Kubernetes Helm: Why It Matters

Kubernetes Helm, by making application deployment easy, standardized and reusable, improves developer productivity, reduces deployment complexity, enhances operational readiness, and speeds up the adoption of cloud native apps. These applications can be sourced from open-source community provided repositories, or from an organization’s internal repository of customized application blueprints.

In much the same way that the helm enables a pilot to steer a ship, Helm enables a Kubernetes operator to have greater control of his/her Kubernetes cluster. If you are familiar with apt/yum/brew and their role in different Operating Systems then you should already know the importance of a package manager.  Helm is the package manager for the Kubernetes (in this approach, Kubernetes could be considered as an operating system).

Why Does Kubernetes Helm Matter?

Kubernetes can become very complex with all the objects you need to handle ― such as ConfigMaps, services, pods, Persistent Volumes ― in addition to the number of releases you need to manage. These can be managed with Kubernetes Helm, which offers a simple way to package everything into one simple application and advertises what you can configure.

Users can install Helm with one click or configure it to suit their organization’s needs. For example, if you want to package and release version 1.0, making only certain parts configurable, this can be done with Helm. Then with version 2.0, additional parts can be made configurable.

Platform9 automates Kubernetes Helm, making it available in one click with its Managed Kubernetes offering. We also Included Monocular, a UI and a REST API associated with Helm. Once you install our Kubernetes cluster, you can use a UI that included your favorite package (e.g., Redis, Elasticsearch, Mongo, Postgresql). You can search for it, one-click deploy it, or configure it.

Kubernetes Helm fills the need to quickly and reliably provision container applications through easy install, update, and removal. It provides a vehicle for developers to package their applications and share them with the Kubernetes community. It allows software vendors to offer their containerized applications at “the push of a button.” Through a single command or a few mouse clicks, users can install Kubernetes apps for dev-test or production environments.

What are Helm Charts?

When building and deploying applications, Helm Charts provide the ability to leverage Kubernetes packages through the click of a button or single CLI command.

“Helm” refers to both the client-side and server-side Kubernetes components: the Helm client and the Tiller/Helm server. The client interacts with the server to perform changes within a Kubernetes cluster.

When a user executes the Helm install command, a Tiller Server receives the incoming request and installs the appropriate package – which contains the resource definitions to install a Kubernetes application – into the Kubernetes cluster. Referred to as Charts, these packages are similar to RPM and DEB packages for Linux. They provide a convenient way for developers to distribute applications, and for end users to install those applications.

Among more than 100 available online, stable Helm Charts include:

  • MySQL and MariaDB: popular database servers used by Wikipedia, Facebook, and Google
  • MongoDB: a cross-platform document-oriented NoSQL database
  • WordPress: a publishing platform to build blogs and websites.

Recommended Readings

The Helm Solution to Kubernetes’ Challenges

Kubernetes is a powerful tool, however, several challenges can hamper its adoption. With Kubernetes Helm, the following issues can be alleviated:

Impaired Developer Productivity

Developers can spend a lot of time deploying test environments to test code and replicate customer issues.

  • With Helm, developers can focus on developing applications instead of deploying dev-test environments.
  • Helm Charts – such as MySQL, MongoDB and Postgresql – allow developers to get a working database quickly for their application. Plus, developers can author their own chart, which automates deployment of their dev-test environment.

Steep Learning Curve

It can take someone new to Kubernetes-orchestrated container apps a long time to learn how to use it resulting in high lead times to deploy production-grade apps on Kubernetes.

  • Helm Charts provide “push button” deployment and deletion of apps, making adoption and development of Kubernetes apps easier for those with little container or microservices experience.
  • Apps deployed from Helm Charts can then be leveraged together to meet a business need, such as CI/CD or blogging platforms.

Deployment Complexity

Kubernetes-orchestrated container applications can be complex to deploy. Developers can use incorrect inputs for configuration files or not have the expertise to rollout these apps from YAML templates.

  • Helm Charts allow software vendors and developers to preconfigure their applications with sensible defaults. Charts also allow users/deployers to change parameters (e.g., resource limits for CPU and memory) of the application/chart using a consistent interface.
  • Developers leveraging Helm Charts can incorporate production-ready packages while building applications in a Kubernetes environment. This can eliminate deployment errors due to incorrect configuration file entries or mangled deployment recipes.

Production Readiness

Deploying and maintaining Kubernetes applications ― and their multiple components such as pods, namespaces, RBAC policies, and deployments ― can be tedious and error prone.

  • Helm Charts reduce the complexity of maintaining an App Catalog in a Kubernetes environment.
  • Operations teams do not have to maintain service tickets during Kubernetes-orchestrated app deployment, or curate Kubernetes App Catalogs that are part of a self-service portal.

Avoiding Duplication of Efforts

By sharing the helm charts within an organization or across organizations, duplicate efforts are avoided leading to higher efficiency and reduced errors.

  • Central App Catalog reduces duplication and spreads best practices by encoding them into Charts.

Can Your Organization Benefit from Kubernetes Helm?

If you’re a developer and you want to package your application as a Kubernetes application, Helm is the way to go. If you are a DevOps person trying to deploy either internal or third-party vendor applications, you should use Helm as your packaging mechanism.

Hear Roopak Parikh, Co-founder & CTO, on “Kubernetes Helm: Why It Matters.”

Roopak Parikh

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