Rancher Labs slims down Kubernetes for edge, IoT devices

wind turbines
The field of wind energy has already expressed interest in K3s. (Pixabay)

Inspired in part by operators that want to run Kubernetes in resource-constrained environments, Rancher Labs launched an open source project called K3s.

As attractive as it is, the challenge with Kubernetes is its complexity, said Sheng Liang, CEO and co-founder of Rancher Labs. “It’s quite heavyweight,” with existing Kubernetes distributions often being very memory-intensive and overly complex for edge computing environments, he told FierceWirelessTech.  

The open source project is not yet ready for production but was inspired by some of what the company has seen by North American carriers like Bell Canada and AT&T that are among the Open Network Automation Platform activists. The name K3s is a play on K8s, a common abbreviation for Kubernetes. 

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For the past year, Rancher Labs has worked with dozens of teams who see Kubernetes as an ideal platform for managing edge infrastructure but have been reluctant to commit a large portion of resources in having their edge devices run a full-fledged Kubernetes platform.

“With K3s we can provide these teams with a distribution of Kubernetes that requires less than 512 MB of RAM and is ideally suited for edge use cases,” Liang said. Rancher Labs sees demand coming from the retail, finance, utility, manufacturing and eventually the telco sectors.

“We really shrunk down the size and got rid of anything and everything that’s not strictly necessary,” he said. “It’s generating actually quite a bit of excitement.”

Liang said Rancher anticipates that K3s will appeal to users looking for a simple-to-deploy, lightweight distribution of Kubernetes. During early previews, some users found it especially useful for CI/CD environments, embedded systems and local Kubernetes deployments.

One area that’s already expressed interest is the wind turbine industry.

"With more than 30,000 wind turbines in production, we are excited to see the creation of K3s, which can potentially allow us to deploy Kubernetes clusters on thousands of edge locations,” said Wei Zhang, VP of technology at Goldwind Smart Energy, the world’s second largest wind turbine manufacturer, in a press release.

Rancher Labs is simultaneously releasing K3s with support for x86_64, ARM64 and ARMv7 architectures.

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