OpenShift and Kubernetes are two popular container orchestration and management platforms. Both serve as powerful tools for deploying and managing containerized applications, but they have different features that set them apart. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the nine top differences between OpenShift vs Kubernetes and help you make an informed decision about which platform you should use to fulfill your needs.

But before we discuss the differences, let’s learn a little about both these containerized storage solutions so that beginners can also read this article with ease.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes, an open-source container orchestration platform, stands as a cornerstone in modern application management. Originating from Google and now managed by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), Kubernetes has redefined how we deploy, scale, and oversee containerized applications. Conceptually analogous to a conductor, Kubernetes turns containers into functional units known as pods. It efficiently manages application replication through deployment strategies, ensuring high availability. Additionally, Kubernetes excels in configuring networking, storage provisioning, and managing configurations through services, volumes, and labels.

What is Openshift?

OpenShift is a container platform created by Red Hat that makes it easier to deploy, manage, and scale containerized applications. It is built on Kubernetes and includes additional features such as developer tools, built-in security, and automation for various stages of the application lifecycle. OpenShift streamlines the development process, integrates with Red Hat’s ecosystem, and abstracts complexities, making it a comprehensive solution for organizations looking for an all-in-one container management platform.

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Openshift vs Kubernetes: Differences

Let’s talk about major differences between OpenShift and Kubernetes. We have segment the differences of both containerized clusters based on user experience, pricing, features, and integrations. Read the details below.

1. User Experience

OpenShift stands out from the crowd with its user-friendly approach, which provides an interface that abstracts many of the complexities inherent to Kubernetes. Its focus on enhancing user experience is evident in its streamlined web console, which simplifies tasks such as application deployment, scaling, and monitoring. OpenShift platform’s inclusion of features like Source-to-Image (S2I) enables developers to seamlessly build and deploy applications without having to comprehend the intricacies of container management.

Kubernetes, on the other hand, focuses on a more granular level of control, making it a preferred choice for experienced users who want precise management. While it does have a web-based dashboard, Kubernetes places a greater emphasis on its command-line interface (CLI) for interactions. This approach encourages users to have a deeper understanding of Kubernetes concepts in order to effectively manage applications, services, and resources. Kubernetes dashboard is powerful but it appears complex for those new to container orchestration, thus making it more suitable for users who are comfortable with the intricacies of managing containerized applications.

2. Security

OpenShift places a strong emphasis on security, setting itself apart with a comprehensive suite of built-in security features. One notable feature is Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), which provides administrators the ability to define precise access policies for users and groups, ensuring that sensitive resources are accessible only to authorized personnel. Image scanning and compliance automation are seamlessly integrated into OpenShift’s security framework, enabling the identification of vulnerabilities within container images and ensuring compliance with industry regulations. 

While Kubernetes also offers security mechanisms, they might require additional setup and configuration compared to the more integrated approach of OpenShift. Kubernetes provides Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) as well, but implementing it can involve a more manual process compared to the streamlined approach of OpenShift. While security features can be integrated with Kubernetes, such as image scanning and security tools, they might not be as seamlessly embedded as they are in OpenShift. 

3. Networking

OpenShift takes a comprehensive approach to networking by leveraging advanced technologies like Container Network Interface (CNI) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN). The integration of CNI enables efficient communication between containers, allowing them to seamlessly interact within pods. OpenShift’s SDN solution brings centralized control to network management, enabling better traffic routing, load balancing, and security policies. This sophisticated networking setup is particularly beneficial for enterprises with complex architectures, as it facilitates better isolation of network segments and more streamlined management of networking policies. 

Kubernetes, while highly capable, adopts a more straightforward networking approach. It relies on basic networking primitives, such as the Pod and Service abstractions, for managing container communication and load balancing. While this simplicity is advantageous for smaller deployments and projects, it might require additional configurations and external tools for more intricate networking scenarios. 

4. Integrated CI/CD

OpenShift offers a robust and integrated Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipeline as part of its platform. This integrated CI/CD solution is designed to streamline the software development lifecycle by providing tools and automation for building, testing, and deploying applications. This integration simplifies the process of building, testing, and deploying applications, making it convenient for development teams to adopt a DevOps approach

Kubernetes itself does not provide a native CI/CD solution. Instead, it relies on a variety of third-party tools and integrations to establish a CI/CD pipeline. While Kubernetes is highly extensible and flexible, setting up and managing a CI/CD workflow requires more manual configuration and integration effort. DevOps teams using Kubernetes often turn to tools like Jenkins and GitLab CI/CD, or Tekton to create and manage their CI/CD pipelines. While this approach offers flexibility and customization options, it may require additional expertise and time to set up a fully integrated CI/CD process.

5. Support

OpenShift is backed by Red Hat, a renowned enterprise software provider, which offers comprehensive support options. Organizations using OpenShift benefit from Red Hat’s extensive expertise, timely support, and dedicated resources. With various support tiers available, businesses can choose the level of assistance that best suits their needs. Red Hat’s support includes assistance with troubleshooting, issue resolution, security updates, and ongoing maintenance. This level of support ensures that enterprises can confidently deploy and manage their containerized applications, backed by a reputable team of experts.

Kubernetes, being an open-source project, does not provide official support directly from its maintainers. However, there are numerous vendors, including cloud providers and software companies, that offer Kubernetes support services. These services encompass various levels of assistance, ranging from basic technical support to more advanced options like managed Kubernetes services. Organizations that opt for Kubernetes can select from a variety of support providers based on their requirements. While this offers flexibility, it also means that the quality and scope of support can vary depending on the chosen vendor.

6. Image Registry Management

OpenShift includes an integrated container image registry as part of its platform. This registry, often based on technologies like Docker Distribution or Red Hat Quay, allows developers to store, manage, and distribute container images seamlessly within the OpenShift environment. The integrated nature of the registry simplifies image management, ensuring that developers can easily push, pull, and share images without relying on external solutions. 

Kubernetes itself does not offer a native image registry solution. However, Kubernetes clusters often leverage third-party container image registries like Docker Hub, Google Container Registry, or others. Kubernetes relies on these external registries to store and manage container images, which means that developers need to manage image distribution and access separately from the Kubernetes cluster. While this provides flexibility in choosing an image registry that suits your needs, it also introduces additional complexity in terms of integration and security management.

7. Deployment

OpenShift provides a high-level deployment abstraction known as Deployment Config, which extends Kubernetes’ native Deployment concept. The Deployment Config adds features like lifecycle hooks, rolling updates, and integration with OpenShift’s integrated CI/CD pipelines. This abstraction simplifies the process of deploying and managing applications, allowing developers to define desired states and scale applications effortlessly. OpenShift’s Deployment Config also offers support for various deployment strategies, such as blue-green and canary deployments, enhancing the platform’s versatility in managing application releases.

Kubernetes offers a native Deployment resource that manages the deployment and scaling of containerized applications. Kubernetes’ Deployment controller ensures that the desired number of replicas are maintained and handles updates through rolling updates or recreating pods. While Kubernetes provides solid deployment capabilities, it may require additional configurations and tools to achieve certain advanced deployment strategies beyond the basic rolling updates.

8. Releases & Updates

OpenShift manages releases and updates with a focus on providing a stable and enterprise-ready environment. Red Hat, the company behind OpenShift, offers regular releases that include both new features and security updates. These releases are carefully tested to ensure compatibility and stability. OpenShift’s integrated CI/CD capabilities, combined with its Deployment Config features, allow for smooth application updates and releases. Additionally, OpenShift provides Long-Term Support (LTS) versions, giving enterprises the option to stay on a specific version for an extended period, which can be beneficial for organizations with stringent stability requirements.

Kubernetes follows a fast-paced release cycle, introducing new features and improvements with each release. However, as an open-source project, Kubernetes does not provide guaranteed long-term support for each release. Kubernetes users need to stay updated with the latest releases to access new functionalities and security patches. While Kubernetes’ fast evolution offers flexibility and innovation, it might require more effort to manage releases, especially in enterprise environments that prioritize stability.

9. Templates

OpenShift introduces the concept of templates to simplify and standardize the deployment of applications. Templates allow developers to define a set of resources, configurations, and parameters as a single reusable unit. This simplifies the process of creating and deploying complex applications by encapsulating all the necessary components. OpenShift’s template mechanism encourages best practices and consistency by enabling teams to share and replicate application architectures easily. Templates can be parameterized, facilitating customization for different environments or use cases. 

Kubernetes, while not offering native templates like OpenShift, leverages Helm, a package manager for Kubernetes applications. Helm uses charts, which are packages that contain pre-configured Kubernetes resources, templates, and values. Similar to templates, Helm charts simplify the deployment of applications by encapsulating configurations. However, Helm’s charts are more closely tied to the Kubernetes ecosystem, allowing for greater customization and extension through the use of Helm’s templating language and its rich ecosystem of existing charts.

Openshift vs Kubernetes: Features

Here’s a comparison table listing the features of both Kubernetes vs OpenShift in detail. The table highlights each aspect of both the platforms for users who would like to either one of the two.

FeatureOpenShiftKubernetes
Container OrchestrationYesYes
Automated ScalingYes (Horizontal Pod Autoscaling)Yes (Horizontal Pod Autoscaling, Cluster Autoscaling)
Declarative ConfigurationYes (YAML/JSON files)Yes (YAML/JSON files)
Self-HealingYesYes
Service DiscoveryYes (Built-in DNS names)Yes (Built-in DNS names)
Load BalancingYes (Built-in load balancers)Yes (Built-in load balancers)
Rolling UpdatesYes (Rolling deployments)Yes (Rolling deployments)
Storage OrchestrationYes (Persistent Volumes)Yes (Persistent Volumes)
NetworkingAdvanced SDN with CNI integrationBasic networking primitives
ExtensibilityYes (Custom Resource Definitions)Yes (Custom Resource Definitions)
SecurityIntegrated RBAC and Security PoliciesIntegrated RBAC and Network Policies
Multi-Cloud & Hybrid CloudYesYes
SupportComprehensive support from Red HatCommunity or vendor-based support
Integrated CI/CDBuilt-in pipelines (Jenkins/Tekton)Requires third-party CI/CD tools
Helm CompatibilityCompatible with Helm chartsHelm charts for package management
Operator FrameworkIncludes Operator Lifecycle ManagerOperator Framework for managing apps
Monitoring & LoggingIntegrated Prometheus and EFK stackRequires third-party monitoring tools
Upgrades & RollbacksStreamlined upgrades with minimal downtimeManual upgrades and rollbacks
Stateful ApplicationsSupport for stateful apps with Persistent VolumesSupport for stateful apps with Persistent Volumes
Ecosystem & IntegrationsAccess to Red Hat ecosystem and add-onsRich Kubernetes ecosystem of tools
TemplatingNative template support (YAML/JSON)Helm charts for package management
Licensing CostOften comes with licensing feesGenerally free, but may have operational costs
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Openshift vs Kubernetes: Verdict

OpenShift:

  1. Enterprise-Ready Platform: OpenShift’s primary advantage lies in being an enterprise Kubernetes platform that extends Kubernetes with additional features and a focus on stability. It offers comprehensive support from Red Hat, which can be crucial for organizations seeking reliable solutions for complex deployments.
  2. Integrated CI/CD & Developer Experience: OpenShift streamlines the application development lifecycle with built-in CI/CD pipelines and a user-friendly web console. This integrated approach simplifies the process of deploying, managing, and scaling applications, enhancing developer productivity. 
  3. Security & Long-Term Support: With its integrated security features, RBAC, and additional security policies, OpenShift provides a robust framework for ensuring application and infrastructure security. The availability of Long-Term Support (LTS) versions appeals to organizations that prioritize stability over the long term, providing confidence in maintaining mission-critical applications with ongoing updates and support.

Kubernetes:

  1. Flexibility and Open Ecosystem: Kubernetes, as the foundation of both platforms, offers a flexible and open-source container orchestration solution. Its extensible nature allows for customization and integration with various tools and technologies. For organizations seeking a modular approach and a wide range of options for third-party integrations, Kubernetes can be a strong choice.
  2. Community and Rapid Innovation: Kubernetes benefits from a robust and active open-source community, contributing to rapid innovation and constant development. Organizations that value staying current with the latest features and capabilities might lean towards Kubernetes to harness the pace of its community-driven progress.
  3. Cost Efficiency and Multi-Cloud: Kubernetes is generally more cost-effective in terms of licensing fees, making it appealing for organizations with budget constraints. Its multi-cloud and hybrid cloud capabilities allow applications to run consistently across various environments, providing flexibility in infrastructure choices.

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Bottom-line:

Choosing between OpenShift and Kubernetes depends on your organization’s specific needs and priorities. If you require a comprehensive enterprise platform with integrated support, advanced features, and an emphasis on stability, OpenShift could be the right fit. On the other hand, if you prioritize flexibility, community-driven innovation, and cost efficiency, Kubernetes offers a powerful open-source solution that allows you to tailor your container orchestration environment to your exact requirements.