Network concepts for applications in Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)
In a container-based microservices approach to application development, application components must work together to process their tasks. Kubernetes provides various resources that enable this application communication. You can connect to and expose applications internally or externally. To build highly available applications, you can load balance your applications. More complex applications may require configuration of ingress traffic for SSL/TLS termination or routing of multiple components. For security reasons, you may also need to restrict the flow of network traffic into or between pods and nodes.
This article introduces the core concepts that provide networking to your applications in AKS:
To allow access to your applications, or for application components to communicate with each other, Kubernetes provides an abstraction layer to virtual networking. Kubernetes nodes are connected to a virtual network, and can provide inbound and outbound connectivity for pods. The kube-proxy component runs on each node to provide these network features.
In Kubernetes, Services logically group pods to allow for direct access via an IP address or DNS name and on a specific port. You can also distribute traffic using a load balancer. More complex routing of application traffic can also be achieved with Ingress Controllers. Security and filtering of the network traffic for pods is possible with Kubernetes network policies (in preview in AKS).
The Azure platform also helps to simplify virtual networking for AKS clusters. When you create a Kubernetes load balancer, the underlying Azure load balancer resource is created and configured. As you open network ports to pods, the corresponding Azure network security group rules are configured. For HTTP application routing, Azure can also configure external DNS as new ingress routes are configured.
To simplify the network configuration for application workloads, Kubernetes uses Services to logically group a set of pods together and provide network connectivity. The following Service types are available:
Cluster IP - Creates an internal IP address for use within the AKS cluster. Good for internal-only applications that support other workloads within the cluster.
NodePort - Creates a port mapping on the underlying node that allows the application to be accessed directly with the node IP address and port.
LoadBalancer - Creates an Azure load balancer resource, configures an external IP address, and connects the requested pods to the load balancer backend pool. To allow customers traffic to reach the application, load balancing rules are created on the desired ports.
For additional control and routing of the inbound traffic, you may instead use an Ingress controller.
ExternalName - Creates a specific DNS entry for easier application access.
The IP address for load balancers and services can be dynamically assigned, or you can specify an existing static IP address to use. Both internal and external static IP addresses can be assigned. This existing static IP address is often tied to a DNS entry.
Both internal and external load balancers can be created. Internal load balancers are only assigned a private IP address, so can't be accessed from the Internet.
Azure virtual networks
In AKS, you can deploy a cluster that uses one of the following two network models:
- Kubenet networking - The network resources are typically created and configured as the AKS cluster is deployed.
- Azure Container Networking Interface (CNI) networking - The AKS cluster is connected to existing virtual network resources and configurations.
Kubenet (basic) networking
The kubenet networking option is the default configuration for AKS cluster creation. With kubenet, nodes get an IP address from the Azure virtual network subnet. Pods receive an IP address from a logically different address space to the Azure virtual network subnet of the nodes. Network address translation (NAT) is then configured so that the pods can reach resources on the Azure virtual network. The source IP address of the traffic is NAT'd to the node's primary IP address.
Nodes use the kubenet Kubernetes plugin. You can let the Azure platform create and configure the virtual networks for you, or choose to deploy your AKS cluster into an existing virtual network subnet. Again, only the nodes receive a routable IP address, and the pods use NAT to communicate with other resources outside the AKS cluster. This approach greatly reduces the number of IP addresses that you need to reserve in your network space for pods to use.
For more information, see Configure kubenet networking for an AKS cluster.
Azure CNI (advanced) networking
With Azure CNI, every pod gets an IP address from the subnet and can be accessed directly. These IP addresses must be unique across your network space, and must be planned in advance. Each node has a configuration parameter for the maximum number of pods that it supports. The equivalent number of IP addresses per node are then reserved up front for that node. This approach requires more planning, and often leads to IP address exhaustion or the need to rebuild clusters in a larger subnet as your application demands grow.
Nodes use the Azure Container Networking Interface (CNI) Kubernetes plugin.
Azure CNI provides the following features over kubenet networking:
- Every pod in the cluster is assigned an IP address in the virtual network. The pods can directly communicate with other pods in the cluster, and other nodes in the virtual network.
- Pods in a subnet that have service endpoints enabled can securely connect to Azure services, such as Azure Storage and SQL DB.
- You can create user-defined routes (UDR) to route traffic from pods to a Network Virtual Appliance.
For more information, see Configure Azure CNI for an AKS cluster.
When you create a LoadBalancer type Service, an underlying Azure load balancer resource is created. The load balancer is configured to distribute traffic to the pods in your Service on a given port. The LoadBalancer only works at layer 4 - the Service is unaware of the actual applications, and can't make any additional routing considerations.
Ingress controllers work at layer 7, and can use more intelligent rules to distribute application traffic. A common use of an Ingress controller is to route HTTP traffic to different applications based on the inbound URL.
In AKS, you can create an Ingress resource using something like NGINX, or use the AKS HTTP application routing feature. When you enable HTTP application routing for an AKS cluster, the Azure platform creates the Ingress controller and an External-DNS controller. As new Ingress resources are created in Kubernetes, the required DNS A records are created in a cluster-specific DNS zone. For more information, see deploy HTTP application routing.
Another common feature of Ingress is SSL/TLS termination. On large web applications accessed via HTTPS, the TLS termination can be handled by the Ingress resource rather than within the application itself. To provide automatic TLS certification generation and configuration, you can configure the Ingress resource to use providers such as Let's Encrypt. For more information on configuring an NGINX Ingress controller with Let's Encrypt, see Ingress and TLS.
Network security groups
A network security group filters traffic for VMs, such as the AKS nodes. As you create Services, such as a LoadBalancer, the Azure platform automatically configures any network security group rules that are needed. Don't manually configure network security group rules to filter traffic for pods in an AKS cluster. Define any required ports and forwarding as part of your Kubernetes Service manifests, and let the Azure platform create or update the appropriate rules. You can also use network policies, as discussed in the next section, to automatically apply traffic filter rules to pods.
By default, all pods in an AKS cluster can send and receive traffic without limitations. For improved security, you may want to define rules that control the flow of traffic. Backend applications are often only exposed to required frontend services, or database components are only accessible to the application tiers that connect to them.
Network policy is a Kubernetes feature currently in preview in AKS that lets you control the traffic flow between pods. You can choose to allow or deny traffic based on settings such as assigned labels, namespace, or traffic port. Network security groups are more for the AKS nodes, not pods. The use of network policies is a more suitable, cloud-native way to control the flow of traffic. As pods are dynamically created in an AKS cluster, the required network policies can be automatically applied.
For more information, see Secure traffic between pods using network policies in Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS).
For associated best practices, see Best practices for network connectivity and security in AKS.
For additional information on core Kubernetes and AKS concepts, see the following articles:
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