting the others. For instance, a downtime in the production cluster should not impact in any way the development cluster. To maintain independent operation of individual clusters, there must be careful planning, design, and implementation of strong safeguards.

Access Management

The implementation of RBAC (role-based access control) is necessary to restrict access to the resources used by clusters. You must also ensure that only authorized persons are allowed specific operations. At the same time, it is quite challenging to manage RBAC. For example, if you add a new user in one cluster, you need to add the same user to all the clusters in the setup to maintain consistent access across all clusters.

Image Management

You need to make sure that the container images are secure in multiple cluster environments. The use of public docker images should be avoided. Before deployment, verification and auditing are a must for robust security and the same set of images should be replicated on all the clusters to prevent any compatibility issues.

Best Practices to Manage Multiple Clusters

Maintaining security, efficient resource management, and ensuring consistency can be challenging. Tools like Cluster API and Karmada can really simplify complex operations, but a thorough configuration and planning are still required for a successful multicluster setup. Following the below-mentioned steps can surely help to simplify the setup.

Ensuring Uniformity in Cluster Configurations

All cluster settings can be made consistent by using tools like Helm. The Kubernetes package management Helm enables you to specify, install, and update apps within a cluster. In order to guarantee consistent operations, it may also handle configurations across several clusters.

In addition, Helm, Kustomize, and KubeVela are alternative tools that can be used to manage configurations across clusters. You may alter configurations for various contexts with Kustomize, a native Kubernetes configuration management tool. With KubeVela, you can define, deploy, and manage applications across numerous clusters using a cloud-native application deployment platform.

Configurations can also be managed by using Kubernetes operators. The Operators are nothing but the software extensions of Kubernetes that use custom resources to manage applications.

Ensuring High Availability in the Kubernetes Control Plane

The Kubernetes Control Plane is comprised of a controller manager, scheduler, and API server. Additionally, there is a key-value data store called etcd. To make sure that there is continuous availability of control plane services, you need to deploy multiple copies of these services in all the availability zones.

Furthermore, you should also employ highly accessible etcd clusters for redundant data storage and use load balancers to balance the load. The clusters can be bootstrapped by using tools like kubeadm that will ensure the high availability of the control plane.

Compliance Tools and Governance

Maintaining compliance in multiple clusters is not easy. To ensure compliance, you can use the Open Policy Agent (OPA) tool that helps in defining, managing, and enforcing policies across clusters. For example, OPA can be used to configure clusters with identical network policies. OPA also helps you in ensuring that the clusters are abiding by the local governance laws. Similar to OPA are jsPolicy and Kyverno tools.

Centralized Management

Your clusters may get more complex as they get bigger. Establish uniform governance, maximize observability, and monitor all clusters with a centralized management system. Several clusters can be managed from a single dashboard with the use of programs like Rancher. It lets you manage clusters on AWS, Google Cloud, and Azur, among other cloud providers. In addition, it lets you set up resource restrictions and access control for each cluster and manage clusters in several regions from a single dashboard.

 Virtual Clusters

A virtual cluster refers to an independent Kubernetes cluster that functions within a designated namespace of another Kubernetes cluster. This way, you can create multiple virtual clusters in a single Kubernetes cluster. Due to isolation between clusters, the fault arising in one cluster is not going to affect the other cluster. Another advantage of using virtual clusters is that they can have their own configuration setup. This allows you to test multiple configurations that will not affect other clusters.

Creating Virtual Clusters with vCluster

Inside a single Kubernetes cluster, you can create virtual clusters with the help of tools such as Loft Lab's vCluster. To ensure efficient resource management, vCluster also lets you define resource quotas and manage access control for every virtual cluster.

vCluster operates within a designated namespace on a host system, running a StatefulSet that includes a pod comprising two primary containers: the control plane and the syncer. The default configuration for the control plane utilizes K3s' API server and controller manager, with SQLite serving as its data store. However, alternative storage backends such as etcd, MySQL, and PostgreSQL are also supported. Unlike conventional schedulers, vCluster employs the syncer to oversee pod scheduling.

This syncer duplicates virtual cluster pods to the host, where the host's scheduler handles the actual pod scheduling. This synchronization mechanism ensures consistency between the vCluster pod and its counterpart on the host. Furthermore, each virtual cluster is equipped with its own CoreDNS pod, responsible for resolving DNS requests within the virtual cluster.

The host helps in managing various phases of Clusters:

  • Storage Class: By default, vCluster users have the option to utilize the storage class provided by the host, with the option to modify it using specific sync settings.
  • Communication: The host manages pod-to-service or pod-to-pod communications.
  • Networking and Container runtime: vCluster relies on the host's container runtime and networking infrastructure.
  • Network Policy: In order to avoid any communication that could happen between virtual clusters or the host’s pods,  you should apply network policy to the host’s namespace.
  • Resource management: In order to ensure that virtual clusters do not utilize all the resources of hosts, resource quotas and limit ranges can be configured on the host's namespace where vCluster operates. 


Multicluster Kubernetes comes with many advantages, like increased resource efficiency and dependability, but at the same time, it has some drawbacks that include the need to apply consistent configurations, manage compliance, and enforce reliable access control. To successfully deploy a multicluster strategy, you should carefully assess the available solutions and your needs.

To simplify the complex setup of multiclusters, you can use tools like OPA and vCluster. These tools ensure compliant operations and maintain isolation between clusters. In order to improve multicluster Kubernetes deployments, platform engineers and architects must possess a thorough understanding of the difficulties and recommended procedures.

Knowing the necessary degree of isolation, for instance, can help engineers decide between a multi-region cluster and a virtual cluster. A great place to learn about multicluster technologies and best practices is the Kubernetes Multicluster Special Interest Group.

Facing Challenges in Cloud, DevOps, or Security?
Let’s tackle them together!

get free consultation sessions

In case you prefer e-mail first:

Thank you! Your message has been received!
We will contact you shortly.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information. If you wish to disable storing cookies, click here.