Kubernetes Workload Isolation

There are many images of ships with pin-wheel colored containers in a myriad of stacked configurations. In the featured image above you can clearly see three ships at dock loaded with containers. These ships have unique destination port cities across the globe each one carrying a distinct set of product for a discreet set of customers. These containers carry a payload.

Our virtual docker containers carry a workload. So, the ships vary in what containers they carry, where they are transporting it, and for whom it belongs to. We will talk about how to get our virtual containers loaded into a particular ship and entertain one solution to VM and container isolation.


Over the years Capstone has work in many vertical industries. Several of Capstone’s customers have extremely regulated environments such as the banking, insurance, and financial investment industries. These industry verticals typically need to comply with numerous governing standards and often have unique ways of interpreting and applying those regulations to there IT infrastructure. All of these regulations are aimed at restricting, or at least minimizing, covert intrusion.

Traditional Application Isolation

One traditional approach to thwarting intrusion is to create virtual local area networks (VLAN’s) which separate and isolate sets of virtual machines (VM’s) using firewall rules. These sets of VM’s are placed into VLAN’s based on business oriented Application Groups (AG). The diagram below shows three AG’s for the Test environment and three more for Staging environment. This is typically handled by the enterprise network, security, and firewall teams.

VLAN’s isolate Virtual Machines via Firewall

This approach helps ensure that if any particular VM was compromised by a bad actor that they would not easily break into other important machines outside of their current VLAN. By using firewall rules and strict enforcement of only opening necessary ports between the VLAN’s you can achieve a high level of confidence in thwarting pervasive intrusion.

Docker Enterprise Collections

With the Docker Enterprise platform you can easily deploy work among worker VM’s using Docker Collections. Collections are a native enterprise feature that groups worker nodes and supports some RBAC restrictions. These Collections are named and support role based access control (RBAC) for restricting users from accessing and processing within each particular collection. This allows separation of workloads but does not necessarily guarantee network isolation.

Collections are groups of Worker Nodes

This approach is similar to VLAN’s in that VM’s are separated into distinct groups. While the containerized applications are isolated and protected via RBAC, the VM’s are not isolated from each other. A rogue actor could still potentially hop from one VM to another across VLAN’s.

But we could combine the VLAN separation with the Collection separation and gain the benefits of both approaches.

VLAN’s combined with Docker Collections

There are other ways to slice and dice your platform. Your approach should follow your requirements. Some customers want isolation to happen at the environment level (e.g. dev versus test) to ensure that a breach in one environment does not affect another. In this example you might have 2 VLAN’s with 3 collections each. The collections still allow for individual AG ownership and placement.

Two VLAN’s with Three Collections each

Kubernetes Namespaces

Kubernetes namespaces cross all VM’s by default

Docker’s inclusion of Kubernetes into the Enterprise platform has a strong focus on integration. Kubernetes uses namespaces to organize deployments and pods while Swarm leverages Collections. Docker integrated its enterprise class RBAC model into Kubernetes for ensuring security amongst namespace scoped deployments. But namespaces do not directly allow targeting of any particular node or set of nodes in the cluster. Rather, namespaces are groupings of containers which potentially span across all the VM’s in a cluster.

Namespace Linking

However, if you want the benefits of Collections within the Kubernetes realm, Docker has the answer in the linking kubernetes namespace to a collection. The following screen-shot shows how it is done via the UCP web interface. You simply navigate to your namespace and then choose “Link Nodes in Collection”. This effectively pins your namespace to the collection you choose and therefore pins the workload to the set of VM’s within that collection.

UCP Linking of Namespace with Collection

The Trifecta

Now we can combine VLAN’s, Collections, and Namespaces all together into the cluster’s configuration to obtain firewall enforced isolation of VM’s, grouping of VM’s based on Collection, and Kubernetes namespaces linked with collections.

VLAN’s, Collections, and Namespaces combined

There are several benefits to this approach and they include the following:

  • VM isolation within the VLAN’s enforced by firewall
  • Container deployments to Collections enforces workload placement
  • Docker Enterprise supports industry acclaimed Kubernetes scheduler
  • Kubernetes namespace linking to Collections provides placement of pod deployments on Collection based VMs
  • Kubernetes RBAC enforces access to pods/applications

Hard Work

All of this sounds great until you want to implement. We have great VM isolation thru VLANs, but UCP managers must be able to communicate with and manage each of the worker nodes in the cluster across all the VLAN’s. This means that firewall rules must be implemented to enable traffic over numerous docker ports that must be opened between the UCP management VLAN and each of your AG VLAN’s. In addition IP in IP traffic (IP Protocol 4) must be enabled on your firewall between Management VLAN and AG VLAN. These all must be factored into your rollout.

Summary

Using the Kubernetes orchestrator within the Docker Enterprise platform has great advantages including enterprise security and workload separation. In addition, you can apply traditional VLAN isolation of your VM’s in conjunction with Docker to enable VM isolation.

At Capstone we have a wide variety of experiences. But some of those experiences tend to have common architectural goals. Hopefully you have gained insight into how VLAN’s can be incorporated with your Docker Enterprise platform.

If you want more information or assistance you can contact me on linkedin or thru our Capstone site.

Mark Miller
Solutions Architect
Docker Accredited Consultant