Ante Miličević
December 22, 2023

Optimizing Kubernetes Cluster Architecture

This article delves into the multitude of factors to consider when optimizing a Kubernetes cluster, discussing configurations relating to the cluster, nodes, and tenancy.

Kubernetes is ahighly efficient platform, aiding the management of containerized applications on a large scale. Despite its impressive capabilities, mastering the art of configuring a Kubernetes cluster remains a formidable challenge. The orchestration of numerous microservices and the collaboration of several developers adds to the intricacies involved. Therefore, it becomes pivotal to strategize optimal cluster and node configurations, mitigate risks disseminated across varied applications, and plausibly incorporate sandbox solutions.

Kubernetes admirably equips applications with top-notch scalability and resilience by autonomously overseeing tasks such as load balancing and dynamic scaling to cater to demand fluctuations. However, the quest to accomplish the finest scalability and resilience demands a mindful examination of various aspects encompassing resource consumption, network topology, and storage requisites.

Why is your Kubernetes architecture configuration so important?

Kubernetes emerged as a robust platform designed especially for handling large-scale applications running inside containers. Consider an instance where your organization manages 1,000 concurrent users, served by 10 microservices and managed by a team of 30 developers. A task of such magnitude entails making certain that every team has access to the required resources and simultaneously mitigating the risks linked to several applications that share computational resources.

This importance stems from the fact that these 1,000 users will interconnect and share sensitive data such as their addresses or credit card particulars with application instances functioning inside containers on shared servers. Furthermore, setting up multiple environments - development, staging, and production - is an indispensable course of action to ensure changes undergo thorough testing prior to going live.

Succeeding in achieving these outcomes necessitates meticulous planning of your cluster and node configuration, which includes aspects like the number and size of nodes, sandbox solutions, and curtailing communication between services. As you proceed, we will take a deep dive into understanding these and other best practices enabling you to fine-tune your Kubernetes architecture.

Single or multiple cluster

While crafting your cluster architecture, you are met with an ultimate decision; single or multiple clusters, right from the onset. Each approach comes bundled with its own perks and drawbacks. Opting for a single cluster tends to simplify management, reducing resource overhead. However, such an approach can inadvertently heighten the risk of a single point of failure. This risk could result in a vast blast radius in the event of failure, potentially leading to extended downtime, data losses, and significant damage to the organization’s reputation. 

Therefore, it becomes paramount to cautiously ponder over these trade-offs, eventually designing a cluster architecture that strikes an equilibrium between the need for simplicity and that for fault tolerance. On the contrary, employing multiple clusters tends to offer enhanced fault tolerance. But this approach might simultaneously amplify management complexity and resource overhead.

Cluster size: nodes

Another vital aspect to consider when constructing your Kubernetes cluster architecture is the determination of the number and size of nodes within the cluster. These factors possess the ability to influence the overall capacity of the cluster, as well as its potential to manage upgrades and outages.

To manage multiple applications with varying resource requirements, one potential approach entails leveraging affinity and scheduling configurations to confine specific applications to particular nodes. Alternatively, setting appropriate resource requests and limits for each application can be a viable solution, ensuring that applications have suitable access to the indispensable resources for their optimal functioning.

Node size and quantity

In your decision-making process, an important point is determining the quantity and size of your nodes: should you opt for fewer, yet larger VM nodes or a larger count of smaller VM nodes? A leaner set of sizable nodes might provide better efficiency in terms of per-node overhead. However, this arrangement could become challenging to manage during alterations and outages. For example, during a rolling update, which sequentially updates nodes, a small number of nodes could prove detrimental if a node fails to connect to the cluster or must wait for its volume to be attached.

Conversely, a larger gamut of smaller nodes could help enhance bin-packing efficiency, however, leading to elevated per-node management overhead. To mitigate such risks, careful planning is necessary, including generating backup strategies for failures and adopting a conservative approach to rolling updates.

The advantages and disadvantages associated with VM dispersion can be summarized like this: 

   <th>Many Small Nodes</th>
   <th>Few Large Nodes</th>
   <td>Scheduling Efficiency</td>
   <td>Management Complexity</td>
   <td>Scalability and Resilience</td>

Additionally, organizations have the option to incorporate sandbox technologies such as gVisor or Firecracker VMs, which serve to diminish risks and boost security within a cluster. These solutions ensure workloads remain isolated from each other and operate within a secure and protected environment.

Moreover, certain considerations pertain specifically to large clusters in Kubernetes, given it is engineered to accommodate no more than 110 pods per node and a total of no. exceeding 5,000 nodes.

Cluster Segmentation: namespaces for teams vs. namespaces for tenants

Deciding on the apt namespace configurations for different teams or tenants is another critical aspect of establishing a Kubernetes cluster architecture. Namespaces function as a mechanism to subdivide a cluster into more manageable pieces, providing isolation between other teams or tenants.

Concerning namespace configuration, principally, two approaches emerge namespaces for teams and namespaces for tenants. The former involves designing a distinctive namespace for each development team in the organization, leading to improved resource utilization and management ease. However, it could complicate management and resource allocation.

Conversely, the latter comprises crafting a unique namespace for each tenant utilizing the cluster, an approach particularly advantageous in multi-tenant environments. This results in superior isolation between tenants and allows for more targeted resource allocation. On the flip side, it may result in higher per-tenant overhead and might pose challenges to management.

Here's a simple diagram representing how Team A and Team B share the cluster via multi-team tenancy, while Team C implements a multi-customer tenancy approach:

Cluster segmentation Kubernetes

When it comes to deciding on a suitable namespace configuration, it becomes vital to contemplate certain factors such as resource utilization, ease of management, and the number of teams or tenants that will be utilizing the cluster.

Limiting services from talking to each other

Another essential aspect to consider for Kubernetes cluster architecture is constraining communication between different services within the cluster. This can minimize the risk of security breaches, along with enhancement of overall performance and stability.

One methodology of limiting communication entails the employment of network policies, which could curtail traffic flowing between services at the network layer. These policies define rules governing how traffic circulates among different cluster parts, ensuring only authorized traffic is permitted to pass between services.

Another available avenue is resorting to service mesh tools like Istio. These utilities provide supplementary features designed to manage communication between services, including traffic routing, load balancing, and service discovery. Additionally, they come with other security features, such as necessitating identity verification for communication between services.

Operations and deployment

In addition to selecting the right cluster/node configurations and adopting sandboxing solutions and network policies, organizations ought to pursue optimal operations and deployment practices. Such initiatives include guaranteeing security and compliance in Kubernetes environments, as well as facilitating collaboration between development and operations teams.

One notable best practice involves image scanning, consisting of inspecting images for vulnerabilities and compliance concerns. By conducting image scanning prior to deployment, organizations can ensure that only secure and compliant images are employed in their clusters. Software bill of materials (SBOM) vulnerability scanning and cluster configuration scanning are equally crucial for preserving security and compliance in Kubernetes environments.

An indispensable tool for deployments is GitOps, which administers deployments and infrastructure as code. Employing this framework enables all cluster changes to be made via pull requests to a Git repository, which acts as a single source of truth for the system's desired state. 

As a result, collaboration between development and operations teams is enhanced, ensuring deployments remain consistent and auditable. The inherent automation of GitOps aids in mitigating the challenges stemming from the architectural complexity associated with Kubernetes. By utilizing Git as a single truth source, developers can more adeptly manage intricate deployment pipelines and maintain consistency across environments.


Optimizing Kubernetes cluster architecture necessitates the careful weighing of multiple factors, including the choice of cluster and node configurations, sandboxing solutions, network policies, and industry best practices for operations and deployment. By making informed decisions in these areas, organizations can enhance the security, efficiency, and ease of management in their Kubernetes environments.

Regardless of whether you're managing a single cluster or multiple clusters, or if you're employing a multi-tenant or single-tenant approach, it is crucial to meticulously evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of diverse configurations, and ultimately lean towards the method that best fulfills your needs. Once on the right trajectory, organizations are poised to unleash the full potential of Kubernetes and accomplish their goals for a modern, cloud-native infrastructure.

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