Containerized applications support the microservices architecture of cloud-native technologies that many businesses now rely on. Not only do they offer scalability and flexibility but they also ensure that applications are packaged with all the resources they need to function, thus making them fully portable and able to run in any virtualized environment.
Kubernetes has become the industry’s de facto standard for container management. Thanks to its ease of use and rich set of features, it’s simple to deploy and can scale and adapt to any range of needs. It has become mission-critical for microservices-based products seeking to deliver more value to end users in less time.
Despite these benefits, easily the biggest challenge that comes with using Kubernetes is cost-monitoring and observability. The invoices you receive from your cloud vendor will only show line items for services like AWS EC2 or EKS or GCP Compute Engine. They don’t provide any context into the actual workloads themselves, let alone business contexts such as your cloud unit economics.
In this blog post, we’ll examine what makes Kubernetes cost monitoring so challenging. We’ll also compare some of the most popular cost monitoring and observability tools on the market.
What are the Challenges of Kubernetes Cost Management?
The biggest barrier to any large-scale deployment of Kubernetes is the unmanageable growth of costs. In a recent survey of 178 organizations, over two thirds of respondents claimed that their costs had increased over the past year, with half of them seeing a jump of over 20%.
The main value driver of Kubernetes is that it allows DevOps teams to focus on implementing innovative applications and features rapidly by exploiting disposable and replaceable compute resources at scale across a broad range of infrastructure types. Counterintuitively, however, this also means that sub-optimal resource provisioning is a common problem, thereby making it easy to lose control over the costs involved. By contrast, before containerization technology came along, cloud resource allocation and optimization was much easier, but it also severely lacked the scalability and flexibility that businesses need today.
With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of the main cost observability challenges of Kubernetes:
- Allocation of total costs: To provide a scalable and flexible environment for running containerized applications, Kubernetes proactively creates, supports, and dumps container instances as needed. Thus, its resource usage is highly volatile, making it a challenge to track the actual usage levels and distribute overhead expenses.
- Abstraction of Kubernetes: The Kubernetes API creates a cloud-native abstraction layer between the infrastructure and end-user applications. You create namespaces, deployments, and StatefulSets in Kubernetes. Under the hood, Kubernetes creates pods on servers and provisions load balancers and volumes. Tracking the cost of these components requires a solution capable of tracking these abstraction layers.
- Multi-cloud environments: Kubernetes can run on any public cloud provider or on-premises infrastructure, as well as apply a hybrid approach. Therefore, it is possible to have different bills from different service providers for your clusters, making it difficult to determine which costs pertain to which containers.
- Savings insights and opportunities: When deploying applications, you can request resources such as CPU and memory. However, you also need to identify to what extent those requested resources are actually used to minimize waste. Since Kubernetes and its infrastructure are very volatile, such calculations and checks must be automatic.
Fortunately, there are some powerful tools on the market to help overcome these challenges. Read on to see what such tools should offer as well as how various popular solutions meet these requirements.
Key Features, Functions, and Tradeoffs to Look Out For
Kubernetes does not come with an out-of-the-box cost-observability tool. However, there are tools on the market to help you understand and calculate the costs of your applications running in the cloud. With that in mind, here are the most important considerations when choosing a solution to regain control over your Kubernetes costs:
- Installation: Cost observability tools should be easy to install and manage, but they must do so with minimal intrusion on the cluster itself to limit performance and security concerns.
- Configuration Difficulty: Configuration is critical for Kubernetes cost monitoring and cloud provider monitoring, since a faulty configuration results in mistaken calculations and estimations.
- Cost visibility per resource: One of the critical characteristics of cost observability is the ability to accurately calculate the costs per pod, deployment, namespace, and other resources in a cluster. For this, you need a tool that supports proper resource labeling.
- Connection to external billing: Your Kubernetes monitoring tool should connect to your cloud provider’s billing system. Your AWS bill, for example, has cost information that’s essential to accurate Kubernetes costing, even if it’s not comprehensive by itself.
- Open-source and community: Kubernetes is an open-source platform with an active community, and its popularity stems from this. Third-party cost observability tools often use different licensing models and typically charge a monthly fee.
The cost management tools provided by cloud vendors themselves provide only very limited visibility into Kubernetes costs. For example, a line item in an invoice is only associated with a selection of instances, such as EC2 or EKS in AWS. However, most applications depend on multiple resources. While the application might be stored in a Kubernetes container, it might need to connect to an external database or CDN to deliver full functionality. To fully understand your cloud bill, it’s necessary to break down these costs by each individual service, such as Kubernetes namespaces, external databases, storage blocks, and other resources. Only then can you accurately determine how much each application function, feature, and transaction costs.
5 Kubernetes Cost-Observability Tools to Consider
With many businesses from fast-growing startups to global enterprises deploying thousands of container instances every day, the demand for better cost observability is soaring. FinOps aims to address these challenges by empowering closer collaboration between teams across DevOps, finance, and sales. While FinOps is a cultural movement more than anything, there are some valuable tools to assist you on your journey to better cloud cost management.
Here are some of the most popular cost-observability tools for Kubernetes:
Finout is a relatively new player on the market and one that is designed from the ground up with FinOps in mind. With straightforward configuration and installation, it integrates with your Prometheus DB using Finout’s open-source cronjob or with your Datadog account API. Either approach provides access to your Kubernetes cluster metrics, including CPU and memory usage.
Once integrated, Finout shows cost per pod, deployment, namespace, cron job, StatefulSet, and cluster. It uses these metrics to enrich your AWS Billing data with granular cost visibility. By achieving this level of cost visibility, you can solve the challenges associated with allocating costs per customer, tenant, team, or business application.
Using Finout, you can quickly and accurately report, via a simple and intuitive platform, which Kubernetes and AWS components each business unit is composed of, along with their costs, just as though AWS themselves sent you the bill.
Year founded: 2021, Tel Aviv, Israel
G2 score: 4.5
Best for: SaaS companies that need granular visibility into their cloud unit economics across their containerized environments in AWS and GCP.
Pricing structure: Flat monthly rate starting at $500 per month. A free version is available for companies with a maximum annual cloud spend of $50,000.
#2. Kubernetes Dashboard
Kubernetes Dashboard is an open-source, general-purpose web UI for Kubernetes clusters. As part of the official Kubernetes project, it’s completely free, and configuration and installation are straightforward. With Kubernetes Dashboard, you can check what’s running in your cluster and see its distribution to your worker nodes.
While Kubernetes Dashboard displays key metrics that impact your cloud bill, such as CPU and memory usage, it does not provide any information about cost visibility, such as price per pod or deployment. In addition, you cannot connect the dashboard to any external billing system, such as AWS Billing, for data collection or enrichment.
Year founded: First released in 2014 by Google, now maintained by the CNCF.
G2 score: N/A
Best for: Businesses looking for an easy way to get an overview of the applications running in their Kubernetes clusters and to create or modify individual resources.
Pricing structure: Free and open-source.
Cast.ai is a cloud cost-optimization tool designed specifically for managing and autoscaling Kubernetes clusters. It provides real-time monitoring, automated savings reports, and built-in security features for monitoring your containers for potential vulnerabilities or misconfiguration issues.
While Cast.ai can help you significantly reduce your cloud bill with automated scaling and cost-reporting, it’s not a FinOps solution, since it only caters to the needs of DevOps teams. It also lacks support for other virtualization platforms, and is limited to Kubernetes deployments only.
Year founded: 2019, North Miami Beach, Florida
G2 score: 5.0
Best for: DevOps teams looking to reduce their workloads and operational costs with an AI-powered, highly automated solution.
Pricing structure: Tier-based pricing structure starting at $200 per month plus $5 per CPU for guaranteed cloud savings across up to 4 clusters. A free version is also available.
KubeCost is a cost monitoring and management tool that focuses on cost visibility and control. KubeCost’s free offering is an open-source solution that provides basic configuration and easy installation into cluster. It helps reveal the actual price of your Kubernetes resources, such as pods or deployments.
The main limitation of Kubecost is that you can’t connect it directly to external billing systems, such as AWS Billing. In order to enrich and consolidate data, you need to connect your billing data to an AWS Athena database. In addition, most of its major capabilities are locked behind a paywall. However, Kubecost is targeted to deployments on all three major cloud providers.
Year founded: 2019, San Francisco, California
G2 score: 5.0
Best for: Businesses seeking to monitor Kubernetes costs in multi-cloud environments, such as those built on AWS, GCP, and Azure.
Pricing structure: Tier-based pricing structure starting at $449 per month for up to 100 nodes across an unlimited number of clusters. A free version is also available.
ContainIQ is one of the newest Kubernetes-specific monitoring and observability platforms on the market. It provides the four main features that one would expect of such a solution – logs, metrics, events, and latency. It also offers a simple one-line install that gives DevOps teams a fully managed self-service solution that requires little to no maintenance.
ContainIQ automatically generates Kubernetes cost optimization recommendations based on real-time usage metrics, applying them dynamically for instant results. It also breaks down the cost allocation of resources like namespaces, pods, labels, and containers. However, although it’s easy to use, it’s not a FinOps tool and caters largely to DevOps and engineering teams.
Year founded: 2020, Hoboken, New Jersey
G2 score: N/A
Best for: DevOps and engineering teams seeking a unified way to monitor Kubernetes cluster health and drill down into problems to identify root causes.
Pricing structure: $20 per month per node plus $0.50 per GB of log data ingested. Custom plans for enterprises are also available.
Despite all the benefits of using Kubernetes, a containerized environment does present some inherent challenges when it comes to cloud cost observability and resource allocation. Taking on a FinOps approach goes beyond simple cloud cost management to developing a far more sustainable and cost-efficient business model. That’s something that today’s SaaS companies in particular, need more than ever.
Finout's toolset provides a robust Kubernetes cost-monitoring platform that outperforms other available solutions. This empowers a modern, growing company to retain full visibility over its cloud costs to elevate its FinOps journey and become more sustainable and cost-efficient.
Finout gives businesses total cloud cost observability in minutes with a single source of truth for your cloud spend. Book a demo with our specialists today to begin your FinOps journey.