OpenShift vs. Kubernetes: What’s the Difference?

6 min read

Learn the key differences between OpenShift and Kubernetes and how container orchestration automates software workloads for better application experience.

OpenShift and Kubernetes are the most widely used container orchestration software options available today. Let's take a look at the two solutions and how they relate and differ.

OpenShift vs. Kubernetes software: A comparative overview

Red Hat's® OpenShift® is an open-source container platform that runs on the Red Hat enterprise Linux operating system and Kubernetes. The product is typically termed a "Platform as a Service" (PaaS) because it combines a host of services within the platform for enterprise businesses. This includes the Kubernetes platform and Docker container images. It also includes additional features that are exclusive to the OpenShift enterprise platform. 

Kubernetes is also an open-source container orchestration platform. It enables developers to control, more easily manage and maintain software processing workloads for better deployment and scalability.

For a deeper look into Kubernetes, check out our video, “Kubernetes Explained”: 

The central differentiating feature between the two platforms is that the OpenShift container platform includes Kubernetes’ platform and features (as well as Docker features). But Kubernetes does not include OpenShift services, and it is its own standalone option, with its own unique Kubernetes dashboard.

Moreover, though both are open-source programs, OpenShift is a paid platform service from Red Hat, while Kubernetes open-source code is a free service that can be downloaded from GitHub. 

There might be some degree of confusion about this difference, so it's of value to understand that Kubernetes-as-a-Service (KaaS) providers offer paid enterprise-grade deployment and managed Kubernetes services. These providers commonly offer managed integration services with cloud providers like IBM, Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure.

The development of container orchestration software  

It's also helpful to have a basic knowledge of how container orchestration technology developed and where it stands today.

Container software is not new. It has been in use since the 1970s when virtual machines (VM) replaced mainframe processing with advanced multi-system resource sharing on one machine (or “node”). Developers could install multiple virtual operating systems on one computer. Developers used virtual machine segmentation, which enabled multiple users to access and share resources. It also enabled developers to test and run applications in an isolated environment. Insulating applications from other processes permitted them to run concurrently with less interference or disruptions to services.

In the last two decades, space-conserving and load-balancing container cluster technology emerged. It has become the leading container software design for securely balancing application loads, speeds and parity across environments.

In 2013, Docker launched an open-source GUI-based software that once again advanced container technology. It enabled users to better create and control application development and provided image streams. Soon after, Google founded Kubernetes (known also as "kube" or "k8") in 2014 with Kubernetes cluster containerization, and which is now managed by the Linux Foundation's non-profit Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).

Finally, the RedHat OpenShift platform on the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) OS was launched in 2011, and it has become more in-demand in the last 10 years as it has created more business-forward services.

What is container orchestration software? 

Container orchestration software automates containers and lets developers configure them. It is considered portable in that it can be created and deployed in any environment.

Container technology works by bundling application code — along with its libraries and other necessary information — into a single event. It's termed a "single unit" of application as it includes the most basic object or process-oriented code. This enables applications to function better, whether on-premises or in any developer ecosystem. Cluster container orchestration is a widely used form of container software technology and it is how Kubernetes is designed.

Containerization uses clusters of nodes (either real or virtual machines) that function like one robust server. This provides more space, application isolation, load balancing and consistently faster processing speeds.  

Kubernetes clusters are designed in pods. These maintain the same number of resources and perform in the same network. They are a powerful processing structure because they can be replicated so that any container within a pod can work like another, producing concurrent updates or balancing load processing responsibilities.

How does this technology work for your business and software applications? In sum, it is structured so that pods can be replicated to support load balancing for your applications and to ensure applications do not fail. It is a means of running software more efficiently and reliably, no matter if you run it on a desktop, mobile, a local network or on the cloud. It enables you to bring software to scale more easily.

For a deeper dive into container orchestration, see our video “Container Orchestration Explained”:

On the whole, both Kubernetes and OpenShift provide a high-functioning continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) process. Though you'll find certain CD pipeline features may better support your business needs.

Kubernetes features

Now that you have a sense of how cluster container orchestration works, you can better understand Kubernetes' features and what Kubernetes offers for your business.

Kubernetes deployment and Kubernetes distribution for software applications enables businesses to create, test and deploy applications more efficiently.

Key features of Kubernetes include the following:

  • CI/CD pipeline tools that enable visual version control systems, offer the Docker registry and provide Kubernetes clusters
  • The ability to create and build storage to maintain locally or in the cloud
  • Automated roll-outs and roll-backs for resource load-balancing
  • Kubernetes ingress provisions, which is an API-based function that routes external user access
  • Development standardization for creating, testing, deploying and monitoring applications
  • Availability on the Linux distribution package
  • Ease and accessibility in installation

You might think of Kubernetes as the best option for DevOps to configure and customize application templates with more direct command-line controls. For deploymentconfig and many controllers — such as replication and namespace controllers — Kubernetes might be considered a more comprehensive option.

OpenShift features

OpenShift is a cloud-based container orchestration platform that runs on Linux and includes multiple additional features and access controls, which some businesses may deem more important.

The platform is designed to support better scaling and efficiency for cloud-based development on IBM, Amazon and other enterprise cloud services.

Key features of OpenShift are as follows:

  • CI/CD pipeline definitions are standardized for easier integration and scaling
  • Includes default container automation tools
  • Offers the Kubernetes' command line interface (CLI), “kubect1” in addition to “oc,” OpenShift's CLI
  • OpenShift has become an integral building-block to application development because of its ease of compatibility with most cloud platforms
  • Enables easy migration of container applications to the cloud
  • Supports Kubernetes features and the Kubernetes platform, but with greater security features
  • Builds upon line stability and user access with comprehensive route and access controllers
  • Security features align with compliance regulations

OpenShift's platform may be a more attractive option for businesses seeking out-of-the-box automation and more compliance features.

Core differences between Kubernetes and OpenShift

At their core, both Kubernetes and OpenShift can deploy and run on public cloud and local environments to enable a better end user experience. But the fundamental differences are the most significant considerations for business.

  • Support: If you're seeking more support and more hands-on guidance, OpenShift is a product that comes with customer service; Kubernetes, as an open-source project, does not. It is important to note that companies that offer managed services, such as Haproxy or RBAC, do provide these types of services. Additionally, OpenShift offers out-of-the-box plug-in network solutions, whereas Kubernetes is third-party integrative. 
  • Security: OpenShift offers fewer installation features and options. What underpins this is OpenShift's focus on greater security controls.
  • Web console: Kubernetes' web UI must be installed and requires extra steps in authentication to use. OpenShift provides a login-based console to visually manage cluster roles and projects.
  • Templates: Kubernetes provides more templates with Kubernetes Helm, and it is known to be simpler to use. 

Applications and considerations for SME business

Use-case applications for both container orchestration options merit a more focused look at the type of industry for which each one better serves.

High-use apps that need regular updates may look to Kubernetes for its update-friendly system. For example, gaming and social spaces may utilize Kubernetes more extensively. 

On the other hand, compliance-heavy apps — such as healthcare, education or government apps — may require a more secure, stringent environment. OpenShift is designed for “greater regulatory-readiness" and meets GDPR, HIPAA compliance regulations, for instance.

For new businesses, particularly for smaller enterprise businesses, OpenShift may be more attractive for its increased support, including easier deployment of CI/CD clusters.

IBM Cloud: OpenShift and Kubernetes solutions 

IBM offers both Kubernetes and OpenShift as distinct services with IBM Cloud.

In fact, “The Forrester Wave: Multi-cloud Container Development Platforms” named Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud Service the leader for Q3 2020

Additionally, IBM is a certified Kubernetes solution, as a KCSP certified provider and as part of the CNCF. 

You can build and deploy OpenShift container clusters in any environment with IBM Cloud Satellite. Businesses can also utilize Red Hat OpenShift tools and APIs with cloud options. IBM provides every form of compliance (e.g., SOC1, 2; GDPR; FIPS 140-2 Level 4) and lets businesses access Jenkins as part of the OpenShift catalog as well as product expert support.

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