Continuous Deployment with Google Container Engine and Kubernetes
Learn how to deploy an application to Kubernetes with Google Container Engine, and how to set up continuous deployment for it using Semaphore.
This tutorial will show you how to deploy a sample microservices application to Kubernetes and set up continuous deployment using SemaphoreCI. It includes a crash introduction to Kubernetes, Google Container Engine, and building an automated deploy process.
Kubernetes, or "k8s" for short, is an orchestration tool for container native applications. Note that Kubernetes is about containers, and not only Docker containers. This tutorial uses Docker because it's the current industry standard.
Kubernetes is a complex distributed system. This tutorial only requires access to a running Kubernetes cluster, and it shows you how to create a hosted cluster using Google Container Engine (or GKE). The tutorial assumes you have experience with Docker and the idea behind orchestration tools. All set? Let's begin.
Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration tool for cloud native applications. Kubernetes is based on Google's internal Borg orchestration tool. It's a distributed system following the master/slave architecture. Kubernetes clusters may have multiple masters for high availability requirements. Master nodes manage containers on minion nodes. Minions run the "kublet" which handles communication with masters and coordinating the container runtime (e.g. Docker, Rocket).
Applications are modeled as "pods". Pods contain one or more containers. A modern web application may have separate frontend and backend containers. These two containers form one pod. All containers in a pod run on the same node. Kubernetes handles all the networking and service discovery so containers may communicate to pod-local containers or to other containers in the cluster.
Pods are exposed to other pods via "services". Kubernetes has a few different types of services, namely an external load balancer and a private proxy for internal access. Kubernetes can automatically create load balancers on supported cloud providers, e.g GCP or AWS.
Pods are the building blocks for higher level concepts. Kubernetes uses "deployments" to manage changing configuration (e.g. environment variables, container images, and more) for running pods. Deployments are connected to "Replica Controllers" for horizontal scaling. Deployments also use built-in liveness and readiness probes to monitor deployment rollouts.
You can interact with Kubernetes via the web dashboard or the
kubectl uses YAML or JSON input to manage resources,
e.g. create a pod/deployment/service. This tutorial uses
There is so much more to Kubernetes. The project is extremely well documented with low level API documentation and high level user guides. Here are the main takeaways:
- Containers are grouped in "Pods",
- "Services" expose "Pods" to the public internet or other pods in the cluster,
- "Deployments" manage scaling and configuring "Pods", and
kubectlis the CLI for cluster management.
These points should give you enough information to deploy the sample application.
The Sample Application
The sample application has three containers. The "server" container is a simple Node.js application. It accepts a POST request to increment a counter and a GET request to retrieve the counter. The counter is stored in redis. The "poller" container continually makes the GET request to the "server" to print the counter's value. The "counter" container starts a loop and makes a POST request to the server to increment the counter with random values.
We'll play with setting up the application ourselves using
before building the deployment pipeline.
Here's a rundown of everything you'll need to complete the tutorial:
- A Google Cloud Platform account with a billing method,
docker-composeinstalled to build and push images for the sample application,
- A SemaphoreCI account.
Creating the GKE Cluster
First, create a new project in your GCP account. You can do this via
the web console or the CLI. The CLI version is available via the alpha
release track. Here's the CLI version. Replace the
semaphore-gke-tutorial with the name of your choosing:
gcloud alpha projects create semaphore-gke-tutorial
Next, navigate to the GKE Dashboard with your project selected. You'll see a message saying that GKE is not enabled yet because the project is not linked to a billing account. Click the button to select a billing account. This will take some time to kick in. You can refresh the web dashboard to check the status. You'll see a blue "create container cluster" button once you're good to go.
Time to create the GKE cluster. You may include the
--zone option to
change geographical region. United States is the default
zone. Remember the zone you used. You'll need this later.
gcloud container clusters create demo \ --zone europe-west1-a \ --project semaphore-gke-tutorial
--project sets the ID for the previously created project. The
cluster is named
demo. You can name it whatever you like. It will
take some time to create the cluster. You'll see something like this
when it completes:
gcloud container clusters create demo --zone europe-west1-b --project semaphore-gke-tutorial Creating cluster demo...done. Created [https://container.googleapis.com/v1/projects/semaphore-gke-tutorial/zones/europe-west1-b/clusters/demo]. kubeconfig entry generated for demo. NAME ZONE MASTER_VERSION MASTER_IP MACHINE_TYPE NODE_VERSION NUM_NODES STATUS demo europe-west1-b 1.4.7 22.214.171.124 n1-standard-1 1.4.7 3 RUNNING
The next step is to get login credentials to use with
gcloud container clusters get-credentials demo \ --project semaphore-gke-tutorial \ --zone europe-west1-b
This command creates the
kubectl configuration "context" for this cluster. You
may have configured multiple contexts for easy switching between
multiple clusters. Run:
kubectl config get-contexts
You'll see something similar to the output below. You will have more output if you've configured multiple contexts.
kubectl config get-contexts CURRENT NAME CLUSTER AUTHINFO NAMESPACE * gke_semaphore-gke-tutorial_europe-west1-b_demo gke_semaphore-gke-tutorial_europe-west1-b_demo gke_semaphore-gke-tutorial_europe-west1-b_demo
NAME column. You'll need this value shortly. You can see
gcloud container clusters get-credentials has also set this to
the current context, denoted with
*. You can override this value by
--context [CONTEXT] to every
kubectl command. Let's test
the cluster by asking
kubectl for all the pods in the cluster.
kubectl get pods --context gke_semaphore-gke-tutorial_europe-west1-b_demo
There should be no output because we've not created any pods.
Congratulations! You've just created your first Kubernetes cluster using Google Container Engine. Now it's time to build and run the sample application.
Running the Application
Let's familiarize ourselves with the sample application. First clone (or fork) the source repo. Next, run:
docker-compose up --build
This will build all the images and start the containers. Once the build process completes, you'll see a lot of output streaming to your screen. Here's a sample:
server_1 | npm info it worked if it ends with ok server_1 | npm info using firstname.lastname@example.org server_1 | npm info using email@example.com server_1 | npm info lifecycle firstname.lastname@example.org~prestart: email@example.com server_1 | npm info lifecycle firstname.lastname@example.org~start: email@example.com server_1 | server_1 | > firstname.lastname@example.org start /usr/src/app server_1 | > node server.js server_1 | server_1 | Server running on port 8080! counter_1 | Incrementing counter by 5 ... poller_1 | Current counter: 117 counter_1 | Incrementing counter by 2 ... counter_1 | Incrementing counter by 10 ... poller_1 | Current counter: 129 counter_1 | Incrementing counter by 7 ... counter_1 | Incrementing counter by 9 ... poller_1 | Current counter: 145 counter_1 | Incrementing counter by 5 ...
You can see the
poller is printing the counter. The
sending requests to increment by a random number.
Let's get the application running on Kubernetes. First, we need to push our Docker images to a registry accessible to our cluster. GKE clusers are automatically authenticated to an associated Docker registry (Google Container Registry or GCR). This is the easiest way to manage private Docker images for GKE.
docker-compose.yml in your source checkout. You'll see
TODO items. Replace the zone subdomain and project ID to match
your cluster. Refer to the GCR push docs for the
list of regions to subdomain mappings.
Time to push images. We need access to the project's GCR. This
process is similar to the
get-credentials command used earlier.
gcloud docker --authorize-only --project semaphore-gke-tutorial
This command generates a temporary
~/.config/docker entry for the
registry. Now, use
docker-compose to push images.
docker-compose build docker-compose push
The Docker images are now accessible to our cluster. Time to create our first pod.
Creating the First Pod
k8s/development-pod.yml in your source checkout. You'll
TODO items. Knock those out. This file is effectively
docker-compose.yml. There are some Kubernetes
specifics at the top (the
Then, there is a list of containers. The expected parts are configured:
image: The image to use,
ports: ports to expose and protocols (
env: Environment variables.
These are common parts you'll see for most pods. Note that
not specified. This is because each Docker image (check each
Dockerfile in the source) sets the
cmd. The images use environment
variables for everything (thus the
Time to create our first pod. Set the default context to avoid passing
--context to all future commands.
kubectl config use-context gke_semaphore-gke-tutorial_europe-west1-b_demo
Next, we'll create a namespace. A namespace isolates resources.
Separating environments is a common use case. You may create a
Using namespace is a best practice you should follow. Let's create a
development namespace now:
kubectl create -f k8s/development-namespace.yml
kubectl create command deals with files specified by
-f option. You may use YAML, JSON, or stdin. Next, create the
kubectl create -f k8s/development-pod.yml --namespace development
Next, check the pods in the
kubectl get pods --namespace development
You'll see a list of pods and their status. Here's an example:
NAME READY STATUS RESTARTS AGE demo 4/4 Running 0 7s
Great! Our pod is running. If you see something that looks like an
image is probably incorrect. You can delete the pod,
and try again with
kubectl delete pod demo --namespace development.
Let's get some detailed information on this pod:
kubectl describe pod demo --namespace development
kubectl describe command is an important debugging tool. The
information is not immediately useful for this tutorial. However, it's
a good inclusion because you may need it to diagnose problems.
We should be able to find out the current counter. Let's check the
kubectl logs demo -c poller --namespace development
Congratulations — you've just created your first microservices application on Kubernetes. There are a few drawbacks though. First, this setup is not scaleable. Remember that all containers in a pod are scaled horizontally? Our pod has 4 containers: the redis server, API server, counter, and poller. Trying to scale this setup wouldn't work. There would be N separate data stores creating N different counters. We can solve this problem by splitting the large pod into smaller pods and connecting them with Kubernetes services.
Let's delete the pod we created before moving on:
kubectl delete pod demo --namespace development
Production Services and Deployments
Let's break up the application into fewer components. We'll create one
pod with the redis container. We'll have one deployment for the
server container, for horizontal scaling. Then, we'll have one
optional deployment for the poller and counter containers.
These files are in the
k8s folder and annotated with comments.
Here's the rundown:
k8s/production-redis-pod.yml- Pod to run the redis container,
k8s/production-redis-service.yml- Service to expose the redis pod to other pods (the
k8s/production-server-service.yml- Service to expose the server pod to other pods (the
k8s/production-server-deployment- Deployment for the
k8s/production-support-deployment- Deployment for the
This setup is deployed by:
- Creating the services,
- Creating the redis pod,
- Creating the server deployment, and
- Creating the support deployment.
script/bootstrap contains all the commands to do so. The script
takes the target namespace as an argument. Let's deploy everything to
Note that the various YAML files may set the
namespace in their
metadata. It's preferable not to do that, so the same resources may be
reused in multiple namespaces, like we've done here.
Now, check the pods:
kubectl get pods --namespace development
You'll see that they have been created:
NAME READY STATUS RESTARTS AGE redis 1/1 Running 0 41s server-506448125-0lq9m 1/1 Running 0 32s server-506448125-a4u1g 1/1 Running 0 32s server-506448125-m7srr 1/1 Running 0 32s support-592105180-9pl4j 2/2 Running 0 21s support-592105180-blnse 2/2 Running 0 21s support-592105180-xcqbn 2/2 Running 0 21s
Note that there are three server and support pods. Kubernetes has scaled
our application without a problem. Let's check the logs for the
container in one of the support pods. Pick one of the support
pods from the previous output:
kubectl logs support-592105180-xcqbn -c poller --namespace development
If everything is working, you should see some counter lines. Now,
let's scale up our deployment. Open up
k8s/production-support-deployment.yml and increase the
value. We'll tell Kubernetes to apply the changes. Kubernetes
will take care of the rest:
kubectl apply -f k8s/production-support-deployment.yml --namespace development
apply command is similar to
create, except that it can create
resources and update them with changes. You may use
create if the resource does not exist.
Check the pods again:
kubectl get pods --namespace development
Notice the number of support pods has changed, depending on whether you scaled up or down. We can use this approach to set up continuous deployment.
Continuous Deployment with Semaphore CI
We walked through the initial process and modifying a running system manually. Now we need to automate it. The high level process looks like this:
- Authenticate the build with
- Authenticate the build with
- Authenticate the build with GCR,
- Push image to GCR, and
- Create/update the Kubernetes resources.
Start by signing up on Semaphore if you don't already have an account, and creating a GCP service account for Semaphore CI. Open up IAM in the GCP console. Then click "Service Accounts". Make sure the correct project is selected. Create a new service account with the "Owner" role and check "Furnish a new private key". Press "create" and the authentication file will download to your machine. Refer to the GCP service account docs for more info.
Next, create a new project in Semaphore CI. Configure the Docker
platform. Then, download service account authentication to
create a new configuration file. The tutorial
assumes the name is
auth.json. Note that the UI shows the absolute path
for this file. Use that value to set the
GOOGLE_APPLICATION_CREDENTIALS environment variable. Do not use the
~ form. Use the full path. Here's an example:
auth.json with the name of your
Now, create a script to configure the build environment. Refer to
script/ci/setup for the complete example. Complete the
Add this step to your SemaphoreCI project.
Next, write a deploy script. The deploy script handles the last
two points in the process. Refer to
script/ci/deploy for the
complete example. It is almost the same as the earlier bootstrap
kubectl apply is used because it will create or update
resources accordingly. Thus, we can change the configuration by
committing changes to the files in
k8s/ and deploying. Add the
script/ci/deploy command to your project.
Finally, push a build. You should see it go all the way through the pipeline and deploy everything to your Kubernetes cluster. Congratulations! Let's check the production pods:
kubectl get pods --namespace production
You can now try making changes the configuration files to scale out the application, commit, and redeploy.
We've covered a lot of ground — a Kubernetes crash course, the different types of resources, and how to model a microservices application. We created a production-ready Kubernetes cluster via Google Container Engine, and hooked up Semaphore CI for continuous deployment. There is still room for improvement. Here's what you can investigate next:
- The user guides. The pod, service, and deployment guides will be the most helpful for beginners.
- Stateful containers. Ideally, we would not run Redis in this way. We are not using a shared volume or any of the other stateful Kubernetes features. If the Redis pod is killed, then the counter value is lost. This setup is good enough for the tutorial, but not good enough for production.
- Image tagging. Our image does not use Docker tags. This is also not
good enough for a real-world system. The tutorial skipped them
because they added complexity without contributing much to the end
goal. You should try creating a build process that uses the git
commit SHA as the image tag. This way, each "deploy" uses a unique
image. Then, you can change the
- Public internet access. The tutorial does not expose the server
deployment to the public internet. This is a trivial thing to do
with Kubernetes. Check the service docs for the
LoadBalancertype. Try updating the service file and deploying.
Good luck out there, and happy shipping!
If you’d like to simplify delivering your apps using Google Container Registry, you can learn more about our Google Container Registry Integration, or register on Semaphore and get started now.