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Microsoft Takes Kubernetes to the Edge with AKS Lite

At it Ignite conference, Microsoft announced that a public preview of Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) on Windows IoT and Windows devices, known as AKS lite, will be available next month.
Oct 17th, 2022 8:29am by
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At its Ignite user conference this week, Microsoft put on a bit of a Kubernetes fest, highlighted by the software and services giant taking Kubernetes to the edge with AKS lite.

Microsoft announced that a public preview of Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) on Windows IoT and Windows devices, known as AKS lite, will be available in November.

AKS lite is a lightweight Kubernetes platform that enables rapid application modernization at scale at the edge, said Jason Farmer, a Principal Program Manager on the project.

Built on AKS

AKS is Microsoft’s managed, Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) conformant Kubernetes platform that runs both Linux and Windows container applications.

Meanwhile, “AKS lite builds on this stable platform to offer a light-weight Kubernetes distribution — both K8S and K3S, that can be easily deployed at the edge, on any Windows PC class device with Windows 10 and 11 IoT Enterprise, Enterprise and Pro,” Farmer said in a blog post. “In addition to this, for scenarios where you use Windows Server at the lightweight operational technology edge, you can use AKS lite as well. AKS lite simplifies managing, deploying, and maintaining a Kubernetes cluster on-premises, making it easy to get started hosting Linux and Windows containers.”

Microsoft initially introduced AKS lite as “Project Haven” at the company’s Build 2022 conference in May.

“Cloud native input processing, artificial intelligence, and modern applications require Kubernetes on smaller, resource-constrained edge devices to be able to scale and manage workloads on hundreds of distributed nodes,” Farmer said. “This presents a different challenge in terms of scale. Rather than having thousands of containers running on a few large K8S clusters, the operational edge requires thousands of dispersed clusters, each running a few containers. This highlights the need for simplified management and visibility across your deployment.”

Features, Benefits

AKS lite is designed to operate on constrained devices, with minimal compute and available memory requirements of 2 vCPUs and 4 GB of RAM.

Other features include:

  • Each Kubernetes cluster runs in its own Hyper-V isolated virtual machines and includes many features to help secure your container infrastructure
  • Microsoft-maintained Linux and Windows images for worker nodes – Worker nodes run Linux and Windows virtual machine images created by Microsoft to adhere to security best practices. Microsoft also refreshes these images monthly with the latest security updates.
  • Simplified installation experience with PowerShell cmdlets and agents to enable provisioning and control of VMs and infrastructure. You can run these cmdlets either locally or remotely via fleet management tools like Azure Arc for Server or Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager.
  • In addition to the host OS updates, Microsoft will provide automatic updates for your Kubernetes deployment.

Key benefits for users of AKS lite include interoperability with native Windows apps, a fully supported stack from kernel to cloud and cloud services enablement at the edge.

Hybrid Options

“When your AKS lite cluster is connected to Azure Arc, it extends the Azure platform to the edge with core services like governance, monitoring, application, ML and data services,” Farmer said. “It also helps bring DevOps practices anywhere and build iteratively using GitOps and Flux to seamlessly manage application deployments.”

Moreover, with new AKS hybrid deployment options, in preview, users can extend cloud to edge as they centrally deploy and manage AKS enabled by Azure Arc on Windows devices, Windows IoT, Windows Server 2019/2022 and Azure Stack HCI, the company said.

“As Kubernetes adoption takes off, you can use Arc to run containerized applications with AKS on Azure Stack HCI, Windows Server, Windows devices and Windows IoT, enabling a consistent experience across Azure on-premises and edge,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella during his keynote at the event. “And we will enable AKS to run on even more platforms going forward.”

One analyst is impressed with the notion.

“Offering managed K3s edge clusters that can run Windows and Linux on the same machine is an interesting value proposition for many enterprises afraid to stand up and manage their own K3s clusters,” said Torsten Volk, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. “And most importantly, this allows Microsoft to position its higher-level cloud services, such as NoSQL, data analytics, machine learning, and serverless functions, as easily deployable puzzle pieces to enhance and ultimately transform K3s edge apps that are already managed through the Azure platform.”

More Kubernetes at Ignite

Microsoft also announced Azure Kubernetes Fleet Manager preview, which enables users to manage fleets of Kubernetes clusters, run multi-cluster workloads and services, and ensure consistent configuration, access, and governance across their Kubernetes environment.

In addition, at Ignite, Microsoft noted that ISVs can now create one-click Kubernetes apps. Kubernetes apps, now in preview, is an Azure Marketplace offer specialized for Kubernetes solutions. ISVs can now create, publish and manage commercial Kubernetes offers in Azure Marketplace with billing models. Customers can browse the catalog of solutions and pick one for one-click deployment to AKS with automated Azure billing. This feature will be the first offering specialized for Kubernetes with automated deployment and billing in Azure Marketplace, the company said.

“It makes sense for Microsoft to offer a lightweight Kubernetes distribution as a managed service, integrated with PowerShell and the whole Azure cloud native universe,” Volk added.

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