Blog articles

6 ways to build cost-efficient Kubernetes clusters in the cloud

May 29, 2023

First up, Kubernetes (K8s) is an incredibly exciting tool to have in your arsenal. As a cutting-edge container orchestration system, it’s completely transformed application management. It’s seamlessly scalable for applications of any size, prioritizes security with built-in features like RBAC, and is easily usable through tools like GCP’s Kubernetes engine. 

In short, what’s not to love?

Well, the cost, for one.  If you’re not careful and deploy Kubernetes without proper consideration in your production environment, you could wind up with a hefty bill to pay off. Nobody likes big bills [citation needed] so this can make people nervous about K8s (and, you know, cloud computing in general).

However, don’t let this dissuade you! Kubernetes can give you and your organization a competitive edge and help you future-proof your development process. Also, the price tag is not an unsolvable problem. So long as you understand the costs involved with Kubernetes — and take steps to actively reduce them — you can make the most of this powerful container orchestration system that’s been widely embraced by big industry names like Google, Netflix, and Spotify. 

In this article, I’m going to cover six ways you can make sure your Kubernetes clusters don’t end up costing you lots of money.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kubernetes in general, check out Nigel Poulton’s article: “What is Kubernetes, and why should I learn it?”

Why can Kubernetes cost you money?

Kubernetes is free and open-source, so there’s no licensing costs. However, there’s a cost with running Kubernetes. This can come from:

  •  The number of nodes in the cluster
  •  The type and size of storage utilized
  •  The volume of traffic handled
  •  The underlying infrastructure expenses

All of these add up. There’s also the difficulty of predicting cost: because Kubernetes is an orchestrator, it can scale up and down its use of compute on demand. This can make it a bit curly to predict how much Kubernetes will cost you to run, especially in a public cloud where you’re dealing with virtual server options and billing regulations.

How to build cost-efficient Kubernetes clusters in the cloud

Right, we’ve talked about why K8s can cost you, let’s talk about how to make sure it doesn’t. By implementing the strategies below, you can optimize Kubernetes deployment and achieve significant cost savings without compromising performance.

1. Opt for a managed Kubernetes service

If you opt for a managed K8s service, it relieves the burden of managing infrastructure and leads to substantial cost savings. To be frank, why not make it someone else’s problem?

When you need persistent storage, it can also be beneficial to use a managed Kubernetes service that provides cost-effective storage options.. 

2. Scale your clusters on demand

Scaling your clusters dynamically based on the actual demand ensures your resource utilization alights with actual requirements

3. Make the most of spot instances

Leveraging spot instances — which offer discounted prices for unused EC2, GCE instances, or Azure virtual machines — allows for significant cost reductions in the underlying infrastructure.

4. Use cost optimization tools

There are a plethora of cost optimization tools available for Kubernetes, allowing you to fine-tune your expenses effectively. Among the most popular tools are:

Kubecost: This cloud cost optimization tool offers real-time insights into the cost and utilization of Kubernetes clusters, helping you identify opportunities to save money by optimizing resource usage.

CloudZero: A specialized cloud cost intelligence platform, CloudZero excels in Kubernetes cost monitoring and optimization. Its robust feature set includes cost visualization, Kubernetes cost analysis, and optimization recommendations.

Kustomize: As a Kubernetes configuration management tool, Kustomize enables the creation and management of multiple Kubernetes configurations. This flexibility proves valuable in managing costs by allowing different configurations for distinct environments like development, staging, and production.

ArgoCD: Automating application deployment and management, ArgoCD serves as a continuous delivery tool for Kubernetes. By eliminating the need for manual deployments, it reduces costs and streamlines the deployment process.

Flagger: Facilitating progressive delivery for Kubernetes, Flagger helps deploy and manage changes to applications gradually, minimizing the risk of unexpected changes causing performance or cost issues.

These tools represent just a fraction of the available cost optimization solutions for Kubernetes. You can also use the cloud service provider’s monitoring and cost optimization tools as well. 

Even if you had unlimited money (unlikely), using these cost optimization tools gives you visibility into resourcing and configuration, which affects the reliability and availability of your services.

5. Make sure you’re using the right instance type for your job

Kubernetes offers a range of instance types, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Some popular options include:

  •  General-purpose instance types: These strike a balance between CPU, memory, and storage, and are suitable for workloads without specific requirements. 
  •  Compute-optimized instance types: These offer increased CPU power, making them an excellent choice for demanding workloads. 
  •  Memory-optimized instance types: These cater to memory-intensive workloads.
  •  Storage-optimized instance types: These excel in scenarios where substantial storage capacity is essential.

6. Pick the right number of notes for your cluster

The required number of nodes depends on the number of pods and their resource needs. Remember, cluster scalability is flexible, allowing you to add or remove nodes based on performance and cost considerations. 

This dynamic approach ensures your applications run smoothly and efficiently within the Kubernetes environment. By following these guidelines, you can confidently choose the right instance type for your Kubernetes cluster, fostering optimal application performance and resource utilization.

Want to get safe, hands-on practice with Kubernetes clustering?

If you want to practice deploying Kubernetes across popular cloud providers like AWS, Azure, and GCP — all without worrying about the cost — check out my course: “Hands-On Kubernetes Clustering for Cloud.” In it, you will learn to deploy apps with hands-on labs, as well as learn how to test high availability features on your clusters.

Further reading on Kubernetes

Broadus Palmer

Broadus is a Training Architect for A Cloud Guru and founder of Level Up In Tech. Through his coaching, he has helped people land roles at companies like Dell, AWS, Evercast, GE Credit Union, and more. He has dedicated himself to helping people transition into a cloud career.