Kubernetes Multi-AZ Clusters

(previously nicknamed “Ubernetes-Lite”)


Full Cluster Federation will offer sophisticated federation between multiple kubernetes clusters, offering true high-availability, multiple provider support & cloud-bursting, multiple region support etc. However, many users have expressed a desire for a “reasonably” high-available cluster, that runs in multiple zones on GCE or availability zones in AWS, and can tolerate the failure of a single zone without the complexity of running multiple clusters.

Multi-AZ Clusters aim to deliver exactly that functionality: to run a single Kubernetes cluster in multiple zones. It will attempt to make reasonable scheduling decisions, in particular so that a replication controller’s pods are spread across zones, and it will try to be aware of constraints - for example that a volume cannot be mounted on a node in a different zone.

Multi-AZ Clusters are deliberately limited in scope; for many advanced functions the answer will be “use full Cluster Federation”. For example, multiple-region support is not in scope. Routing affinity (e.g. so that a webserver will prefer to talk to a backend service in the same zone) is similarly not in scope.


These are the main requirements:

  1. kube-up must allow bringing up a cluster that spans multiple zones.
  2. pods in a replication controller should attempt to spread across zones.
  3. pods which require volumes should not be scheduled onto nodes in a different zone.
  4. load-balanced services should work reasonably

kube-up support

kube-up support for multiple zones will initially be considered advanced/experimental functionality, so the interface is not initially going to be particularly user-friendly. As we design the evolution of kube-up, we will make multiple zones better supported.

For the initial implementation, kube-up must be run multiple times, once for each zone. The first kube-up will take place as normal, but then for each additional zone the user must run kube-up again, specifying KUBE_USE_EXISTING_MASTER=true and KUBE_SUBNET_CIDR=172.20.x.0/24. This will then create additional nodes in a different zone, but will register them with the existing master.

Zone spreading

This will be implemented by modifying the existing scheduler priority function SelectorSpread. Currently this priority function aims to put pods in an RC on different hosts, but it will be extended first to spread across zones, and then to spread across hosts.

So that the scheduler does not need to call out to the cloud provider on every scheduling decision, we must somehow record the zone information for each node. The implementation of this will be described in the implementation section.

Note that zone spreading is ‘best effort’; zones are just be one of the factors in making scheduling decisions, and thus it is not guaranteed that pods will spread evenly across zones. However, this is likely desirable: if a zone is overloaded or failing, we still want to schedule the requested number of pods.

Volume affinity

Most cloud providers (at least GCE and AWS) cannot attach their persistent volumes across zones. Thus when a pod is being scheduled, if there is a volume attached, that will dictate the zone. This will be implemented using a new scheduler predicate (a hard constraint): VolumeZonePredicate.

When VolumeZonePredicate observes a pod scheduling request that includes a volume, if that volume is zone-specific, VolumeZonePredicate will exclude any nodes not in that zone.

Again, to avoid the scheduler calling out to the cloud provider, this will rely on information attached to the volumes. This means that this will only support PersistentVolumeClaims, because direct mounts do not have a place to attach zone information. PersistentVolumes will then include zone information where volumes are zone-specific.

Load-balanced services should operate reasonably

For both AWS & GCE, Kubernetes creates a native cloud load-balancer for each service of type LoadBalancer. The native cloud load-balancers on both AWS & GCE are region-level, and support load-balancing across instances in multiple zones (in the same region). For both clouds, the behaviour of the native cloud load-balancer is reasonable in the face of failures (indeed, this is why clouds provide load-balancing as a primitive).

For multi-AZ clusters we will therefore simply rely on the native cloud provider load balancer behaviour, and we do not anticipate substantial code changes.

One notable shortcoming here is that load-balanced traffic still goes through kube-proxy controlled routing, and kube-proxy does not (currently) favor targeting a pod running on the same instance or even the same zone. This will likely produce a lot of unnecessary cross-zone traffic (which is likely slower and more expensive). This might be sufficiently low-hanging fruit that we choose to address it in kube-proxy / multi-AZ clusters, but this can be addressed after the initial implementation.


The main implementation points are:

  1. how to attach zone information to Nodes and PersistentVolumes
  2. how nodes get zone information
  3. how volumes get zone information

Attaching zone information

We must attach zone information to Nodes and PersistentVolumes, and possibly to other resources in future. There are two obvious alternatives: we can use labels/annotations, or we can extend the schema to include the information.

For the initial implementation, we propose to use labels. The reasoning is:

  1. It is considerably easier to implement.
  2. We will reserve the two labels failure-domain.alpha.kubernetes.io/zone and failure-domain.alpha.kubernetes.io/region for the two pieces of information we need. By putting this under the kubernetes.io namespace there is no risk of collision, and by putting it under alpha.kubernetes.io we clearly mark this as an experimental feature.
  3. We do not yet know whether these labels will be sufficient for all environments, nor which entities will require zone information. Labels give us more flexibility here.
  4. Because the labels are reserved, we can move to schema-defined fields in future using our cross-version mapping techniques.

Node labeling

We do not want to require an administrator to manually label nodes. We instead modify the kubelet to include the appropriate labels when it registers itself. The information is easily obtained by the kubelet from the cloud provider.

Volume labeling

As with nodes, we do not want to require an administrator to manually label volumes. We will create an admission controller PersistentVolumeLabel. PersistentVolumeLabel will intercept requests to create PersistentVolumes, and will label them appropriately by calling in to the cloud provider.

AWS Specific Considerations

The AWS implementation here is fairly straightforward. The AWS API is region-wide, meaning that a single call will find instances and volumes in all zones. In addition, instance ids and volume ids are unique per-region (and hence also per-zone). I believe they are actually globally unique, but I do not know if this is guaranteed; in any case we only need global uniqueness if we are to span regions, which will not be supported by multi-AZ clusters (to do that correctly requires a full Cluster Federation type approach).

GCE Specific Considerations

The GCE implementation is more complicated than the AWS implementation because GCE APIs are zone-scoped. To perform an operation, we must perform one REST call per zone and combine the results, unless we can determine in advance that an operation references a particular zone. For many operations, we can make that determination, but in some cases - such as listing all instances, we must combine results from calls in all relevant zones.

A further complexity is that GCE volume names are scoped per-zone, not per-region. Thus it is permitted to have two volumes both named myvolume in two different GCE zones. (Instance names are currently unique per-region, and thus are not a problem for multi-AZ clusters).

The volume scoping leads to a (small) behavioural change for multi-AZ clusters on GCE. If you had two volumes both named myvolume in two different GCE zones, this would not be ambiguous when Kubernetes is operating only in a single zone. But, when operating a cluster across multiple zones, myvolume is no longer sufficient to specify a volume uniquely. Worse, the fact that a volume happens to be unambiguous at a particular time is no guarantee that it will continue to be unambiguous in future, because a volume with the same name could subsequently be created in a second zone. While perhaps unlikely in practice, we cannot automatically enable multi-AZ clusters for GCE users if this then causes volume mounts to stop working.

This suggests that (at least on GCE), multi-AZ clusters must be optional (i.e. there must be a feature-flag). It may be that we can make this feature semi-automatic in future, by detecting whether nodes are running in multiple zones, but it seems likely that kube-up could instead simply set this flag.

For the initial implementation, creating volumes with identical names will yield undefined results. Later, we may add some way to specify the zone for a volume (and possibly require that volumes have their zone specified when running in multi-AZ cluster mode). We could add a new zone field to the PersistentVolume type for GCE PD volumes, or we could use a DNS-style dotted name for the volume name (.)

Initially therefore, the GCE changes will be to:

  1. change kube-up to support creation of a cluster in multiple zones
  2. pass a flag enabling multi-AZ clusters with kube-up
  3. change the kubernetes cloud provider to iterate through relevant zones when resolving items
  4. tag GCE PD volumes with the appropriate zone information