Military Software Must Forge a New Path
Military systems heavily rely on software-driven architectures and cloud-based deployments. In this rapidly advancing world, Kubernetes-based architectures offer a modern solution to this challenge. Kubernetes-based architectures enable the development of scalable, reliable, and secure military systems. Military organizations can streamline the deployment and management of applications and services while maintaining greater control over their IT infrastructure. By leveraging the power of Kubernetes, military organizations can achieve improved performance, simplify operations, and ensure system reliability. This article will explore the benefits of Kubernetes-based architectures for military systems and provide an overview of modern solutions available.
Kubernetes is an open-source system developed by Google to manage and deploy containerized applications on a cloud platform. Google engineers developed K8s to address issues they faced with their own infrastructure as it scaled to hundreds of thousands of servers. Applications required the provisioning of virtual machines on individual servers. The scale and challenges led to the adoption of containerized applications to simplify deployment. These containers scaled exponentially, and Kubernetes was built. This solution was built to manage all of the containers and containerized infrastructure for their enterprise. Borg/Kubernetes provided a centralized management solution. It provided orchestration to automate components like load balancing, DNS system automation, storage system provisioning, and self-healing functions for containerized applications and infrastructure. Adopting K8s allowed Google to refocus engineering efforts on product and service development. The transformation of infrastructure provisioning processes would evolve into Google Cloud Platform as a new source of revenue.
Scalability and Speed
Kubernetes is a powerful and flexible tool for quickly updating embedded systems software. Its key advantage is that it allows for deployment of software in an efficient, and automated way. Upon initiation of software updates, K8s can automatically provision updates without manual intervention. In military context this will allow the rapid deployment of updates to all systems connected to the network. This also allows for the automation of updating and deploying weapon systems software when possible to ensure configuration alignment across the system-of-systems.
Modern Security and Compliance with K8s
Kubernetes is essential for military security, allowing them to automate auditing and logging procedures, keep up with the latest security protocols and configurations, and implement Zero-Trust. K8s allows operators to deploy Role-based access controls (RBAC), application container security sidecars, and network security automation without manual configurations and implementations. It helps to identify and respond to any potential security threats quickly and efficiently and treat components of the architecture as “cattle” – rapidly killing and redeploying secure updates to applications, clusters, pods, and nodes automatically.
Additionally, the system provides a secure way to store sensitive data, as it encrypts data at rest and in transit and leverages service mesh to maintain controls across applications. This capability helps the military ensure that their data is protected from malicious actors. These are essential capabilities to rapidly implement and scale the DoD CIO’s Zero Trust Architecture (Check out these two articles about the path forward and mental model for applying Zero Trust in the DoD enterprises here: DoD Path Forward for Zero Trust, and Applying COIN Doctrine for Zero Trust)
K8s as a Force Multiplier
Kubernetes is also a great tool for cost savings. By taking advantage of its cloud-based architecture, the military can drastically reduce their costs for hardware and software engineering support services by leveraging Kubernetes to manage the deployment and configuration of their systems. The automation of K8s deployments can quickly deliver software across echelons and infrastructure without additional engineering manpower.
Automation at scale saves orders of magnitude of time, cost, and risks. The ability to rollback versions quickly if needed, and redeploy infrastructure and applications automatically radically reduces the burden on personnel. This helps to save money. K8s provides a meant to allow the military to allocate their resources to more important priorities vs. dependencies on expensive field service engineers on and physical deployment media (Golden Disks) for pushing updates to the field. Speed to mission, scalability, and security across echelons are all enhanced by leveraging Kubernetes.
Kubernetes vs. Other Container Orchestration Solutions
BLUF: If your applications are critical and you are looking to include monitoring, security features, high availability, and flexibility, then Kubernetes is the right choice. (Source: Zaira Hira, Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm, Freecodecamp.org) This is nearly everything that the military must operate. If there are any other use cases where this does not apply, please feel free to let me know. I understand that for embedded systems software operating on RTOS, this is not an option. However, all the development, test, and deployment architecture for those systems can and would benefit from the benefits of K8s.
Skills and Training Needed to Adopt Kubernetes
As organizations adopt new capabilities and technologies, they must ensure their personnel have the competency and understanding to apply them. Infrastructure, security, and software engineers must be equipped with the relevant expertise. There is a great amount of training and instruction to work with Kubernetes-based architectures available. This is essential to integrate K8s in their regular duties to uphold mission-critical systems. Here is a concise summary of how these roles are transforming.
Upskilling Infrastructure Engineers
Infrastructure engineers need a deep understanding of on-prem and cloud infrastructure, storage and networking technologies. Knowledge of how to configure, monitor and manage Kubernetes clusters builds on this baseline. They should be able to design, deploy and maintain applications on Kubernetes-based architectures. The basic nature of work changes for these engineers. One of the biggest changes is how infrastructure provisioning is executed at scale. This occurs within the Kubernetes control plane instead of using SSH to log into every VM or machine on the network.
Upskilling Security Engineers
Security engineers must design and implement security policies for Kubernetes clusters, as well as perform vulnerability assessments and penetration testing. Continuous monitoring solutions in Kubernetes architectures provide significantly more data points. Tooling integrations with K8s process the data automatically to identify potential vulnerabilities. These can be identified at the application level along with dependencies across clusters, cluster configurations, container security sidecars, and networking layers. Security engineering teams lead the application of zero-trust architectural approaches to their systems leveraging the unique capabilities of Kubernetes.
Upskilling Software Engineers
Software engineers should be familiar with containerization, container orchestration and related technologies, such as Docker (containerization), Kubernetes (container orchestration), and Istio (service mesh). These core technologies are a shift in the approaches to create and manage applications in a Kubernetes-based architecture. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are essential components of the software systems, along with domain-driven design (DDD) and microservices.
Recommended Training Resources
There are large numbers of free resources available that are of high quality. Learning the skills and completing the training needed to be proficient in working with Kubernetes can take many paths. The Kubernetes documentation is an invaluable resource, providing information on Kubernetes basics, architecture, installation and configuration. Additionally, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) provides a variety of resources and courses on Kubernetes-related topics, such as the Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) program. Here are some excellent training resources and books to help:
- Start here: Training | Kubernetes
- Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm – an Explainer
- Hacker.io’s 14 Best Kubernetes Training Courses for 2023
- Certified Kubernetes Administrator (CKA) – Certification Program Overview and Study Guide
- The Linux Foundation IT Career Roadmap
- Book: Getting Started with Kubernetes
- Book: Cloud Native DevOps with Kubernetes
- Book: Kubernetes Best Practices: Blueprints for Building Successful Applications on Kubernetes
For technology leaders, focus on building your understanding of how the management and operation of these systems is different than previous generations, and many current systems. The personnel within your organizations may not be comfortable or familiar with these new capabilities. It is important to understand the core technical concepts of Kubernetes-based architectures. Leadership must ensure personnel have opportunities to build the skills necessary to work with Kubernetes at scale. It is important to recognize that the skills required for cloud-native/ containerized architectures are constantly evolving. Leaders need to ensure their personnel are up to date on the latest developments in the cloud-native space. By doing so, organizations can leverage the power of Kubernetes-based architectures to deliver value to the warfighter faster when distributed operations are ongoing.
In summary, the military has a lot to gain from using Kubernetes to modernize their mission enabling software. K8s gives enterprises powerful and flexible capabilities to update their systems and stay ahead in a rapidly changing world. The built-in security and compliance at scale enhances safety and zero-trust adoption. Building these capabilities and knowledge provides a radically different means to deploy and operate digital kill chains across echelons. Improving how the military’s systems function at scale, integrate data, and maintain security is a key competitive advantage. That is what this is all about.
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