Choosing the Right Kubernetes Distribution for Your Clusters
Harshit Mehndiratta
Harshit Mehndiratta
July 05, 2020
5 minutes read

Choosing the Right Kubernetes Distribution for Your Clusters

Kubernetes is open source and freely available on GitHub. Anyone can search the repository download the code and implement Kubernetes according to their infrastructure. But most people don’t want to go through that hassle. They want to primarily focus on their business production which creates the need for a complete container platform for container orchestration.

A Kubernetes distribution is a complete platform that includes a version of Kubernetes with all the tools required to make container implementation easier and effective.

There is a variety of distributions. Some offer more stability, while others offer better features and enterprise support.

In this blog, we have listed the most prominent and valuable offerings so that you can choose the one suiting your business needs.

Before I start with a list of distributions, let me clarify that all the Kubernetes distributions mentioned below are built upon upstream Kubernetes, the free and open-source version of Kubernetes.

Red Hat OpenShift

Red Hat OpenShift is a containerization platform that utilizes Kubernetes as orchestration technology alongside various other tools required to deploy, run, and manage containers effectively. It is an open-source platform built on origin community distribution (OCD for short). OpenShift improves Kubernetes usefulness by including an enhanced console, customizable CLI interface, and various crucial open-source tools for managing available clusters.

OpenShift utilizes Ansible to implement deployment procedure that bundles popular Kubernetes monitoring and security tools such as Istio, Prometheus, and Elastic Stack, which provides better inventory management, an integrated registry tool for seamless integration and easier vocabulary for understanding container orchestration terms compared to classic Kubernetes distribution.

OpenShift as a distribution can be run both on-premise and in the cloud and has different variants depending on the requirements.

There is origin community distribution of Kubernetes OKD, which is a free Kubernetes distribution, then there is OpenShift Enterprise, which can be deployed on-premise or on the cloud. Lastly, there is an OpenShift Online, an all-online version that provides computing resources on the cloud to deploy and manage clusters.

Red Hat Openshift distribution is mainly focused on enterprises. It is best suited for organizations that concentrate on stability instead of new features. Openshift has its own defined feature set, which is more than enough to effectively maintain the container architecture of companies.

Canonical Distribution of Kubernetes

Canonical, creators of Ubuntu Linux, have created their own Kubernetes distribution and known as Canonical Distribution of Kubernetes(CDK). It has well regarded, widely used Ubuntu Linux as an operating system with a stack of Kubernetes tools on top of it to effectively manage clusters, whether they are on-premise or in the cloud.

Canonical Kubernetes also has a smaller version which developers can use for experimentation and testing known as Microk8s. But the real standout for canonical Kubernetes is its well upheld Ubuntu Linux, which provides easy integration of Kubernetes elements and various open-source tools.

Canonical Kubernetes is essentially an upstream Kubernetes that is effectively deployable on the major private and public cloud solutions. It includes official support for Google’s GKE, Microsoft’s Azure as well as Amazon’s EKS. The UI is the native Kubernetes Dashboard, and deployment is done using tools like Conjure-up or Juju developed by Canonical.

Canonical Kubernetes edges at setting up cross area Kubernetes clusters and offers great enterprise support due to its compatibility with various container orchestration engines. It is usually recommended for those organizations looking forward to migrating to container architecture and already running Linux environments. Setting up Kubernetes will be a breeze for them.

Canonical Kubernetes distribution is free, but there are also paid subscriptions for maintenance of nodes if you are leaving the management of clusters to canonical engineers.

Google Kubernetes Engine

Google Kubernetes Engine(GKE) is Google Cloud’s fully managed Kubernetes distribution, which offers a full-featured set of tools to deploy and manage containers via Kubernetes container orchestration platform quickly.

Initially, Google was responsible for the development of Google Kubernetes Engine, but now it is managed and developed by Cloud Native Computing Foundation(CNCF) as an open-source project.

Deployment and management of containers are fast and easy with GKE. The environment consists of multiple machines that work together to create a cluster, and every cluster contains a master cluster and a set of nodes that run the necessary processes for the proper functioning of Kubernetes.

GKE offers a command-line interface where creation and deployment of clusters is a one-click process, but the real standout feature is a new version and upgrades. GKE offers automatic updates that don’t require any manual workflow or commands to keep distribution updated with the latest features.

GKE also provides Cluster Autoscaler, which automates cluster scaling for your nodes. You only have to configure the range of nodes and define the size of VM. Autoscaler will scale your nodes depending upon the workload.

GKE is an attractive choice for organizations looking forward to automating deployments and don’t want to go through the hassle of updating their distribution now and then.


Rancher Labs, with its Kubernetes distribution Rancher, aims to provide enterprise-level container deployment and management across any infrastructure. Their real stand out is its Rancher Kubernetes Engine(RKE), which provides the ability to effectively manage clusters on various cloud providers such as AKS, GKE, and EKS.

Rancher is very easy to set up, define your configuration for clusters in the YAML file, and use RKE to deploy it. RKE is entirely based on container architecture, so modifying or scaling can be done easily on needs. It also offers role-based access controls (RBAC), integration with several authentication protocols for secure communication, private registries, addons, and more.

Rancher as a distribution can be easily used on-premise and in the cloud, and pricing is comparatively lower and not publicly disclosed like other Kubernetes distribution. However, they do make their code available via GitHub for a better understanding and collaboration.


There is a high chance that a Kubernetes distribution mentioned in the above list does not connect completely with your business needs. Some organizations prefer customization in their distribution, while some want easy to use all in one container orchestration distribution.

It is essential to consider your scenario and ask yourself a few questions. Are you going to do deployment on a large scale or small scale? How much of enterprise-grade capabilities do you need to run applications safely? No answer fits all cases, but the first question to answer is whether you have enough capacity and talent in house to deploy and manage a DIY Kubernetes clusters or make use of managed Kubernetes distributions.