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What startups need to know about building scalable infrastructure with Kubernetes

Just like performance and testing, scalability is critical to the success of your organization and should be considered from the very beginning. Startups aim to grow rapidly, often with the goal being not just growth, but exponential growth. In order to sustain exponential growth, companies need to be able to scale.

To “grow” simply means to become larger or greater over a period of time but to “scale” means to represent in proportional dimensions or to increase (or reduce) in size according to a common scale.

For startups, scalability isn’t just nice-to-have: it’s a necessity. Building and releasing products powered by infrastructure that’s not designed for scalability leads to failures, crashes, and data loss. When planning infrastructure for your startup, there are many options for ensuring the scalability of your application. Managed products like DigitalOcean’s App Platform or DigitalOcean’s managed Kubernetes give organizations the ability to move quickly and scale efficiently. Organizations need to build infrastructures from the ground up with scalability in mind. This means understanding how your application will grow to millions of users, how it should be deployed, and how potentially thousands of instances can easily be managed by a small team using cloud management tools.

When architecture isn’t built for scale

Organizations that build their architecture without accounting for future scalability have the potential to run into all kinds of problems as they begin to grow. Often, teams find themselves with an infrastructure that’s difficult to manage and expensive to maintain. Some common problems teams face are difficult deployments, single points of failure, and continuous cost increases.

Difficult deployments

Consider how much time you spend managing deployments and how that will increase as you scale. There’s a lot that happens between your code being committed to source control and it being deployed to production. While you may start with one deployment per month, that number will likely increase as you grow. Are your systems ready to deploy multiple times per day?

When a company pushes scalability into the future, it risks building a legacy system that becomes difficult to deploy and maintain at a later stage. As organizations expand, the team often moves to multiple deploys, sometimes deploying daily. This creates more churn, or failures in the system, with scripts going down or deployments taking a long time to run. Operations team members may be overwhelmed with the amount of churn in the system and deploys start to take longer and longer as the process becomes burdened with more and more complexity.

Single point of failure

It’s quite common for startups to build their app as a monolith, but monolithic systems are designed and built to scale up rather than out. This means that if your system is running at 100% CPU, you can only add more hardware to solve the problem; you can’t just add a new server because they all run the same application. Single points of failure add to frequent crashes, downtime, and slow loading speeds, which can lead to a poor experience for users.

Increased cost and time

As your company scales, you’ll end up with an increasingly complicated infrastructure. The more complicated your infrastructure becomes the more adaptations that will need to be made. As you grow, you’ll need an increasing number of team members to maintain the complex system, and frequent training as things shift. At some point, you may even end up needing to migrate users to an entirely new system. All of this increases costs and takes time and focus away from your application.

Kubernetes as a foundation for success

Kubernetes is an increasingly popular option for building scalable infrastructure. Despite its popularity, Kubernetes can be quite complex to implement so it’s not the right solution for everyone. If you decide that Kubernetes is right for you, incorporating Kubernetes into your journey early on can bring advantages like maintaining a smaller operations team, easier scalability, and future-proofing your business.

Kubernetes helps you maintain a smaller operations team

Kubernetes does the heavy-lifting and takes care of much of the complexity that can arise from using a series of bash scripts, special deploy tools, and more. Kubernetes deployments are managed with simple YAML files. To deploy a new version of a service, it’s as simple as updating the container image to point to new code, and a simple rollback command moves to the previous version if there’s a problem.

Often, the deploy scripts and infrastructure code are managed by the Operations Team. Developers make changes in the deploy code often, and when startups have a large, continuously scaling system this creates significant friction and organizational overhead. With Kubernetes, developers can define a whole working system with autoscaling, replication, and service resolution. Kubernetes abstracts away a lot of the pain and friction that arises between developers and operations, giving control to the developers and saving costs of operations.

Kubernetes makes your application easily scalable and self-healing, with minimal to no downtime

Kubernetes was built with the scalability needs of applications in mind. Kubernetes has replication controllers, schedulers, and load balancing techniques. It also provides networking that allows multiple spawning of new pods and nodes in the cluster, allowing the application to handle spikes, and comes with health checks for your applications like health probes and startup probes. Additionally, it is a self-healing system, giving maximum uptime.

Kubernetes is a reliable & popular technology

Kubernetes is a reliable solution that will be around for many years, and since Kubernetes has established itself as the de facto standard for container orchestration and flagship technology of the cloud-native world, Kubernetes is attractive to engineers and other talent.

To make adopting and maintaining Kubernetes easier, services like DigitalOcean’s Managed Kubernetes give users the efficiency of vanilla Kubernetes along with the simple user experience and cost savings that come with using DigitalOcean’s cloud services. DigitalOcean’s Managed Kubernetes also provides teams with a hassle-free control plane, easy deployment options, and ongoing Kubernetes maintenance, enabling them to focus on their business and bringing apps to market.

Atom Learning is a rapidly growing, UK-based educational technology startup. Learn how CTO Tim and his team leveraged DigitalOcean Kubernetes to help them scale quickly and reliably as their customer base grows.

Try it yourself

Kubernetes is a great option for projects that need to scale and grow over time. If you’re interested in finding out if DigitalOcean’s managed Kubernetes is right for your applications, take DigitalOcean Kubernetes for a spin. If you have questions about migrating from another cloud provider or what your total costs will be on DigitalOcean once you start scaling, you can schedule a meeting with our team of experts who can help answer any questions you have.

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