- Kubernetes is an open-source containerization platform, while OpenShift builds upon the Kubernetes engine by adding pre-loaded or fully-managed containerization options.
- OpenShift offers ready-made deployment options, security policies, and more robust technical support compared to Kubernetes.
- OpenShift provides pre-built security features, whereas with open-source Kubernetes, users must design their own security methods.
It’s the question on all our minds, and answers constantly elude us: Just what is the difference between OpenShift and Kubernetes?
Alright, maybe it’s not the question on all our minds. But it’s a top-of-mind question for developers, at any rate.
Maybe you’ve already done some research on OpenShift, Kubernetes, or both, but in the process have come away just feeling more confused. That’s understandable. Because at first glance, this is a complex topic.
With that in mind, we’ll try to make this discussion as simple as we can, while also not glossing over important nuances. In our assessment of what sets these two platforms apart, we’ll also aim to be comprehensive, so that this doesn’t become yet another article that leaves you with more questions than when you started.
Before we get into the details, though, let’s summarize in just one sentence what sets OpenShift apart from Kubernetes, and vice versa:
Kubernetes is an open-source containerization platform, and OpenShift builds upon the Kubernetes engine by adding pre-loaded or fully-managed containerization options.
If that’s not quite making sense to you, don’t worry—stick around and we’ll explain everything you need to know about containerization, and how these two platforms differ in their approaches to containerization.
OpenShift vs. Kubernetes Side-by-Side Comparison
|Management model||Open-source containerization||Pre-loaded or fully managed containerization|
|Deployment options||Flexible, scalable, and customizable (ex., StatefulSets, DaemonSets, Jobs, and CronJobs)||Adds to Kubernetes’ features by making ready-made deployment options available, including options to automate or parameterize container deployments|
|Security||Users must design their own security methods||Pre-built security features designed to protect containers and source code from vulnerabilities and to provide ongoing monitoring of workloads|
|Support||Community-generated documentation available to assist developers||In addition to documentation, Red Hat also provides dedicated customer support to OpenShift users|
|Pricing||Free to use||Paid service, cost depends on terms of contract, compute usage, and other factors|
OpenShift vs. Kubernetes: What’s the Difference?
Probably the most obvious distinction between OpenShift vs. Kubernetes lies in how the platforms are managed. OpenShift was created by Red Hat and is maintained and managed by the company. Kubernetes, meanwhile, was conceptualized by Google employees and is now open source.
That’s a significant distinction, though: it means that OpenShift will cost more to use, but will also give you more pre-defined features and capabilities than you might get with Kubernetes. Below, we’ll give you all the nuts and bolts of how OpenShift and Kubernetes handle containerization differently.
First off, what is containerization anyways? According to IBM, containerization involves the packaging of software code with all the necessary “dependencies” that can run on any infrastructure. Doing so creates a lightweight, portable “container” bringing together your application code with all the relevant configuration files, libraries, and dependencies.
Because of its portability and simplicity in management, containerization has become the preferred way to develop and deploy cloud-native applications.
Docker is one of the most commonly used technologies for actually building containers, while Kubernetes and OpenShift are used as container orchestration tools to manage containers across multiple hosts.
Both Kubernetes and OpenShift facilitate rapid and large-scale application development, deployment, and management, but OpenShift users benefit from ready-made deployment options, security policies, and more robust technical support.
Looking at Kubernetes’ official documentation, you can find a variety of container deployment options to suit different use cases. In Kubernetes, when you define deployments, you create “Pods”, which are essentially containers or groups of containers. There are different ways to create and manage these Pods, though, based on unique project needs.
A StatefulSet, for instance, manages Pods with identical container specs and maintains a unique identity for each Pod. This persistent identifier makes it easier to match existing volumes to new Pods in case of failure. StatefulSets are ideal for maintaining databases, as they ensure consistent storage volumes across workloads.
Other common deployment options in Kubernetes include DaemonSets, Jobs, and CronJobs, all of which tackle different tasks—such as log collection, data migration, or running Jobs at specified intervals.
OpenShift supports these Kubernetes deployment options as well. But it also builds upon them with additional proprietary features. These options make it even quicker and easier to manage containers effectively.
OpenShift Templates and Operators provide similar benefits. Templates allow you to parameterize and potentially reuse deployment configurations. Once you provide the parameter values in your template, OpenShift will then create objects for you and customize them as needed to fit your criteria.
Once you deploy your containers, you can use Operators to automate complex application management tasks. Things such as scaling your application as needed, monitoring its performance and health, and automatically configuring updates.
As you can see, Kubernetes and OpenShift both provide robust ways to orchestrate containers for the purposes of application development. OpenShift, however, takes the power of Kubernetes a step further by providing additional conveniences and automation capabilities.
We’ve already seen that Kubernetes and OpenShift differ in important ways when it comes to deployment capabilities. But the contrasting benefits between the two become even sharper when we consider security.
OpenShift comes pre-loaded with critical security features, whereas with open-source Kubernetes, you need to work much harder to get the same level of security.
OpenShift’s key “out-of-the-box” security benefits include role-based access control (RBAC), image scanning, and network policies. These features make it easy to control who can access your workloads and under what parameters, who can access the networks in which your containers run, and also allow you to proactively detect vulnerabilities in container images.
On top of these features, OpenShift’s management console provides an easy, centralized way to manage security across multiple clusters and to monitor disparate clusters for any vulnerabilities. The built-in deployment pipeline also helps to ensure that code changes are tested and validated before hitting production.
Now, Kubernetes is highly customizable, so one could in theory build similar security advantages exclusively with Kubernetes. Heck, in theory, one could build even stronger security features. One would need to be a pretty competent developer, though.
The difference between these two is not necessarily that OpenShift provides security features that can never be obtained with Kubernetes alone. It’s just incredibly convenient that OpenShift offers these resources out-of-the-box, without requiring further customization.
Another critical area of divergence between Kubernetes and OpenShift lies in the level of technical support you receive. Kubernetes is an open-source platform currently being maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.
As such, you basically only have two sources of support when using Kubernetes alone. Sure, there is a community of developers. But you’ll be relying equally on the documentation available at Kubernetes’ official website.
Community support might be all a seasoned developer needs, and might even be ideal for a smaller enterprise that wants to keep costs low and maintain a high degree of flexibility in their developer environment.
For large companies with demanding or complex deployment requirements, though, direct technical support would probably be beneficial. That’s an area where Red Hat OpenShift shines.
Because you pay for the service, Red Hat provides you access to a dedicated support team to help you troubleshoot any issues you encounter while using OpenShift. This team also maintains an impressive library of documentation that you can reference at any time.
In addition to this layer of direct support, OpenShift’s proprietary tools also mean that the platform itself provides greater developer support than you’d see with stand-alone Kubernetes. Chief among these helpful tools are the built-in CI/CD pipeline and the web console through which developers can easily manage and monitor containerized applications.
Differences in pricing is another incredibly obvious—but crucial—difference between using these containerization platforms. Kubernetes is open source, so free to use. Because OpenShift is actively managed and comes with a host of pre-made goodies, you do have to pay a fee to use it.
But how much does OpenShift cost, exactly? That depends on a number of factors, such as opting for a self-service plan rather than a cloud service plan partnered with AWS, Microsoft, or others. Signing a contract instead of paying as you go will also affect your price.
Lastly, the scale and complexity of your organization’s computing needs will likely have the biggest impact on how much OpenShift ends up costing you.
OpenShift vs. Kubernetes: 5 Must-Know Facts
- Kubernetes is an open-source containerization platform designed to help developers streamline the application development process.
- OpenShift runs on Kubernetes and does similar work. But since it’s fully managed by Red Hat, it contains far more capabilities and features.
- Kubernetes is open-source and so free to use. But with OpenShift, you’ll have to pay for the extra features that go along with it.
- Deployment options like Source-to-Image and Templates, available through OpenShift, make it possible for developers to automate or parameterize much of their containerization work.
- In addition to offering built-in security tools, OpenShift also distinguishes itself from Kubernetes by providing direct technical support to its customers.
OpenShift vs. Kubernetes: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?
Let’s be clear: for as long as cloud computing remains the new status quo, we can expect the need for containers to only increase as time goes on. If you’re a developer, you’re going to be using containers, and you’re going to need to educate yourself on your options for doing so.
Kubernetes is still the foundational technology for deploying and managing containers. But with its extended suite of tools and automation advantages, Red Hat’s OpenShift marks a significant improvement upon Kubernetes’ open-source model.
Because of the many added benefits and conveniences that go along with using OpenShift, it is, in most cases, a better option than using Kubernetes alone—even when considering the extra cost that goes along with using it.
For one thing, keep in mind that even if you use Kubernetes for “free,” you will almost certainly need to pay a vendor for whatever cloud services you’re using alongside Kubernetes. Cloud computing is never truly free.
For another thing, consider that containerization is all about streamlining the application development process. You should want your developers to spend less time worrying about containers so they can focus more of their energies towards the things that really matter. Think of OpenShift as an investment you make on the way to a greater goal.
That said, some developers might prize the greater flexibility and customizability that goes along with using Kubernetes directly. By using Kubernetes rather than OpenShift’s pre-built containerization and security features, developers can run containers as they see fit. However, we suspect that the convenience that goes along with using OpenShift is more compelling for most people.
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