How Helm charts make Kubernetes more manageable and secure

Organizations are swiftly adopting the microservices architecture because of its several benefits such as reusability and parallel development. Kubernetes has become a staple in the microservices world. In fact, “Kubernetes” is the word that comes to mind when you think of microservices and containers. However, despite all the popularity Kubernetes has garnered over the last couple of years, it’s complicated to operate. Deploying even a single application means you have to set up several interdependent resources like pods, deployments, and services. All these resources require you to write separate YAML files to manage them. That’s a lot of manual work, which is why several organizations still have their reservations about implementing Kubernetes more effectively. However, because of the immense popularity of Kubernetes, it has managed to create a huge community of enthusiasts who keep coming up with new tools to simplify application development and deployment. Helm charts is one such open-source tool that has successfully tackled the complexity of application deployment and management to the Kubernetes cluster. Let’s look at how Helm helps ease Kubernetes operators’ jobs.

Why Helm?

Kubernetes CRD

Helm was initially a collaboration between Google and Dies (a company that deals with containers tools and is now a part of Microsoft). Helm is a package manager that helps you easily manage and deploy your applications onto the Kubernetes cluster. Helm has gained huge popularity, which has led to it becoming an official Kubernetes project. Apart from that, Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), an organization that supports Kubernetes-related open-source projects, has also recognized Helm by adopting it. The complexity of Kubernetes is not just limited to the number of resources that have to be created and managed, but also the number of different releases that require management. With Helm, you can simply wrap all the different components together in a single package and choose to make certain components configurable depending on your business needs.

With Helm, you can properly define the architecture of your applications with the help of Helm charts, which can easily be managed through simple commands. Helm revolutionizes the way applications are managed by automating and simplifying complex processes. It can help organizations that are still on the fence to finally adopt Kubernetes.

Helm: Beneath the surface

Helm can perform various functions like installing and upgrading software as well as their respective dependencies. Helm can also help configure deployments. If you want only certain containers to be configurable, you can do that with the help of Helm. Helm also revokes software packages from their repositories.

Helm undertakes all these functions through a set of components. These components include a command-line tool helm that can be used to access all the helm functions through a single pane. Tiller is a server-side component that runs on your Kubernetes cluster and actively listens for any Helm commands and takes care of deployment and management. The Helm chart is a collection of YAML files organized into a directory. There is also a repository that contains several chart templates of famous open-source projects.

What are Helm charts?

Helm packages are referred to as Helm charts. These charts are a combination of a few YAML files that are organized in a directory format and various templates. Helm charts are text-based, which makes it really easy to version them. With the help of Helm charts, users can simply use Kubernetes packages. Every time a user executes a Helm command, it is taken up by the Tiller server that runs on the cluster. This server then installs the appropriate package (which is a Helm chart) that contains the resource definition of the Kubernetes application to be installed. Using the definition, the application is installed in the cluster. Helm charts make it easy for developers to distribute their applications and install applications. The command to install a Helm chart is helm install helm_chart_name.

Every Helm chart installation to the cluster is considered a release. With Helm, you can have a number of releases installed onto your cluster, each with its particular specification. Helm charts can also be stored in repositories. These repositories are http sites that contain an index.yaml file and several .tar.gz charts. Helm comes with its own repository, stable. There are private as well as public repositories.

Why does Helm matter?

Azure Container Instances

Helm is built on top of Kubernetes and it leverages Kubernetes’ cluster architecture. With the help of Helm, you can specify the various resources that your application will need and at the same time configure them based on the environment. Teams leveraging Helm charts don’t have to maintain an application catalog. The Helm charts can simply be shared within an organization which helps eliminate duplicate efforts. Sharing Helm charts also helps ease the process of deploying similar application stacks across different parts of an organization without having to spend days trying to configure and setup dev environments. Helm charts also provide various ready to use packages to build applications which can help reduce errors. With Helm charts, users can also set default configurations for some components and change configuration through a unified interface.

For less experienced developers, Kubernetes can be a little complicated. However, Helm chart’s “push-button” deployment and deletion of apps can make it really easy and can help boost Kubernetes adoption. Developers can also save time spent in deploying test environments by making resources like databases available relatively quicker. Developers can spend more time focusing on development work. QA folk can also create their own charts to automate the deployment of a test environment. Additionally, since Helm allows for various releases to be maintained on the same cluster, you can simply roll back to a previous release in case of an issue. Helm charts can also help optimize an organization’s CI/CD integrations. With Helm, you can configure actions to take place based on some other action performed by the pipeline. Helm also allows you to run health checks to see if the deployments are successfully completed or not.

Helm charts and Kubernetes: A great marriage

Kubernetes’ popularity doesn’t seem to stop growing as microservices are still a new and appealing concept to many. With this snowballing popularity, many tools pop up from time to time that helps ease the development and deployment process using Kubernetes. Indeed, the Kubernetes ecosystem is a very crowded space whether it’s open-source tools or proprietary vendor platforms. Helm, however, has been able to make a mark. With its solution to simplify the complexity of Kubernetes, it has become extremely popular. Kubernetes is evolving and so is Helm. This means there is still a lot of undiscovered potential that Helm has to offer. It is the first tool of its kind and with the recognition, it has garnered by becoming an official project of both Kubernetes and CNCF, it is arguably the de-facto package manager for Kubernetes applications.

The appeal of Helm is not hard to understand. Helm lets developers focus on development as it reduces the time taken to build deployment environments. By making the deployment process of production as well as development similar, it makes way for even better collaboration between DevOps teams. Kubernetes and Helm are a match made in heaven. The ease and efficiency that Helm brings to Kubernetes make it an ideal complementary tool.

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