Containers Kubernetes Docker

Over the past few months, I’ve been getting my hands dirty with containers, Docker, and Kubernetes in an effort to get some hands on experience working toward microservices. I’ve been building up a small application to generate and serve Sudoku puzzles. My original goal was to see how many puzzles with unique solution I could actually find, but that’s another post entirely. There are already many great tutorials about Docker and Kubernetes on Google Container Engine, so I won’t go into getting started details here. This post is meant to explain some of the stickier points that I had to pickup the hard way. I hope to save you one or two headaches.

Turn Key Kubernetes

Typically, I’ve used AWS for my infrastructure needs, but Google Container Engine runs kubernetes for you and can spin up a new cluster with one command. Again, there are many tutorials about the specifics but here are a few things I didn’t know going in which would have been helpful.

Keeping costs down

By default your cluster is composed of 3 n1-standard-1 instances. When just getting started this is probably more than you need in both resources and cost. Since I was more interested in playing with containers than messing with compute engine instances (that’s the whole point of containers), I didn’t pay any attention to them, but you should. It’s super easy and quick to change both the number of instances and the instance types in your cluster.

Google Container Engine clusters are built on the idea of instance groups, which are just one or more instance defined by the same instance template. The template described the instances you want in your group with attributes like machine type and base image, etc. In the Google Cloud Console, you can design a new template right in the interface (pick a new machine type from a drop down) and use smaller or larger instances.

Scaling the number of instances in your cluster is even easier. Edit the Instance Group and change the “Number of Instances” textbox value. You can even enter 0 to stop getting billed for the instance time. This works great when you don’t need the instances to be up 247 while just playing around.

Persistent Storage

When a pod is restarted or rescheduled, it gets recreated from scratch. Anything that was stored on disk is gone. This can cause unexpected issues. For example, I was using redis for storing Sudoku puzzles and if the redis-master pod restarted, I lost all contents of the database. This can be unexpected because when running redis locally, the disk snapshots always remain even when restarting the redis-server process. With containers, this is not the case. If you need to store anything to disk that you care about, you’ll need to store that in a volume backed by a Google Persistent Disk. Once again, there are many tutorials on the specifics.

Stuck in CreatingContainer

When using a Google persistent disks, I was running into pods getting rescheduled onto new nodes (instance), but the disk remained attached to the previous node. Since Google Cloud persistent disks can only be attached to one node at a time, this caused the pod to hang during creation and never start. The quick fix to this is just detach the disk from it’s current node. Kubernetes will attach it to the correct node for you.

gcloud compute instances detach-disk <instance-name> --disk <disk-name>

There’s currently an effort to redesign the volumne mount/dismount system in Kubernetes to address this issue. I also think that as redis was maxing out the memory on the nodes and crashing, it was causing unnecessary havok on my cluster.

“Restarting” a pod

Early on my Sudoku generator was very naive and had exponention performance, so it would get “stuck” trying to come up with new puzzles. Locally, I was just restarting the process. But when I got it into the cluster, it wasn’t always clear if it was broken, or just getting held up (I did fix this and went from a puzzle every few minutes to a few puzzles a second). The great feature of using replication controllers is that it will keep the specified number of pods running. So to “restart” a pod that’s being managed by a replication controller, just delete it. The replication controller will bring up a new one. If you aren’t using a replication controller to manage your pods, do so.

Hopefully these tips will make your container journey a little smoother.


Christopher R Marshall


Enjoys programming web applications; especially in Ruby and Go. Also enjoys playing ice hockey as a goalie and playing the guitar.