Rancher 2.0 is coming, and it’s amazing.

In the Beginning...

When Rancher released 1.0 in early 2016, the container landscape looked completely different. Kubernetes wasn’t the powerhouse that it is today. Swarm and Mesos satisfied specific use cases, and the bulk of the community still used Docker and Docker Compose with tools like Ansible, Puppet, or Chef. It was still BYOLB (bring your own load balancer), and volume management was another manual nightmare. Rancher stepped in with Cattle, and with it we augmented Docker with overlay networking, multi-cloud environments, health checking, load balancing, storage volume drivers, scheduling, and other features, while keeping the format of Docker Compose for configuration. We delivered an API, command-line tools, and a user interface that made launching services simple and intuitive. That’s key: simple and intuitive. With these two things, we abstracted the complexities of disparate systems and offered a way for businesses to run container workloads without having to manage the technology required to do so. We also gave the community the ability to run Swarm, Kubernetes, or Mesos, but we drew the line at managing the infrastructure components and stepped back, giving operators the ability to do whatever they wanted within each of those systems. “Here’s Kubernetes,” we said. “We’ll keep the lights on but, beyond that, using Kubernetes is up to you. Have fun!” If you compress the next 16 months into a few thoughts, looking only at our user base, we can say that Kubernetes adoption has grown dramatically, while Mesos and Swarm adoption has fallen. The functionality of Kubernetes has caught up with the functionality of Cattle and, in some areas, has surpassed it as vendors develop Kubernetes integrations that they aren’t developing directly for Docker. Many of the features in Cattle have analogs in Kubernetes, such as label-based selection for scheduling and load balancing, resource limits for services, collecting containers into groups that share the same network space, and more. If we take a few steps back and look at it objectively, one might say that by developing Cattle-specific services, we’re essentially developing a clone of Kubernetes at a slower pace than Kubernetes themselves. Rancher 2.0 changes that.

The Engine Does Not Matter

First, let me be totally clear: our beloved Cattle is not going anywhere, nor is RancherOS or Longhorn. If you get into your car and drive somewhere, what matters is that you get there. Some of you might care about the model of your car or its top speed, but most people just care about getting to the destination. Few people care about the engine or its specifics. We only look under the hood when something is going wrong. The engine for Cattle in Rancher 1.x was Docker and Docker Compose. In Rancher 2.x, the engine is Kubernetes, but it doesn’t matter. In Rancher 1.x, you can go to the UI or the API and deploy environments with an overlay network, bring up stacks and services, import docker-compose.yml files, add load balancers, deploy items from the Catalog, and more. In Rancher 2.x, guess what you can do? You can do the exact same things, in the exact same way. Sure, we’ve improved the UI and changed the names of some items, but the core functionality is the same. We’re moving away from using the term Cattle, because now Cattle is no different from Kubernetes in practice. It might be confusing at first, but I assure you that a rose by any other name still smells as sweet. If you’re someone who doesn’t care about Kubernetes, then you can continue not caring about it. In Rancher 1.x, we deployed Kubernetes into an environment as an add-on to Rancher. In 2.x, we integrated Kubernetes with the Rancher server. It’s transparent, and unless you go looking for it, you’ll never see it. What you will see are features that didn’t exist in 1.x and that, frankly, we couldn’t easily build on top of Docker because it doesn’t support them. Let’s talk about those things, so you can be excited about what’s coming.

The Goodies

Here is a small list of the things that you can do with Rancher 2.x without even knowing that Kubernetes exists.

Storage Volume Drivers

In Rancher 1.x, you were limited to named and anonymous Docker volumes, bind-mounted volumes, EBS, NFS, and some vendor-specific storage solutions (EMC, NetApp, etc.). In Rancher 2.x, you can leverage any storage volume driver supported by Kubernetes. Out of the box, this brings NFS, EBS, GCE, Glusterfs, vSphere, Cinder, Ceph, Azure Disk, Azure File, Portworx, and more. As other vendors develop storage drivers for Kubernetes, they will be immediately available within Rancher 2.x.

Host Multitenancy

In Rancher 1.x, an environment was a collection of hosts. No host could exist in more than one environment, and this delineation wasn’t always appropriate. In Rancher 2.x, we have a cluster, which is a collection of hosts and, within that cluster, you can have an infinite number of environments that span those hosts. Each environment comes with its own role-based access control (RBAC), for granular control over who can execute actions in each environment. Now you can reduce your footprint of hosts and consolidate resources within environments.

Single-Serving Containers

In Rancher 1.x, you had to deploy everything within a stack, even if it was a single service with one container. In Rancher 2.x, the smallest unit of deployment is a container, and you can deploy containers individually if you wish. You can promote them into services within a common stack or within their own stacks, or you can promote them to global services, deployed on every host.

Afterthought Sidekicks

In Rancher 1.x, you had to define sidekicks at the time that you launched the service. In Rancher 2.x, you can add sidekicks later and attach them to any service.

Rapid Rollout of New Technology

When new technology like Istio or linkerd hits the community, we want to support it as quickly as possible. In Rancher 1.x, there were times where it was technologically impossible to support items because we were built on top of Docker. By rebasing onto Kubernetes, we can quickly deploy support for new technology and deliver on our promise of allowing users to get right to work using technology without needing to do the heavy lifting of installing and maintaining the solutions themselves.

Out-of-the-Box Metrics

In Rancher 1.x, you had to figure out how to monitor your services. We have some monitoring extracted from Docker statistics, but it’s a challenge to get those metrics out of Rancher and into something else. Rancher 2.x ships with Heapster, InfluxDB, and Grafana, and these provide per-node and per-pod metrics that are valuable for understanding what’s going on in your environment. There are enhancements that you can plug into these tools, like Prometheus and Elasticsearch, and those enhancements have templates that make installation fast and easy.

Broader Catalog Support

The Catalog is one of the most popular items in Rancher, and it grows with new offerings on a weekly basis. Kubernetes has its own catalog-like service called Helm. In Rancher 1.x, if something wasn’t in the Catalog, you had to build it yourself. In Rancher 2.x, we will support our own Catalog, private catalogs, or Helm, giving you a greater pool of pre-configured applications from which to choose.

We Still Support Compose

The option to import configuration from Docker Compose still exists. This makes migrating into Rancher 2.x as easy as ever, either from a Rancher 1.x environment or from a standalone Docker/Compose setup.

Phased Migration into Kubernetes

If you’re a community member who is interested in Kubernetes but has shied away from it because of the learning curve, Rancher 2.x gives you the ability to continue doing what you’re doing with Cattle and, at your own pace, look at and understand how that translates to Kubernetes. You can begin deploying Kubernetes resources directly when you’re ready.

What’s New for the Kubernetes Crowd?

If you’re part of our Kubernetes user base, or if you’re a Kubernetes user who hasn’t yet taken Rancher for a spin, we have some surprises for you as well.

Import Existing Kubernetes Clusters

This is one of the biggest new features in Rancher 2.x. If you like the Rancher UI but already have Kubernetes clusters deployed elsewhere, you can now import those clusters, as-is, into Rancher’s control and begin to manage them and interact with them via our UI and API. This feature is great for seamlessly migrating into Rancher, or for consolidating management of disparate clusters across your business under a single pane of glass.

Instant HA

If you deploy the Rancher server in High Availability (HA) mode, you instantly get HA for Kubernetes.

Full Kubernetes Access

In Rancher 1.x, you could only interact with Kubernetes via the means that Kubernetes allows — kubectl or the Dashboard. We were hands-off. In Rancher 2.x, you can interact with your Kubernetes clusters vi the UI or API, or you can click the Advanced button, grab the configuration for kubectl, and interact with them via that means. The Kubernetes Dashboard is also available, secured behind Rancher’s RBAC.

Compose Translation

Do you want to set up a deployment from a README that includes a sample Compose file? In Rancher 2.x, you can take that Compose file and apply it, and we’ll convert it into Kubernetes resources. This conversion isn’t just a 1:1 translation of Compose directives; this is us understanding the intended output of the Compose file and creating that within Kubernetes.

It Really is This Awesome

I’ve been using Docker in production since 2013 and, during that time, I’ve moved from straight Docker commands to an in-house deployment utility that I wrote, to Docker Compose configs managed by Ansible, and then to Rancher. Each of those stages in my progression were defined by one requirement: the need to do more things faster and in a way that could be automated. Rancher allows me to do 100x more than I could do myself or with Compose, and removes the need for me to manage those components. Over the year that I’ve been using Rancher, I’ve seen it grow with one goal in mind: making things easy. Rancher 2.x steps up the delivery of that goal with accomplishments that are amazing. Cattle users still have the Cattle experience. Kubernetes users have greater access to Kubernetes. Everyone has access to all the amazing work being done by the community. Rancher still makes things easy and still manages the infrastructure so that you can get right to deploying containers and getting work done. I cannot wait to see where we go next.

About the Author

Adrian Goins is a field engineer for Rancher Labs who resides in Chile and likes to put out fires in his free time. He loves Rancher so much that he can’t contain himself.