Nomad and Kubernetes have come up as two of the most popular orchestration platforms available for your dynamic orchestration workloads.
Orchestration platforms help you automate the configuration, management, and coordination of multiple different applications that you’re running.
Both Nomad and Kubernetes simplify the deployment and management of your containerized applications. With the correct orchestration platform, you can efficiently handle your different microservices and containers – from service discovery and deployments to coordination and scaling.
Before choosing the right platform, let’s learn more about Nomad and Kubernetes.
What is Nomad?
Nomad from HashiCorp tackles the problem of workload orchestration. Having flexibility, it schedules and orchestrates the deployment and management of containers. It works in both cloud and on-premise and supports non-containerized workloads as well.
With Nomad, you get a simple binary you must run. Unlike other solutions, it has a very small resource footprint that does not take up a lot of computing from your servers. Beyond containers, you can run various workloads like Windows, Java, Virtual Machines, and Docker.
You can deploy and manage your enterprise containers on production. Additionally, you can also run your non-containerized applications on the Nomad cluster without the need to containerize them. Using Nomad, you can easily scale out and have your applications running geographically closer to where your customers reside. Also, you can efficiently run short-lived batch jobs.
Nomad comes in two versions – the Community Edition and the Enterprise Edition. The Community Edition is free and lets you self-manage your Nomad cluster. Within 15 minutes, you can run it locally or on your cloud environment. Meanwhile, the Enterprise Edition provides support and additional features like collaboration, operations, and governance.
What is Kubernetes?
Kubernetes is an orchestration platform that is extensible, portable, and highly efficient. Also known as K8s, it was initially developed by Google. It is currently managed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation or the CNCF, and is the most popular orchestration platform.
With Kubernetes, you can efficiently move your workload to wherever required – be it on-premise, public cloud, or hybrid mode. It aims to provide all the possible tools that you might require to solve your orchestration and infrastructure management needs.
It’s by far the most popular orchestration platform. Leading cloud services providers like Amazon Web Service and Google Cloud Platform provide managed Kubernetes services – Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (AWS EKS) and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), respectively.
But which one should you choose for your orchestration platform requirements? Let’s find out by comparing the two.
Nomad vs. Kubernetes
Since the first step to using most software tools and technologies is installation, the ease of it plays an important role. When choosing between Nomad and Kubernetes, you’d want to look at how easy it is to start with them.
For Nomad, you get a pre-compiled binary or a package you need to install. For manual installation on your local machine, you can download and install the official binary. If you’re on Linux, you can install the official Linux package. In any case, after post-installation, all you have to do is install the CNI (Container Network Interface) plugins directly from your command line.
It’s even simpler if you’re installing on MacOS or Windows using package management tools like Homebrew and Chocolatey, respectively. With just a single command, your installation would be complete, including the CNI plugins.
When it comes to Kubernetes, there are different components and clients that you can install according to your needs. You get binaries for each. It has different container images for different runtimes and system architectures.
You can check the official repository for the official binary that matches your platform, be it Darwin, Linux, or Windows, and your system architecture. Once you’re done installing the correct container image, you’ll need kubectl – the command line tool that lets you interact with the containers.
For container workloads, scalability is an important factor. It determines your system’s ability to handle your growing workloads. In short, if you need more computing power, your orchestration framework should be able to add new resources easily.
Nomad has been proven to run clusters that exceed 10,000 nodes in a production environment. In 2020, Nomad completed a stress test with 2 million docker containers on 6,100 hosts. This spanned over 10 different AWS regions and ran for 22 minutes. This surpassed their earlier successful run of 1 million containers.
You also get horizontal autoscaling with Nomad Autoscaler. You can run this as a separate process when needed.
As of version 1.28, Kubernetes can let you scale your cluster to up to 5,000 nodes. You can run a total of 150,000 pods or 300,000 total containers.
With the increased scalability, maintaining a Kubernetes cluster is more complicated when you compare it with managing your Nomad cluster. Nomad gives you the edge over Kubernetes with the total number of nodes you can run.
When choosing an orchestration platform, you should aim for a balance between features and performance. The performance of an orchestration platform also determines how much system resources you will be using.
Nomad has a small resource footprint because of its single-binary approach. You also avoid the installation of separate services to get your orchestration platform up and running. Hence, you end up consuming less CPU and memory on your nodes, leading to lower overhead and better performance.
It’s highly adaptable and can handle various workloads, be it on-prem or the cloud. With its simplicity, resilience, and efficiency, you’ll get an advantage in maintaining the performance as your cluster size increases.
Kubernetes is highly optimized for containerized workloads. If you’re running a fleet of container-based microservices, then Kubernetes excels in managing them. With its extensive networking capabilities and wide range of integrations, you can accelerate and fine-tune your orchestration needs.
Because of its extensive set of features and configurations, Kubernetes uses up more of your system resources. As your cluster size grows, you might face additional overhead and complexity in managing it.
Networking is an important aspect when it comes to container orchestration. It determines how your nodes can locate and talk to each other.
Being heavily focused on workload orchestration, Nomad barely touches networking and tries to modify things as little as possible.
Rather than relying on infrastructure, Nomad works with configurations. You get the information you need directly from the configuration rather than running extra components like DNS servers or load balancers. The base unit of scheduling in Nomad, called Allocations, can request ports using the network block.
When it comes to Kubernetes, networking is a central pillar. You can control the following aspects – container-to-container communication via localhost, pod-to-pod communication, pod-to-service communication, and eternal-to-service communication.
Compared to the dynamic ports in Nomad, Kubernetes takes a different approach. You get the Service API as an abstraction to expose a group of Pods to the network
If you’re running your orchestration platform at scale, then the system requirements will depend on your cluster size and the workloads you are running. Other than CPU and Memory, you’ll also need network resources.
For production servers, it is advisable for you to run on large machine instances. It’s good for each server instance to have between 4-8+ CPU cores, 16-32 GB+ of memory, and 40-80 GB+ of fast disk. You should also ensure significant network bandwidth.
If you’re using a firewall, then you must ensure that the 3 ports that Nomad are allowed. The 3 ports are – the HTTP API (Default 4646) used by servers and clients, RPC (Default 4647) used for internal communication, and Serf WAN (Default 4648) used by servers to talk to other servers.
Kubernetes clusters can become very complex when running in highly containerized production environments. However, it is advisable for you to keep each node with a minimum of 2-4 CPU cores and 8-16 GB of RAM.
For large clusters, you might require more resources per node. Additionally, you must ensure that you have enough network bandwidth.
While Nomad and Kubernetes can scale up to fit your requirements, a Kubernetes cluster would take up more resources comparatively.
The ease of coding determines how efficiently you can interact with your framework of choice. Other than defining your platform and jobs, you’ll also need to learn the CLI commands to interact with the command line tool.
HCL or HashiCorp Configuration Language is the primary configuration language used in Nomad. HCL aims to strike a balance between human-readable and machine-friendly. You can write the job specifications using this, including the tasks, constraints, and dependencies for your application and services.
Additionally, you’ll also need to learn the CLI commands for the Nomad command line tool. This lets you interact with your nomad cluster and make configurations.
Rather than relying on a different language, you can configure Kubernetes using YAML files. You can also use JSON. These configuration files let you easily describe how your application should run, including specifications for pods, services, deployments, and other resources.
When you’re running complex Kubernetes applications, Helm is a package manager for Kubernetes that allows you to define, install, and upgrade even complex Kubernetes applications. Helm charts are written in YAML and can include templates and values files to customize deployments.
You’ll use the kubectl command-line tool to interact with your Kubernetes cluster. This involves running various commands to create, modify, and manage Kubernetes resources.
Orchestration platforms come with their own host of integrations that they support. You can also find several third-party integrations that you can add to increase the feature set.
With Nomad, you can actively integrate with various tools and technologies. Seamlessly connect with Docker and other container runtimes, facilitating containerized application deployment. For infrastructure provisioning, you can use Terraform integration and simplify your resource creation.
Being a part of HashiCrop, Nomad also lets you collaborate with HashiCorp Consul for service discovery and health checks, while HashiCorp Vault ensures secure secrets management. Your monitoring needs are met through integrations like Prometheus, Grafana, and ELK Stack. Additionally, Nomad seamlessly fits into your CI/CD pipelines, enabling automated application deployment.
Being a time-tested solution, Kubernetes provides a long list of technologies to integrate with. You can connect with Docker for container deployments. For your networking needs, you can go with solutions like Calico or Cilium. Storage options like Ceph and cloud-native providers like AWS EKS (Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service) and Google GKE (Google Kubernetes Engine) actively manage your persistent storage. The cloud-native solutions also provide you with additional services.
If you’re looking to support your serverless workloads, then Kubernetes has you covered. You can extend your Kubernetes with serverless frameworks like Knative and KEDA (Kubernetes-based Event-Driven Autoscaling).
You might want to move away from the command line and code at times and visualize the platform you are running. Having a GUI or Graphical User Interface lets you do that.
Nomad provides a built-in Web UI as a part of the binary. When you install Nomad and run the server, you get the GUI along with the API and CLI. You need zero configuration to start using the UI and inspect your cluster.
Once you have started your Nomad server, you can type in the server address in your web browser. Then, you will be redirected to the Web UI. There is also a ui subcommand so you can visit the required webpage straight from the Command Line Interface.
Kubernetes doesn’t come with a GUI by default. However, you can install it as per your requirements. Kubernetes itself offers an official UI called Dashboard. While it is not installed by default, you can get it up and running using the kubectl tool. Using the Dashboard, you can get an overview of your cluster.
You can deploy containerized applications to a Kubernetes cluster, manage, and troubleshoot. Cloud-native providers like AWS EKS and Google GKE provide their own UI tools. There are also third-party tools that you can run.
Nomad vs. Kubernetes: Summary Table
A single pre-compiled binary
Different binaries for different components and clients
Can run 10,000 nodes and 2 million containers
5,000 nodes and 300,000 total containers
Simple and efficient with a smaller resource footprint
Extensive set of features but uses more resources
Single configuration with dynamic port allocation
Fine-grained control and does not rely on dynamic ports
Lower system requirements for bigger cluster
A bigger cluster needs more system sources
It has its own language called HCL.
Can use existing languages like YAML and JSON
Has good official and third-party integrations
Has a very wide range of integrations and tools available
Built-in web UI available
Need to install separately
Choose the Right Platform for Your Orchestration Needs
Between Nomad and Kubernetes, your choice of an orchestration platform depends on your specific requirements and priorities. Both platforms support various use cases – deployment scheduling, automated rollouts and recoveries, and cluster discovery and management.
If you prioritize simplicity and have a small workload, Nomad might be the better choice for you. With its single binary and minimal resource requirements, Nomad makes it easier to set up and operate. Additionally, you can scale your cluster to support a large number of nodes.
On the other hand, if you require extensive features, fine-grained control, and a wide range of integrations, then Kubernetes is your answer. It provides a robust solution for containerized workloads and can seamlessly integrate with various tools and technologies. You can also leverage the managed solutions provided by AWS and Google Cloud.
Take into consideration other areas like the need to learn a new language (HCL) in the case of Nomad, while Kubernetes configurations work with YAML or JSON. Additionally, you might need a Web UI for your ease of use.
Consider the available system resources you have and the costs associated with it, too. The choice of your orchestration platform between Nomad and Kubernetes should be based on your needs, expertise, and resources.