Announcing Rancher 2.0: the next major release of the container management platform

Gray Calendar Icon Published: September 26, 2017
Gray Calendar Icon Updated: January 26, 2021
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Update: Rancher 2.0 Tech Preview has since gone to GA. Read the announcement here.

[Rancher 2.0

We achieved another significant milestone today at Rancher Labs. After months of hard work, our engineering team released a technology preview of the Rancher 2.0 container management platform.] Rancher 2.0 builds on the tremendous momentum of market-leading Rancher 1.x container management software. Since we shipped Rancher 1.0 in March 2016, Rancher server and Rancher agent have been downloaded over 60 million times. There are now over ten thousand live deployments of Rancher world-wide, and over 100 paying customers. Almost every day, happy open source users and customers tell us how Rancher makes it easy for them to run Docker and Kubernetes in production. I would like to thank our users who motivate us to make Rancher software better, and I would especially like to thank our customers who help fund the continuing development of Rancher software!

Rancher 1.0 included an easy-to-use container orchestration framework called Cattle and supported a variety of industry-standard container orchestrators, including Swarm, Mesos, and Kubernetes. Rancher users loved the idea of adopting a management platform that gave them the choice of container orchestration frameworks.

In the last year, however, the growth of Kubernetes has far outpaced other orchestrators. Rancher users are increasingly demanding a better user experience and more functionality on top of Kubernetes. We have, therefore, decided to reengineer Rancher 2.0 to take advantage of the power of Kubernetes by rebasing the popular Rancher experience (known as Cattle) on Kubernetes. With Rancher 2.0:

  1. Cattle users retain the same easy-to-use experience and can additionally take advantage of the power of Kubernetes orchestration engine, with its rich infrastructure plugins, enhanced RBAC, and cloud native ecosystem services.
  2. Kubernetes users gain access to unique Rancher user experience and the Rancher application catalog.

Our Kubernetes journey

When we initially built Kubernetes support into Rancher in 2015, the biggest challenge we faced was how to install and setup Kubernetes clusters. Off-the-shelf Kubernetes scripts and tools were difficult to use and were unreliable. Rancher made it easy to setup a Kubernetes cluster with a click of a button. Better yet, Rancher allowed you to set up Kubernetes clusters on any infrastructure, including public cloud, vSphere clusters, and bare metal servers. As a result, Rancher quickly became one of the most popular ways to launch Kubernetes clusters.

In early 2016, numerous off-the-shelf and third-party installers for Kubernetes became available. The challenge was no longer how to install and configure Kubernetes, but how to operate and upgrade Kubernetes clusters on an ongoing basis. We built a lot of features in Rancher to make it easy to operate and upgrade Kubernetes clusters and its associated etcd database.

By the end of 2016, we started to notice that the value of Kubernetes operations software was rapidly diminishing. Two factors contributed to this trend. First, open source tools such as Kubernetes Operations (kops) have reached a level of maturity that made it easy for many organizations to operate Kubernetes on AWS. Second, Kubernetes-as-a-Service started to gain popularity. A Google Cloud customer, for example, no longer wanted to setup and operate their own clusters. They could rely on Google, the inventor of the technology, to operate Kubernetes for them.

Kubernetes will be everywhere

In early 2016 I met Joe Beda, who founded the Kubernetes project at Google and would later found the Kubernetes company Heptio. Joe painted a vision of “Kubernetes Everywhere,” where Kubernetes can potentially rival the ubiquity of IaaS.

The popularity of Kubernetes continues to rise in 2017. Its momentum is not slowing. We have little doubt in the not so distant future, Kubernetes-as-a-Service will be available from all infrastructure providers. When that happens, Kubernetes will become the universal infrastructure standard. DevOps team will no longer need to operate Kubernetes clusters themselves. The only remaining challenge will be how to manage and utilize Kubernetes clusters available from everywhere.

Rancher 2.0: built on Kubernetes

Rancher 2.0 is a complete container management platform built on Kubernetes. The following figure illustrates the capabilities of Rancher.

Rancher 2.0

Unlike Rancher 1.0, Rancher server 2.0 includes an embedded Kubernetes master. This means as soon as you start Rancher using, for example, the command

docker run -d -p 8080:8080 rancher/server

you immediately have a Kubernetes cluster up and running. You don’t need to perform further steps to create your first Kubernetes cluster. From then on, every host you add will automatically have a Kubelet installed and be part of a Kubernetes cluster.

You can create additional clusters using the same embedded Kubernetes master. We have built a custom multi-tenant Kubernetes API server to minimize the resources required for multiple Kubernetes clusters.

We envision a future where Kubernetes-as-a-service will become the norm, and it will become increasingly less common to use the embedded Kubernetes master. Rancher 2.0 allows you to import and manage Kubernetes clusters powered by cloud providers like Google Container Engine (GKE) and Kubernetes clusters, which are built using other tools such as kops.

A single point of control and visibility across multiple clusters

Rancher 2.0

Read the technical architecture paper for more details on the Rancher 2.0 enhancements. An IT administrator can create several Kubernetes clusters using the embedded Kubernetes master or import several existing Kubernetes clusters, and then use Rancher as a single point of control and management for multiple clusters.

Let us use a concrete example to illustrate how an IT administrator can leverage centralized RBAC and authentication capabilities in Rancher. Imagine an enterprise IT organization decides to use Google Container Engine (GKE) as the standard platform to deploy containerized applications. GKE requires every user to have a Google account, which is not the standard practice in most enterprise organizations. With Rancher, the IT admin can import a GKE clusters into Rancher using a single service account. Other users can then be authenticated using the organization’s existing ActiveDirectory credentials.

A redesigned UI

So many users have told us they really enjoyed using Rancher UI, and we decided to make it even better in 2.0! We love working on the UI and we love making it better. The 2.0 UI presents a simple container view by default, making it very easy for anyone with rudimentary understanding of containers to get started with Kubernetes. Advanced users still have access to kubectl and Kubernetes dashboard. The application catalog experience is further enhanced so that you can not only deploy applications with a single click, you can now easily access and manage applications after you deploy them. The 2.0 UI scales to many more containers, services, and hosts. The 2.0 UI is highly responsive. If you liked 1.x UI, you will like 2.0 UI even better.

Product demo

The following demo provides an overview of all the cool new features in Rancher 2.0:

Rancher 2.0 demo

You can find details on how to quickly get started with Rancher 2.0 here.

More to come in the future

What we released today is an early technology preview. There’s still lots of unfinished work. We are still busy fixing bugs and adding features like HA deployment, RBAC and authentication, integrated CI/CD, monitoring, and logging, etc. We will be shipping new releases frequently. Stay tuned.

If you would like to learn more details about the technologies and features in Rancher 2.0, join us for our October online meetup. You can sign up [here].

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