Options for Setting up a Local Kubernetes Cluster

Have you ever heard that being scared relieves hiccups? Well, that’s what Kubernetes does. Many think it’s intimidating, so it has the potential to relieve your hiccups. It can also relieve hiccups in a metaphorical sense. Setting up Kubernetes is required to ease deployment, scaling, and containerized application-related enterprise-scale hiccups. 

Still, getting started with an application as large and complex as Kubernetes is easier said than done. What do you do? Well, you start small. How do you do that? By setting up a local Kubernetes cluster, of course! How can that help you ease into Kubernetes? Let’s find out! 

Local Kubernetes Clusters: What Are They and What Do They Do?

Clusters are a foundational concept in ​​Kubernetes. They’re the collection of all components that make up a ​​Kubernetes system, including containers, pods, nodes, configuration management, networking, and storage. Some of these concepts are new to anyone coming from a traditional IT background. 

Normally, a vendor completely takes care of setup in traditional IT infrastructure. In this case, though, you have to figure out the cluster setup on your own. That said, it’s worth the effort to run local Kubernetes clusters. 

Local Kubernetes clusters create an agile and safe application deployment process. They also separate between the development and production environments. That’s because you can set it up as a local environment before pushing anything to a development cloud. Basically, local Kubernetes clusters allow you to imitate what you’d do in the cloud on your machine. 

As you get started with Kubernetes, it helps to create a local Kubernetes cluster to better understand how the system works. What’s more, a local cluster is great for sandbox purposes. It allows you to try out new ideas and product concept versions. 

Let’s go over the top 4 platforms that help you set up local Kubernetes clusters

Image of a lock in front of several screens. Behind that, a globe with binary code.
Setup includes security, too.

1. Minikube

A tool that makes developers’ life easy, Minikube is a Kubernetes version  fully API-compatible with its big brother edition. Minikube is designed specifically for local deployments. 

How It Works

It runs as a single node-local Kubernetes cluster inside a virtual machine (VM) and supports all Kubernetes container runtimes. The installation of this lightweight Kubernetes implementation is pretty straightforward. Linux, Windows, and Mac OS installers can automate most of the processes, including VM steps. You just need to have a VM platform. Minikube interacts with your system’s containers via a drive, which varies according to the operating system. After you’ve installed Minikube and configured its default driver, you can start the cluster. When you finish the Minikube setup, use kubectl to interact with the cluster. It’s the standard command-line tool that interacts with the Kubernetes API server. 

In its latest version release, Minikube has a new flag that overrides mirror URL downloading (kubectl, kubelet, and kubeadm). It also supports CRI-O runtime with Roadless Docker driver, among a few other changes.

2. MicroK8s 

Microk8s is a powerful self-healing enterprise-grade Kubernetes distribution. It runs completely on your workstation or edge device. MicroK8s has a small disk and memory footprint and is optimized for quick installations of single and multi-mode clusters. It supports multiple operating systems, including Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. That’s because it has a native installer for both the latter operating systems. Microk8s also uses a snap packaging mechanism that brings automatic updates. That makes it easy to install on any Linux distribution that supports snap packages. It doesn’t require VMs to run in Linux. That said, it uses a VM framework-Multipass-to create VMs for the Kubernetes cluster on Mac OS and Windows. 

How It Works

Microk8s comes in a single package that installs a standalone k8s cluster in under a minute. It can run multiple times in the local k8s cluster with just a few commands. It also runs in a fixed container. That makes your Kubernetes itself fully containerized.

Microk8s comes with built-in add-ons for Ingress routing, the official Kubernetes dashboard, and Istio service mesh. All that can help you swiftly set up your own, personalized, production-ready cluster. Microk8s enables automated security updates and upgrades to newer Kubernetes versions by default. 

Microk8s recently brought the option to add worker nodes to a cluster. These nodes consume fewer resources. They’re also suitable in configurations where nodes running Kubernetes workloads are unreliable. The latest version also allows hassle-free LXC deployments, other improvements, and lots of add-on upgrades, making it the best release so far.  

Picture of a laptop on a desk, with code written on the screen. Behind it, a desktop computer.
Let’s get Kubernetes on our laptops!

3. kind 

Kubernetes in Docker, or kind, is an open-source CNCF certified tool. As the name suggests, it moves the cluster into Docker containers. That improves startup speed. 

How It Works

While it initially tested Kubernetes itself, you can still use it for continuous integration (CI) and local development. kind allows you to load your local images directly into the cluster. That eliminates the need to set up a registry. The tool consists of Go packages that implement multi-node, high availability cluster creation. kind supports Linux, Mac OS, and Windows, and its setup is similar to Minikube. It also supports building Kubernetes release builds from the source. 

In its latest version release, kind brings in the most wanted support for rootless, multi-arch, dual-stack. It also implements a few performance and bug fixes. For installation on MacPorts, some base image updates and documented support are available. kind also dropped support for building node images with the build tool, Bazel, going forward. That should decrease k8s’ build maintenance.

4. K3S

K3S is a CNCF sandbox project. It runs production-level Kubernetes workloads. The tool primarily assists low-resourced and remotely located profiles, like Edge devices and IoT sensors. It’s sort of like a mini Kubernetes distribution, developed by Rencher Labs. It’s a lightweight single binary of less than 40 MB, and it has low resource usage of around 300 MB of RAM. K3S uses lightweight components, and removes some dispensable features like alpha, legacy, and in-tree plugins. That way, they can decrease resource usage. 

How It Works

K3S can run locally for Kubernetes testing. You need to create 2 VMS on a local system using any platform like Virtual Box, VMware, and the like. Then, install the K3S server on one VM and the K3S agents on the other.  The K3S agents are responsible for handling the actual workload. And there you have it, a mini Kubernetes cluster on a local device. 

K3S can also support Etcd to hold the cluster state and SQLite (for simpler single node setups). It also supports external DBs like PostgreSQL and MySQL.

K3S allows you to deploy your Helm charts and K3S manifests in a specific directory.  K3S monitors that directory for changes and applies them without further interactions. All in all, that’s how you can automate your deployments on K3S. Since K3S is designed for full-scale production, it can simulate a real production environment on a PC or a laptop. 

The latest improvements with K3S fixes a regression that broke rootless support.

That may seem like too much info to grasp at once. To help you make your decision, we’ve packaged everything neatly below.

Pro Tips 

Here’s a breakdown of the 3 situations that require specific tools.

Use K3S if 

  •  you need quick startup time
  •  your environment has a tight resource pool
  •  you’re using Edge computing for loT

Use MicroK8s if

  • you want to run multiple nodes in your local cluster
  • you’re using Edge computing for IoT

Use kind if

  • your system has low resources
  • you require continuous integration
  • you want multiple nodes to test node selectors and affinity
Connected servers and devices in front of data servers. At the center point of the connection, a cloud.
It’s all about orchestration and connection.

The Bottom Line

While Kubernetes is a great solution for the distributed computing problem, it’s quite complex. It can seem daunting to get started with it right away. The tools highlighted above help set up Kubernetes. They’re a good way to enter the Kubernetes world. 

Basically, they have almost all K8s’ major workflows tweaked into a miniature, simple version. Each of the tools mentioned in this article essentially does the same job. That said, each uses different approaches and focuses on different use cases. We hope this article gives you a better understanding of how each tool works. That way, you can choose the one best suited for you and your needs. 



What’s the easiest way to get started with ​​Kubernetes?

Use one of the options, like Minikube or MicroK8s, to set up Kubernetes locally on a computer. That’s the fastest and easiest way to get started. If you’re using Kubernetes in a cluster, you may wish to set up one image or VM and then clone it to other nodes.

Can I find open-source tools to set up a Kubernetes cluster?

Yes, you have many open source options for Kubernetes clusters. These options include Minikube, K3S, and more. They’re great for quickly setting up a local Kubernetes cluster for sandbox testing or local development. To help run your Kubernetes system remember a vast number of open source tools exist to help you manage the solution. These include analytical tools from several different sources for you to choose from.

What are the benefits of setting up a local ​​Kubernetes cluster?

A local Kubernetes cluster enables you to develop applications locally and do testing on application code. That enables you to control a company’s intellectual property without risking it being sold, leaked, or exploited by third parties. You also have control over hardware scaling and can adapt your solution to your business’s storage needs.

Which tools are great for setting up Kubernetes locally on IoT and edge devices?

K3S and MicroK8s are great options for IoT and edge use cases. That’s because they have a very small footprint. You can’t go wrong with either of them. They’re open source tools with great developer communities supporting them.

Which is the most popular way to run Kubernetes locally?

Minikube is the most widely used VM-based tool for setting up a local Kubernetes cluster. Another alternative is to use Docker, a container based solution. That makes it easy to move environments to new clusters. That’s because hardware configurations don’t need to be catered for, unlike VM solutions. 



Are you just getting started with ​​Kubernetes?

Read this post on the architecture and key concepts behind Kubernetes

Graduating from local to an on-premise data center?

Discover all about the move from local to on-premise here.

Interested to know more about managing Kubernetes?

Find the Top 5 tools to help you manage Kubernetes clusters here.

Are you ready to graduate to managed Kubernetes services?

Learn about the major trends related to managed Kubernetes.

Once you begin managing ​​Kubernetes, you’ll need to monitor it closely.

Read up on the top monitoring tools for Kubernetes.

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