A first look at Rancher Rio

As explained on https://github.com/rancher/rio, Rancher Rio is a MicroPaaS that can be layered on top of any standard Kubernetes cluster. It makes it easier to deploy, scale, version and expose services. In this post, we will take a quick look at some of its basic capabilities.

To follow along, make sure you have a Kubernetes cluster running. I deployed a standard AKS cluster with three nodes. In your shell (I used Ubuntu Bash on Windows), install Rio:

curl -sfL https://get.rio.io | sh - 

After installation, check the version of Rio with:

rio --version
rio version v0.1.1-rc1 (cdb75cf1)

With v0.1.1 there was an issue with deploying the registry component. v0.1.1-rc1 fixes that.

Make sure you have kubectl installed and that its context points to the cluster in which you want to deploy Rio. If that is the case, just run the following command:

rio install

The above command will install a bunch of components in the rio-system namespace. After a while, running kubectl get po -n rio-system should show the list below:

Rio installed

Rio will install Istio and expose a service mesh gateway via a service of type load balancer. With AKS, this will result in an Azure load balancer that sends traffic to the service mesh gateway. When you deploy Rio services, you can automatically get a DNS name that will resolve to the external IP of the Azure load balancer.

Let’s install such a Rio service. We will use the following application: https://github.com/gbaeke/realtime-go. Instead of the master branch, we will deploy the httponly branch. The repo contains a Dockerfile with a two-stage build that results in a web application that displays messages published to redis in real time. Before we deploy the application, deploy redis with the following command:

kubectl run redis --image redis --port 6379 --expose

Now deploy the realtime-go app with Rio:

rio run -p 8080/http -n realtime --build-branch httponly --env REDISHOST=redis:6379 https://github.com/gbaeke/realtime-go.git

Rio makes it easy to deploy the application because it will pull the specified branch of the git repo and build the container image based on the Dockerfile. The above command also sets an environment variable that is used by the realtime-go code to find the redis host.

When the build is finished, the image is stored in the internal registry. You can check builds with rio builds. Get the build logs with rio build logs imagename. For example:

rio build logs default/realtime:7acdc6dfed59c1b93f2def1a84376a880aac9f5d

The result would be something like:

build logs

The rio run command results in a deployed service. Run rio ps to check this:

rio ps displays the deployed service

Notice that you also get a URL which is publicly accessible over SSL via a Let’s Encrypt certificate:

Application on public endpoint using a staging Let’s Encrypt cert

Just for fun, you can publish a message to the redis channel that this app checks for:

kubectl exec -it redis-pod /bin/sh
redis-cli> publish device01 Hello

The above commands should display the message in the web app:

Great success!!!

To check the logs of the deployed service, run rio logs servicename. The result should be:

Logs from the realtime-go service

When you run rio –system ps you will see the rio system services. One of the services is Grafana, which contains Istio dashboards. Grab the URL of that service to access the dashboards:

One of the Istio dashboards

Even in this early version, Rio works quite well. It is very simple to install and it takes the grunt work out of deploying services on Kubernetes. Going from source code repository to a published service is just a single command, which is a bit similar to OpenShift. Highly recommended to give it a go when you have some time!

Streamlined Kubernetes Development with Draft

A longer time ago, I wrote a post about draft. Draft is a tool to streamline your Kubernetes development experience. It basically automates, based on your code, the creation of a container image, storing the image in a registry and installing a container based on that image using a Helm chart. Draft is meant to be used during the development process while you are still messing around with your code. It is not meant as a deployment mechanism in production.

The typical workflow is the following:

  • in the folder with your source files, run draft create
  • to build, push and install the container run draft up; in the background a Helm chart is used
  • to see the logs and connect to the app in your container over an SSH tunnel, run draft connect
  • modify your code and run draft up again
  • rinse and repeat…

Let’s take a look at how it works in a bit more detail, shall we?


Naturally, you need a Kubernetes cluster with kubectl, the Kubernetes cli, configured to use that cluster.

Next, install Helm on your system and install Tiller, the server-side component of Helm on the cluster. Full installation instructions are here. If your cluster uses rbac, check out how to configure the proper service account and role binding. Run helm init to initialize Helm locally and install Tiller at the same time.

Now install draft on your system. Check out the quickstart for installation instructions. Run draft init to initialize it.

Getting some source code

Let’s use a small Go program to play with draft. You can use the realtime-go repository. Clone it to your system and checkout the httponly branch:

git clone https://github.com/gbaeke/realtime-go.git
git checkout httponly

You will need a redis server as a back-end for the realtime server. Let’s install that the quick and dirty way:

kubectl run redis --image=redis --replicas=1 
kubectl expose deploy/redis –port 6379  

Running draft create

In the realtime-go folder, run draft create. You should get the following output:

draft create output

The command tries to detect the language and it found several. In this case, because there is no pack for Coq (what is that? 😉) and HTML, it used Go. Knowing the language, draft creates a simple Dockerfile if there is no such file in the folder:

FROM golang

WORKDIR /go/src/app
COPY . .

RUN go get -d -v ./...
RUN go install -v ./...

CMD ["app"] 

Usually, I do not use the Dockerfile created by draft. If there already is a Dockerfile in the folder, draft will use that one. That’s what happened in our case because the folder contains a 2-stage Dockerfile.

Draft created some other files as well:

  • draft.toml: configuration file (more info); can be used to create environments like staging and production with different settings such as the Kubernetes namespace to deploy to or the Dockerfile to use
  • draft.tasks.toml: run commands before or after you deploy your container with draft (more info); we could have used this to install and remove the redis container
  • .draftignore: yes, to ignore stuff

Draft also created a charts folder that contains the Helm chart that draft will use to deploy your container. It can be modified to suit your particular needs as we will see later.

Helm charts folder and a partial view on the deployment.yaml file in the chart

Setting the container registry

In older versions of draft, the source files were compressed and sent to a sever-side component that created the container. At present though, the container is built locally and then pushed to a registry of your choice. If you want to use Azure Container Registry (ACR), run the following commands (set and login):

draft config set registry REGISTRYNAME.azurecr.io
az acr login -n REGISTRYNAME

Note that you need the Azure CLI for the last command. You also need to set the subscription to the one that contains the registry you reference.

With this configuration, you need Docker on your system. Docker will build and push the container. If you want to build in the cloud, you can use ACR Build Tasks. To do that, use these commands:

draft config set container-builder acrbuild
draft config set registry REGISTRYNAME.azurecr.io
draft config set resource-group-name RESOURCEGROUPNAME

Make sure your are logged in to the subscription (az login) and login to ACR as well before continuing. In this example, I used ACR build tasks.

Note: because ACR build tasks do not cache intermediate layers, this approach can lead to longer build times; when the image is small as in this case, doing a local build and push is preferred!

Running draft up

We are now ready to run draft up. Let’s do so and see what happens:

results of draft up

YES!!!! Draft built the container image and released it. Run helm ls to check the release. It did not have to push the image because it was built in ACR and pushed from there. Let’s check the ACR build logs in the portal (you can also use the draft logs command):

acr build log for the 2-stage Docker build

Fixing issues

Although the container is properly deployed (check it with helm ls), if you run kubectl get pods you will notice an error:

container error

In this case, the container errors out because it cannot find the redis host, which is a dependency. We can tell the container to look for redis via a REDISHOST environment variable. You can add it to deployment.yaml in the chart like so:

environment variable in deployment.yaml

After this change, just run draft up again and hope for the best!

Running draft connect

With the realtime-go container up and running, run draft connect:

output of draft connect

This maps a local port on your system to the remote port over an ssh tunnel. In addition, it streams the logs from the container. You can now connect to http://localhost:18181 (or whatever port you’ll get):

Great success! The app is running

If you want a public IP for your service, you can modify the Helm chart. In values.yaml, set service.type to LoadBalancer instead of ClusterIP and run draft up again. You can verify the external IP by running kubectl get svc.


Working with draft while your are working on one or more containers and still hacking away at your code really is smooth sailing. If you are not using it yet, give it a go and see if you like it. I bet you will!

Azure Kubernetes Service and Azure Firewall

Deploying Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is, like most other Kubernetes-as-a-service offerings such as those from DigitalOcean and Google, very straightforward. It’s either a few clicks in the portal or one or two command lines and you are finished.

Using these services properly and in a secure fashion is another matter though. I am often asked how to secure access to the cluster and its applications. In addition, customers also want visibility and control of incoming and outgoing traffic. Combining Azure Firewall with AKS is one way of achieving those objectives.

This post will take a look at the combination of Azure Firewall and AKS. It is inspired by this post by Dennis Zielke. In that post, Dennis provides all the necessary Azure CLI commands to get to the following setup:

AKS and Azure Firewall (from
https://medium.com/@denniszielke/setting-up-azure-firewall-for-analysing-outgoing-traffic-in-aks-55759d188039 by Dennis Zielke)

In what follows, I will keep referring to the subnet names and IP addresses as in the above diagram.

Azure Firewall

Azure Firewall is a stateful firewall, provided as a service with built-in high availability. You deploy it in a subnet of a virtual network. The subnet should have the name AzureFirewallSubnet. The firewall will get two IP addresses:

  • Internal IP: the first IP address in the subnet (here
  • Public IP: a public IP address; in the above setup we will use it to provide access to a Kubernetes Ingress controller via a DNAT rule

As in the physical world, you will need to instruct systems to route traffic through the firewall. In Azure, this is done via a route table. The following route table was created:

Route table

In (1) a route to is defined that routes to the private IP of the firewall. The route will be used when no other route applies! The route table is associated with just the aks-5-subnet (2), which is the subnet where AKS (with advanced networking) is deployed. It’s important to note that now, all external traffic originating from the Kubernetes cluster passes through the firewall.

When you compare Azure Firewall to the Network Virtual Appliances (NVAs) from vendors such as CheckPoint, you will notice that the capabilities are somewhat limited. On the flip side though, Azure Firewall is super simple to deploy when compared with a highly available NVA setup.

Before we look at the firewall rules, let’s take a look at the Kubernetes Ingress Controller.

Kubernetes Ingress Controller

In this example, I will deploy nginx-ingress as an Ingress Controller. It will provide access to HTTP-based workloads running in the cluster and it can route to various workloads based on the URL. I will deploy the nginx-ingress with Helm.

Think of an nginx-ingress as a reverse proxy. It receives http requests, looks at the hostname and path (e.g. mydomain.com/api/user) and routes the request to the appropriate Kubernetes service (e.g. the user service).

Diagram showing Ingress traffic flow in an AKS cluster
Ingress in Kubernetes (from Microsoft:
https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/aks/operator-best-practices-network#distribute-ingress-traffic )

Normally, the nginx-ingress service is accessed via an Azure external load balancer. Behind the scenes, this is the result of the service object having spec.type set to the value LoadBalancer. If we want external traffic to nginx-ingress to pass through the firewall, we will need to tell Kubernetes to create an internal load balancer via an annotation. Let’s do that with Helm. First, you will need to install tiller, the server-side component of Helm. Use the following procedure from the Microsoft documentation:

  • Create a service account for tiller: link
  • Configure tiller: link

With tiller installed, issue the following two commands:

kubectl create ns ingress 

helm install stable/nginx-ingress --namespace ingress --set controller.replicaCount=2 --set controller.service.annotations."service\.beta\.kubernetes\.io/azure-load-balancer-internal"=true --set controller.service.annotations."service\.beta\.kubernetes\.io/azure-load-balancer-internal-subnet"=ing-4-subnet

The second command installs nginx-ingress in the ingress namespace. The two –set parameters add the following annotations to the service object (yes I know, the Helm annotation parameters are ugly 🤢):

service.beta.kubernetes.io/azure-load-balancer-internal: "true"
service.beta.kubernetes.io/azure-load-balancer-internal-subnet: ing-4-subnet

This ensures an internal load balancer gets created. It gets created in the mc-* resource group that backs your AKS deployment:

Internal load balancer created by the Kubernetes cloud integration components

Note that Kubernetes creates the load balancer, including the rules and probes for port 80 and 443 as defined in the service object that comes with the Helm chart. The load balancer is created in the ing-4-subnet as instructed by the service annotation. Its private IP address is as in the diagram at the top of this post

DNAT Rule to Load Balancer

To provide access to internal resources, Azure Firewall uses DNAT rules which stands for destination network address translation. The concept is simple: traffic to the firewall’s public IP on some port can be forwarded to an internal IP on the same or another port. In our case, traffic to the firewall’s public IP on port 80 and 443 is forwarded to the internal load balancer’s private IP on port 80 and 443. The load balancer will forward the request to nginx-ingress:

DNAT rule forwarding port 80 and 443 traffic to the internal load balancer

If the installation of nginx-ingress was successful, you should end up at the default back-end when you go to http://firewallPublicIP.

nginx-ingress default backend when browsing to public IP of firewall

If you configured Log Analytics and installed the Azure Firewall solution, you can look at the firewall logs. DNAT actions are logged and can be inspected:

Firewall logs via Log Analytics

Application and Network Rules

Azure Firewall application rules are rules that allow or deny outgoing HTTP/HTTPS traffic based on the URL. The following rules were defined:

Application rules

The above rules allow http and https traffic to destinations such as docker.io, cloudflare and more.

Note that another Azure Firewall rule type, network rules, are evaluated first. If a match is found, rule evaluation is stopped. Suppose you have these network rules:

Network rules

The above network rule allows port 22 and 443 for all sources and destinations. This means that Kubernetes can actually connect to any https-enabled site on the default port, regardless of the defined application rules. See rule processing for more information.

Threat Intelligence

This feature alerts on and/or denies network traffic coming from known bad IP addresses or domains. You can track this via Log Analytics:

Threat Intelligence Alerts and Denies on Azure Firewall

Above, you see denied port scans, traffic from botnets or brute force credentials attacks all being blocked by Azure Firewall. This feature is currently in preview.

Best Practices

The AKS documentation has a best practices section that discusses networking. It contains useful information about the networking model (Kubenet vs Azure CNI), ingresses and WAF. It does not, at this point in time (May 2019), desicribe how to use Azure Firewall with AKS. It would be great if that were added in the near future.

Here are a couple of key points to think about:

  • WAF (Web Application Firewall): Azure Firewall threat intelligence is not WAF; to enable WAF, there are several options:
    • you can enable mod_security in nginx_ingress
    • you can use Azure WAF or a 3rd party WAF
    • you can use cloud-native WAFs such as TwistLock (WAF is one of the features of this product; it also provides firewall and vulnerability assessment)
  • remote access to Kubernetes API: today, the API server is exposed via a public IP address; having the API server on a local IP will be available soon
  • remote access to Kubernetes hosts using SSH: only allow SSH on the private IP addresses; use a bastion host to enable connectivity


Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) can be combined with Azure Firewall to control network traffic to and from your Kubernetes cluster. Log Analytics provides the dashboard and logs to report and alert on traffic patterns. Features such as threat intelligence provide an extra layer of defense. For HTTP/HTTPS workloads (so most workloads), you should complement the deployment with a WAF such as Azure Application Gateway or 3rd party.

Revisiting Rancher

Several years ago, when we started our first adventures in the wonderful world of IoT, we created an application for visualizing real-time streams of sensor data. The sensor data came from custom-built devices that used 2G for connectivity. IoT networks and protocols such as SigFox, NB-IoT or Lora were not mainstream at that time. We leveraged what were then new and often preview-level Azure services such as IoT Hub, Stream Analytics, etc… The architecture was loosely based on lambda architecture with a hot and cold path and stateful window-based stream processing. Fun stuff!

Kubernetes already existed but had not taken off yet. Managed Kubernetes services such as Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) weren’t a thing.

The application (end-user UI and management) was loosely based on a micro-services pattern and we decided to run the services as Docker containers. At that time, Karim Vaes, now a Program Manager for Azure Storage, worked at our company and was very enthusiastic about Rancher. , Rancher was still v1 and we decided to use it in combination with their own container orchestration framework called Cattle.

Our experience with Rancher was very positive. It was easy to deploy and run in production. The combination of GitHub, Shippable and the Rancher CLI made it extremely easy to deploy our code. Rancher, including Cattle, was very stable for our needs.

In recent years though, the growth of Kubernetes as a container orchestrator platform has far outpaced the others. Using an alternative orchestrator such as Cattle made less sense. Rancher 2.0 is now built around Kubernetes but maintains the same experience as earlier versions such as simple deployment and flexible configuration and management.

In this post, I will look at deploying Rancher 2.0 and importing an existing AKS cluster. This is a basic scenario but it allows you to get a feel for how it works. Indeed, besides deploying your cluster with Rancher from scratch (even on-premises on VMware), you can import existing Kubernetes clusters including managed clusters from Google, Amazon and Azure.

Installing Rancher

For evaluation purposes, it is best to just run Rancher on a single machine. I deployed an Azure virtual machine with the following properties:

  • Operating system: Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
  • Size: DS2v3 (2 vCPUs, 8GB of RAM)
  • Public IP with open ports 22, 80 and 443
  • DNS name: somename.westeurope.cloudapp.azure.com

In my personal DNS zone on CloudFlare, I created a CNAME record for the above DNS name. Later, when you install Rancher you can use the custom DNS name in combination with Let’s Encrypt support.

On the virtual machine, install Docker. Use the guide here. You can use the convenience script as a quick way to install Docker.

With Docker installed, install Rancher with the following command:

docker run -d --restart=unless-stopped -p 80:80 -p 443:443 \
rancher/rancher:latest --acme-domain your-custom-domain

More details about the single node installation can be found here. Note that Rancher uses etcd as a datastore. With the command above, the data will be in /var/lib/rancher inside the container. This is ok if you are just doing a test drive. In other cases, use external storage and mount it on /var/lib/rancher.

A single-node install is great for test and development. For production, use the HA install. This will actually run Rancher on Kubernetes. Rancher recommends a dedicated cluster in this scenario.

After installation, just connect https://your-custom-domain and provide a password for the default admin user.

Adding a cluster

To get started, I added an existing three-node AKS cluster to Rancher. After you add the cluster and turn on monitoring, you will see the following screen when you navigate to Clusters and select the imported cluster:

Dashboard for a cluster

To demonstrate the functionality, I deployed a 3-node cluster (1.11.9) with RBAC enabled and standard networking. After deployment, open up Azure Cloud shell and get your credentials:

az aks list -o table
az aks get-credentials -n cluster-name -g cluster-resource-group
kubectl cluster-info

The first command lists the clusters in your subscription, including their name and resource group. The second command configures kubectl, the Kubernetes command line admin tool, which is pre-installed in Azure Cloud Shell. To verify you are connected, the last command simply displays cluster information.

Now that the cluster is deployed, let’s try to import it. In Rancher, navigate to GlobalClusters and click Add Cluster:

Add cluster via Import

Click Import, type a name and click Create. You will get a screen with a command to run:

kubectl apply -f https://your-custom-dns/v3/import/somerandomtext.yaml

Back in the Azure Cloud Shell, run the command:

Running the command to prepare the cluster for import

Continue on in Rancher, the cluster will be added (by the components you deployed above):

Cluster appears in the list

Click on the cluster:

Top of the cluster dashboard

To see live metrics, you can click Enable Monitoring. This will install and configure Prometheus and Grafana. You can control several parameters of the deployment such as data retention:

Enabling monitoring

Notice that by default, persistent storage for Grafana and Prometheus is not configured.

Note: with monitoring enabled or not, you will notice the following error in the dashboard:

Controller manager and scheduler unhealthy?

The error is described here. In short, the components are probably healthy. The error is not related to a Rancher issue but an upstream Kubernetes issue.

When the monitoring API is ready, you will see live metrics and Grafana icons. Clicking on the Graphana icon next to Nodes gives you this:

Node monitoring with Prometheus and Grafana

Of course, Azure provides Container Insights for monitoring. The Grafana dashboards are richer though. On the other hand, querying and alerting on logs and metrics from Container Insights is powerful as well. You can of course enable them all and use the best of both worlds.


We briefly looked at Rancher 2.0 and how it can interact with a existing AKS cluster. An existing cluster is easy to add. Once it is added, adding monitoring is “easy peasy lemon squeezy” as my daughter would call it! 😉 As with Rancher 1.x, I am again pleasantly surprised at how Rancher is able to make complex matters simpler and more fun to work with. There is much more to explore and do of course. That’s for some follow-up posts!

Hosting an Angular app in Kubernetes

We recently had to deploy an Angular application to Kubernetes in three different environments: development, acceptance and production. The application is not accessed via the browser directly. Instead, it’s accessed via a Microsoft Office add-in.

The next sections will provide you with some tips to make this work. In practice, I do not recommend hosting static sites in Kubernetes. Instead, host such sites in a storage account with a CDN or use Azure FrontDoor.

Build and release pipelines

We keep our build and release pipelines as simple as possible. The build pipeline builds and pushes a Docker image and creates a Helm package:

Build pipeline

The Helm Package task merely packages the Helm chart in the linked git repository in a .tgz file. The .tgz file is published as an artifact, to be picked up by the release pipeline.

The release pipeline simply uses the helm upgrade command via a Helm task provided by Azure DevOps:

Release pipeline

Before we continue: these build and release steps actually just build an image to use as an initContainer in a Kubernetes pod. Why? Read on… 😉


Although we build the Angular app in the build pipeline, we actually don’t use the build output. We merely build the app provisionally to cancel the build and subsequent release when there is an error during the Angular build.

In the release pipeline, we again build the Angular app after we updated environment.prod.ts to match the release environment. First read up on the use of environment.ts files to understand their use in an Angular app.

In the development environment for instance, we need to update the environment.prod.ts file with URLs that match the development environment URLs before we build:

export const environment = {
production: true,
apiUrl: '#{apiUrl}#',
adUrl: '#{adUrl}#',

The actual update is done by a shell script with trusty old sed:


cd /app/src/environments
sed -i "s|#{apiUrl}#|$apiUrl|g" environment.prod.ts
sed -i "s|#{adUrl}#|$adUrl|g" environment.prod.ts

mkdir /usr/share/nginx/html/addin -p

npm install typescript@">=2.4.2 <2.7"
npm run build -- --output-path=/app/dist/out --configuration production --aot

cp /app/dist/out/* /usr/share/nginx/html/addin -r

The shell script expects environment variables $apiUrl and $adUrl to be set. After environment.prod.ts is updated, we build the Angular app with the correct settings for apiUrl and adUrl to end up in the transpiled and minified output.

The actual build happens in a Kubernetes initContainer. We build the initContainer in the Azure DevOps build pipeline. We don’t build the final container because that is just default nginx hosting static content.

Let’s look at the template in the Helm chart (just the initContainers section):

- name: officeaddin-build
image: {{ .Values.images.officeaddin }}
command: ['/bin/bash', '/app/src/deploy.sh']
- name: apiUrl
value: {{ .Values.env.apiUrl | quote }}
- name: adUrl
value: {{ .Values.env.adUrl | quote }}
- name: officeaddin-files
mountPath: /usr/share/nginx/html

In the above YAML, we can identify the following:

  • image: set by the release pipeline via a Helm parameter; the image tag is retrieved from the build pipeline via $(Build.BuildId)
  • command: the deploy.sh Bash script as discussed above; it is copied to the image during the build phase via the Dockerfile
  • environment variables (env): inserted via a Helm parameter in the release pipeline; for instance env.apiUrl=$(apiUrl) where $(apiUrl) is an Azure DevOps variable
  • volumeMounts: in another section of the YAML file, an emptyDir volume called officeaddin-files is created; that volume is mounted on the initContainer as /usr/share/nginx/html; deploy.sh actually copies the Angular build output to that location so the files end up in the volume; later, we can map that volume to the nginx container that hosts the website

After the initContainer successfully builds and copies the output, the main nginx container can start. Here is the Helm YAML (with some stuff left out for brevity):

- name: officeaddin
image: nginx
- name: http
containerPort: {{ .Values.service.port}}
- name: officeaddin-files
mountPath: /usr/share/nginx/html
- name: nginx-conf
readOnly: true
mountPath: /etc/nginx/conf.d

The officeaddin-files volume with the build output from the initContainer is mounted on /usr/share/nginx/html, which is where nginx expects your files by default.

Nginx config for Angular

The default nginx config will not work. That is the reason you see an additional volume being mounted. The volume actually mounts a configMap on /etc/nginx/conf.d. Here is the configMap:

apiVersion: v1
kind: ConfigMap
name: nginx-conf
default.conf: |
server {
server_name addin;

root /usr/share/nginx/html ;

location / {
try_files $uri $uri/ /addin/index.html?$args;

The above configMap, combined with the volumeMount, results in a file /etc/nginx/conf.d/default.conf. The default nginx configuration in /etc/nginx/nginx.conf will inlude all files in /etc/nginx/conf.d. The nginx configuration in that file maps all requests to /addin/index.html, which is exactly what we want for an Angular app (or React etc…).

Ingress Controller

The Angular app is published via a Kubernetes Ingress Controller. In this case, we use Voyager. We only need to add a rule to the Ingress definition that routes request to the appropriate NodePort service:

- host: {{ .Values.ingress.url | quote }}
- path: /addin/
serviceName: officeaddin-service
servicePort: {{ .Values.service.port }}

Besides the above change, nothing special needs to be done to publish the Angular app.

AKS Managed Pod Identity and access to Azure Storage

When you need to access Azure Storage (or other Azure resources) from a container in AKS (Kubernetes on Azure), you have many options. You can put credentials in your code (nooooo!), pass credentials via environment variables, use Kubernetes secrets, obtain secrets from Key Vault and so on. Usually, the credentials are keys but you can also connect to a Storage Account with an Azure AD account. Instead of a regular account, you can use a managed identity that you set up specifically for the purpose of accessing the storage account or a specific container.

A managed identity is created as an Azure resource and will appear in the resource group where it was created:

User assigned managed identity

This managed identity can be created from the Azure Portal but also with the Azure CLI:

az identity create -g storage-aad-rg -n demo-pod-id -o json 

The managed identity can subsequently be granted access rights, for instance, on a storage account. Storage accounts now also support Azure AD accounts (in preview). You can assign roles such as Blob Data Reader, Blob Data Contributor and Blob Data Owner. The screenshot below shows the managed identity getting the Blob Data Reader role on the entire storage account:

Granting the managed identity access to a storage account

When you want to use this specific identity from a Kubernetes pod, you can use the aad-pod-identity project. Note that this is an open source project and that it is not quite finished. The project’s README contains all the instructions you need but here are the highlights:

  • Deploy the infrastructure required to support managed identities in pods; these are the MIC and NMI containers plus some custom resource definitions (CRDs)
  • Assign the AKS service principle the role of Managed Identity Operator over the scope of the managed identity created above (you would use the resource id of the managed identity in the scope such as  /subscriptions/YOURSUBID/resourcegroups/YOURRESOURCEGROUP/providers/Microsoft.ManagedIdentity/userAssignedIdentities/YOURMANAGEDIDENTITY
  • Define the pod identity via the AzureIdentity custom resource definition (CRD); in the YAML file you will refer to the managed identity by its resource id (/subscr…) and client id
  • Define the identity binding via the AzureIdentityBinding custom resource definition (CRD); in the YAML file you will setup a selector that you will use later in a pod definition to associate the managed identity with the pod; I defined a selector called myapp

Here is the identity definition (uses one of the CRDs defined earlier):

apiVersion: "aadpodidentity.k8s.io/v1"
kind: AzureIdentity
name: aks-pod-id
type: 0
ResourceID: /subscriptions/SUBID/resourcegroups/RESOURCEGROUP/providers/Microsoft.ManagedIdentity/userAssignedIdentities/demo-pod-id
ClientID: c35040d0-f73c-4c4e-a376-9bb1c5532fda

And here is the binding that defines the selector (other CRD defined earlier):

apiVersion: "aadpodidentity.k8s.io/v1"
kind: AzureIdentityBinding
name: aad-identity-binding
AzureIdentity: aks-pod-id
Selector: myapp

Note that the installation of the infrastructure containers depends on RBAC being enabled or not. To check if RBAC is enabled on your AKS cluster, you can use https://resources.azure.com and search for your cluster. Check for the enableRBAC. In my cluster, RBAC was enabled:

Yep, RBAC enabled so make sure you use the RBAC YAML files

With everything configured, we can spin up a container with a label that matches the selector defined earlier:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
name: ubuntu
aadpodidbinding: myapp
name: ubuntu
image: ubuntu:latest
command: [ "/bin/bash", "-c", "--"]
args: [ "while true; do sleep 30; done;"]

Save the above to a file called ubuntu.yaml and use kubectl apply -f ubuntu.yaml to launch the pod. The pod will keep running because of the forever while loop. The pod can use the managed identity because of the aadpodidbinding label of myapp. Next, get a shell to the container:

kubectl exec -it ubuntu /bin/bash

To check if it works, we have to know how to obtain an access token (which is a JWT or JSON Web Token). We can obtain it via curl. First use apt-get update and then use apt-get install curl to install it. Then issue the following command to obtain a token for https://azure.storage.com:

curl '' -H Metadata:true -s

TIP: if you are not very familiar with curl, use https://curlbuilder.com. As a precaution, do not paste your access token in the command builder.

The request to goes to the Azure Instance Metadata Service which provides, among other things, an API to obtain a token. The result will be in the following form:

{"access_token":"THE ACTUAL ACCESS TOKEN","refresh_token":"", "expires_in":"28800","expires_on":"1549083688","not_before":"1549054588","resource":"https://storage.azure.com/","token_type":"Bearer"

Note that many of the SDKs that Microsoft provides, have support for managed identities baked in. That means that the SDK takes care of calling the Instance Metadata Service for you and presents you a token to use in subsequent calls to Azure APIs.

Now that you have the access token, you can use it in a request to the storage account, for instance to list containers:

curl -XGET -H 'Authorization: Bearer THE ACTUAL ACCESS TOKEN' -H 'x-ms-version: 2017-11-09' -H "Content-type: application/json" 'https://storageaadgeba.blob.core.windows.net/?comp=list 

The result of the call is some XML with the container names. I only had a container called test:


Wrap up

You have seen how to bind an Azure managed identity to a Kubernetes pod running on AKS. The aad-pod-identity project provides the necessary infrastructure and resources to bind the identity to a pod using a label in its YAML file. From there, you can work with the managed identity as you would on a virtual machine, calling the Instance Metadata Service to obtain the token (a JWT). Once you have the token, you can include it in REST calls to the Azure APIs by adding an authorization header. In this post we have used the storage APIs as an example.

Note that Microsoft has AKS Pod Identity marked as in development on the updates site. I am not aware if this is based on the aad-pod-identity project but it does mean that the feature will become an official part of AKS pretty soon!

Kubernetes on DigitalOcean

Image: from DigitalOcean’s website

Yesterday, I decided to try out DigitalOcean’s Kubernetes. As always with DigitalOcean, the solution is straightforward and easy to use.

Similarly to Azure, their managed Kubernetes product is free. You only pay for the compute of the agent nodes, persistent block storage and load balancers. The minimum price is 10$ per month for a single-node cluster with a 2GB and 1 vCPU node (s-1vcpu-2gb). Not bad at all!

At the moment, the product is in limited availability. The screenshot below shows a cluster in the UI:

Kubernetes cluster with one node pool and one node in the pool

Multiple node pools are supported, a feature that is coming soon to Azure’s AKS as well.

My cluster has one pod deployed, exposed via a service of type LoadBalancer. That results in the provisioning of a DigitalOcean load balancer:

DigitalOcean LoadBalancer

Naturally, you will want to automate this deployment. DigitalOcean has an API and CLI but I used Terraform to deploy the cluster. You need to obtain a personal access token for DigitalOcean and use that in conjunction with the DigitalOcean provider. Full details can be found on GitHub: https://github.com/gbaeke/kubernetes-do. Note that this is a basic example but it shows how easy it is to stand up a managed Kubernetes cluster on a cloud platform and not break the bank