Conceptual Article

Understand your Kubernetes clusters with these visualization tools — 2023 wrap-up

Published on November 3, 2023

Lead Product Designer

Understand your Kubernetes clusters with these visualization tools — 2023 wrap-up

Overview

With new open source projects always emerging, there are many Kubernetes cluster visualization and management tooling options. Some have gained significant popularity due to successfully translating complexity into a graphical interface. kubectl, the primary command-line tool for Kubernetes, is the gold standard for cluster operations. However, many developers need a more visual way to understand their workloads and interact with the cluster. A hybrid cloud approach or managing multiple clusters at scale can make understanding the state more difficult and often requires a single pane of glass that aggregates information for a holistic view.

Below are some examples of popular Kubernetes visualization tools we hear DigitalOcean customers enjoy using the most.

Note: DigitalOcean has no affiliation or partnership with the tools listed.

Considerations when choosing

Finding the right tool can be a challenge due to the rapidly evolving Kubernetes tooling landscape. You may find a combination of them works best for your needs. Below are considerations for choosing a cluster introspection tool:

Ease of use

You want to make sure it’s easy to set up, navigate, and regularly use, particularly if you’re a Kubernetes beginner.

Budget

Many open-source tools are free, but some features may only be available through a paid version. Their differentiation may not be apparent until you begin use so trying them out is important. If you’re operating at scale, paid versions can be worth the investment, but always do a cost-benefit analysis.

Requirements

Some tools address a specific part of a workflow, while others cover the entire cluster management lifecycle. Specific features may be necessary. For example, multi-platform support might be important for your team. However, a tool with many unnecessary features can result in a bloated experience.

Extensibility

A single tool might not meet all requirements, so it must connect to other parts of your workflow. Seamless integration with other tooling and customizations can be essential. For example, integrating with Prometheus to view metrics.

Workflow preference

There are terminal-based UIs and GUIs. Both serve a specific purpose and can be complementary. For example, troubleshooting is easier in a visual interface, and performing cluster management tasks is more comfortable in the terminal.

Maintenance

There are many successful well-crafted open source projects. Make sure the tool is actively maintained. For example, there are instances of public companies purchasing open-source tools. While they are still available for installation, development has ended, so choosing an alternative is best.

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Kubernetes Dashboard (kube-dashboard)

kubernetes dashboard

Kubernetes offers kube-dash, a web-based open-source dashboard that runs inside the cluster. This dashboard provides an overview of applications, information on the state of Kubernetes resources, pod logs, and more. It has a limited feature set, making it a great learning and quick debugging tool. We offer the dashboard as a 1-Click App (add link) you can easily install through our Marketplace.

Open Lens and Lens

open lens

Lens has become a widely popular desktop application that is more than a dashboard. It recently adopted a subscription-based model, and Open Lens is the free open-source version that supports the core functionality of paid Lens. The paid version has some additional software, licensing, and features. However, both IDE tools offer a unified view of your workloads across clusters, real-time observability, Helm chart management, kubeconfig importing, and more. They provide most of the functionality you would get from kubectl but in a single easy to navigate interface.

K9s

k9s

If you’re more comfortable working with the terminal, k9s is for you. This terminal web-based open-source tool provides an experience that is more user-friendly and customizable than using the kubectl command-line tool. Navigating k9s is similar to a text editor and provides features such as resource filtering, inline editing, resource management, custom command shortcuts, and more. There is also a paid version that offers additional monitoring features.

Skooner

Skooner

Skooner is an open-source Kubernetes dashboard that helps you visually understand a cluster’s concepts. The tool offers cluster component management, a real-time view of cluster health, options for configuring the dashboard, and more. It boasts a simple setup and a mobile-friendly responsive UI. Skooner relies on metrics-server for real-time metrics, so installation is necessary for an optimal experience.

Headlamp

headlamp

Headlamp is a newer open-source tool that has one of the more simplified user interfaces and is focused on delivering a powerful plugin system that customizes the experience. Similar to tools listed above, it provides features for viewing and modifying a cluster’s state. It can also run as a web-based tool or a desktop app.

Monokle

monokle

Monokle is considered an integrated suite of products that includes a desktop application, web-based GitOps tool, and command-line interface. While other open-source tools are focused on providing information about the state of your cluster after deploying your configuration, Monokle is designed to help manage the entire Kubernetes configuration lifecycle. It proactively detects costly misconfigurations to help promote quality and educate users on preventing errors. The open source desktop application is free and additional features can be unlocked with their paid plans.

Helm-Dashboard by Komodor

helm dashboard

Komodor is a comprehensive Kubernetes platform well-suited for multi-cloud environments and has a user experience that promotes learning. They also have a free open-source dashboard for visualizing installed Helm charts. This graphical interface can help beginners get started with Helm or speed up advanced users’ operations by easily viewing revision history and corresponding resources. It can run locally or inside of the cluster.

Robusta

robusta

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While Robusta is a primarily an observability tool, it offers insight by visualizing a cluster’s usage and configuration change history. Over-provisioning applications is a common issue that inflates costs. Robusta analyzes your usage to identify inefficiencies and recommend an optimal CPU to memory ratio. It also provides a timeline of changes you can filter and share with team members for quicker troubleshooting. This free open-source tool runs inside of the cluster or can be self-hosted with their enterprise plan. Learn more about installing and setting up Robusta.

Alternatives

There are many other Kubernetes visualization and management tools available. Some cover a wider scope of requirements beyond offering a graphical interface that provides an overview of a cluster’s state. For example, service mesh tools like Linkerd, CI/CD tools like Argo CD, or observability tools like Grafana.

Conclusion

A visual representation of information can make it easier to understand your Kubernetes clusters, and simplify cluster management compared to only using text-based command-line tools. It’s still critical to learn kubectl, and a graphical interface should be supplemental. Using a combination of tools can create a powerful workflow that meets your needs for different contexts. For example, you can use Lens for understanding usage and Monokle for debugging and policy validation. Let us know what your favorite Kubernetes visualization tools are by leaving a comment.

Spin up a DigitalOcean Kubernetes cluster today and try out one of the tools on this list. To learn more about DigitalOcean Kubernetes, check out our product docs.

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