kubernetesTalos OS

Is Vanilla Kubernetes Really Too Heavy For The Raspberry Pi?

It's been bothering me for over a week now. For no good reason, I had a shower thought a couple of weekends back about Kubernetes on the Raspberry Pi. Everywhere I turn in the community, it seems like folks are saying how inefficient Kubernetes is on the Pi and that using something like K3s is the only answer to this problem.

It just doesn't sit well. As someone focused on building "the best damned OS for Kubernetes", I've seen some big performance gains just by stripping things down at the OS level. And in our community we've seen people using Talos and vanilla Kubernetes on the Pi to great success.

So I've been stuck with a whole host of questions:

  • How much more performant is K3s? Especially on these much smaller machines.
  • Can the performance gain be mitigated by deploying Kubernetes differently? By doing something like choosing "the best damned OS for Kubernetes" as a base?
  • If it really is as good as everyone is saying, are there lessons to be learned for us at the OS level, as well as in the larger Kubernetes community?

I took to Twitter to see if I could find more data. That's where all great tech knowledge lives, right? In all seriousness, there was some awesome discussion in the thread, but no hard numbers. Sigh. So I set out to fetch these myself.

The Tests

Things Tested

I've tried to keep the testing super simple here. I wanted to focus on the usage of K3s and vanilla Kubernetes in their normal habitats on an 8GB Raspberry Pi 4. As such, I deployed the latest ARM64 build of Raspberry Pi OS for K3s, and the latest beta release of Talos for vanilla Kubernetes.

Interestingly enough, I found a bug in our kernel config that didn't enable CPU scaling for Raspberry Pis. As such, these Talos tests used the latest v0.10 beta that includes the fix. Easy performance gains FTW!

Because Talos doesn't have SSH and the normal tools used for gathering info like this, I ran all tests in a privileged container in both Talos and Raspberry Pi OS in an effort to standardize a bit. Here's the manifest used for this debug container:

apiVersion: v1
kind: Pod
metadata:
  name: workspace
spec:
  tolerations:
    - operator: Exists
  hostPID: true
  hostIPC: true
  hostNetwork: true
  containers:
    - name: workspace
      image: ubuntu:latest
      command: ["/bin/sh", "-c", "--"]
      args: ["trap : TERM INT; (while true; do sleep 1000; done) & wait"]
      securityContext:
        privileged: true

The tests themselves I wanted to keep "real world". What I mean by that is I wanted to try and get a feel for how these different setups perform in practice, so I tested the following things. Keep in mind that there's no "before K8s" in running Talos, so it's impossible to get the idle memory usage mentioned below in the "Before deploying K3s" section.

Before deploying K3s:

  • Idle memory usage with free -m

After deploying K3s/K8s and from within test container:

  • Idle memory usage with free -m
  • Idle CPU usage every 30s for 5m with sar 30 10
  • CPU performance under 100% utilization for 60s with sysbench cpu run --threads=4 --time=60 --cpu-max-prime=20000
  • Memory performance with sysbench memory run --memory-total-size=100G --memory-oper=write --memory-access-mode=rnd --time=0

Things Not Tested

Here's some things that I selfishly didn't care about for these tests:

Resource Consumption During Bootstrapping

This is something that lots of folks seem to keep mentioning about K3s vs. something like Kubeadm, but it doesn't apply to us at Talos and we don't have the same timeout problems that tend to bite during the initial creation process. It also just generally seems unimportant to me. I'm far more concerned with the cluster being stable after creation than how long it takes to get there, assuming it's not some absurd amount of time.

Other Vanilla K8s Spins

Similar to above, I didn't mess with any vanilla K8s experience that wasn't Talos. Why would I? I told you already that it's "the best damned OS for Kubernetes". My gut tells me that using something else would result in a heavier and less performant experience for vanilla K8s, which is something we should prove out in the future!

Even Smaller Hardware

It feels to me like a 4GB or 8GB Raspberry Pi 4 is a pretty approachable piece of hardware for most folks doing the edgy thing. As such, I didn't bother with seeing how small I could get by trying to run on a 1GB Pi or something of that nature.

Even Bigger Hardware

Talos runs anywhere. So does K3s it seems. It may be worth spending some time with these tests in the cloud or on bare metal sometime in the future, but it's not in scope for my current gripes.

Disk Performance

I did all of this testing on the same 16GB SD card for each OS. Testing disk performance on this card would probably be kind of useless. If I want to do that in the future, I'll probably spend some time with the USB 3.0 -> SSD connections you can now do with the Pi.

Raspberry Pi OS With K3s

A quick note on this section. I initally carried out these tests and found that the memory usage for k3s was actually slightly higher than Talos. After testing and showing the results to some other Talos folks, it was pointed out that swap is recommended to be disabled, which I had forgotten to do and is not present in the K3s docs from what I saw. I disabled swap and reran the tests, which are the results seen below.

Remember to do disable swap if you deploy K3s!

Idle Memory (OS Only and Before Disabling Swap)

pi@raspberrypi:~ $ free -m
              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:           7813          73        7377          16         362        7611
Swap:            99           0          99

Idle Memory (After Bootstrapping and Disabling Swap)

root@raspberrypi:/# free -m
              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:           7813         649        6725           9         437        7101
Swap:             0           0           0

Idle CPU Usage

root@raspberrypi:/# sar 30 10
Linux 5.10.17-v8+ (raspberrypi)     04/19/21    _aarch64_   (4 CPU)

13:11:23        CPU     %user     %nice   %system   %iowait    %steal     %idle
13:11:53        all      3.26      0.01      1.81      0.03      0.00     94.89
13:12:23        all      3.87      0.00      1.81      0.14      0.00     94.18
13:12:53        all      3.14      0.00      1.80      0.01      0.00     95.06
13:13:23        all      3.09      0.01      1.75      0.02      0.00     95.13
13:13:53        all      3.61      0.00      1.76      0.01      0.00     94.62
13:14:23        all      3.17      0.00      1.81      0.02      0.00     95.00
13:14:53        all      3.10      0.01      1.79      0.02      0.00     95.09
13:15:23        all      3.18      0.01      1.84      0.09      0.00     94.88
13:15:53        all      3.66      0.01      1.72      0.02      0.00     94.60
13:16:23        all      3.35      0.00      1.89      0.01      0.00     94.75
Average:        all      3.34      0.00      1.80      0.04      0.00     94.82

CPU Performance

root@raspberrypi:/# sysbench cpu run --threads=4 --time=60 --cpu-max-prime=20000
sysbench 1.0.18 (using system LuaJIT 2.1.0-beta3)

Running the test with following options:
Number of threads: 4
Initializing random number generator from current time

Prime numbers limit: 20000

Initializing worker threads...

Threads started!

CPU speed:
    events per second:  2228.24

General statistics:
    total time:                          60.0014s
    total number of events:              133705

Latency (ms):
         min:                                    1.70
         avg:                                    1.79
         max:                                   26.17
         95th percentile:                        1.89
         sum:                               239920.49

Threads fairness:
    events (avg/stddev):           33426.2500/388.55
    execution time (avg/stddev):   59.9801/0.00

Memory Performance

root@raspberrypi:/# sysbench memory run --memory-total-size=100G --memory-oper=write --memory-access-mode=rnd --time=0
WARNING: Both event and time limits are disabled, running an endless test
sysbench 1.0.18 (using system LuaJIT 2.1.0-beta3)

Running the test with following options:
Number of threads: 1
Initializing random number generator from current time

Running memory speed test with the following options:
  block size: 1KiB
  total size: 102400MiB
  operation: write
  scope: global

Initializing worker threads..

Threads started!

Total operations: 104857600 (279476.74 per second)

102400.00 MiB transferred (272.93 MiB/sec)

General statistics:
    total time:                          375.1879s
    total number of events:              104857600

Latency (ms):
         min:                                    0.00
         avg:                                    0.00
         max:                                    3.84
         95th percentile:                        0.00
         sum:                               349586.81

Threads fairness:
    events (avg/stddev):           104857600.0000/0.00
    execution time (avg/stddev):   349.5868/0.00

Talos With Vanilla K8s

Idle Memory (After Bootstrapping)

root@talos-pi:/# free -m
              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem:           7831         656        5285          40        1889        7032
Swap:             0           0           0

Idle CPU Usage

root@talos-pi:/# sar 30 10
Linux 5.10.29-talos (talos-pi)  04/16/21    _aarch64_   (4 CPU)

15:35:56        CPU     %user     %nice   %system   %iowait    %steal     %idle
15:36:26        all      6.16      0.01      3.41      0.14      0.00     90.29
15:36:56        all      6.11      0.03      3.36      0.16      0.00     90.33
15:37:26        all      6.84      0.03      3.34      0.14      0.00     89.66
15:37:56        all      5.77      0.02      3.56      0.11      0.00     90.54
15:38:26        all      6.25      0.02      3.48      0.14      0.00     90.11
15:38:56        all      6.61      0.03      3.54      0.19      0.00     89.64
15:39:26        all      6.81      0.03      3.42      0.19      0.00     89.54
15:39:56        all      6.28      0.03      3.29      0.15      0.00     90.26
15:40:26        all      6.09      0.03      3.51      0.14      0.00     90.23
15:40:56        all      6.43      0.02      3.49      0.14      0.00     89.93
Average:        all      6.33      0.02      3.44      0.15      0.00     90.05

CPU Performance

root@talos-pi:/# sysbench cpu run --threads=4 --time=60 --cpu-max-prime=20000
sysbench 1.0.18 (using system LuaJIT 2.1.0-beta3)

Running the test with following options:
Number of threads: 4
Initializing random number generator from current time

Prime numbers limit: 20000

Initializing worker threads...

Threads started!

CPU speed:
    events per second:  2102.18

General statistics:
    total time:                          60.0015s
    total number of events:              126141

Latency (ms):
         min:                                    1.70
         avg:                                    1.90
         max:                                   49.46
         95th percentile:                        2.00
         sum:                               239887.52

Threads fairness:
    events (avg/stddev):           31535.2500/717.61
    execution time (avg/stddev):   59.9719/0.01

Memory Performance

root@talos-pi:/# sysbench memory run --memory-total-size=100G --memory-oper=write --memory-access-mode=rnd --time=0
WARNING: Both event and time limits are disabled, running an endless test
sysbench 1.0.18 (using system LuaJIT 2.1.0-beta3)

Running the test with following options:
Number of threads: 1
Initializing random number generator from current time

Running memory speed test with the following options:
  block size: 1KiB
  total size: 102400MiB
  operation: write
  scope: global

Initializing worker threads...

Threads started!

Total operations: 104857600 (283405.69 per second)

102400.00 MiB transferred (276.76 MiB/sec)

General statistics:
    total time:                          369.9862s
    total number of events:              104857600

Latency (ms):
         min:                                    0.00
         avg:                                    0.00
         max:                                    8.06
         95th percentile:                        0.00
         sum:                               343589.34

Threads fairness:
    events (avg/stddev):           104857600.0000/0.00
    execution time (avg/stddev):   343.5893/0.00

What Does All That Mean?

The TL;DR is this: K3s is kinder to your CPU than vanilla K8s, but its memory efficiencies are negligible given the proper OS.

Percentage-wise, here's what I saw:

  • At idle, Talos with vanilla K8s uses ~1.5% more memory than K3s on Raspberry Pi OS.
  • At idle, K3s on Raspberry Pi OS uses 5.18% CPU while Talos and vanilla K8s uses 9.95%.
  • During memory writes, Talos with vanilla K8s had ~1.4% higher throughput than K3s on Raspberry Pi OS.
  • Under full CPU load, K3s on Raspberry Pi OS will process ~6% more events per second than Talos with vanilla K8s.

Are You A K3s Hater?

I'm not. Promise. It's more the general discounting of Kubernetes as being totally unfit for these edgy environments that sticks in my craw. In fact, there are some things that I think K3s really nails now that I've got to spend some time with it.

For one, it's super easy once you've got your OS setup. It's also very fast to bootstrap. Even though it wasn't part of my actual data, doing a simple curl command and then being able to do kubectl get nodes within ~30s is badass. We'll be taking some lessons from that experience at Talos for sure.

K3s also ships "batteries included", meaning they make some hard descisions on how things are deployed and also bundle in some really nice quality of life addons. This means users don't have to putz around with loadbalancers and ingresses if they don't want to. As someone who tried to solve "all the things" for a long time with kubespray, I have respect for drawing a line and saying "here's what comes out of the box".

I also feel like there's some things about K3s that everyone who loves Talos would violently agree with, especially around the general minimization of a huge piece of software and the desire to provide "just enough" to run it.

Final Thoughts

I really think that these tests make the case that the underlying OS is pretty dang important. The data I saw shows that it is feasible to run vanilla K8s on the right OS and still compete with - and in some aspects beat - the default experience of something like K3s. Even in the stats that look the scariest like idle CPU, it's still worth noting that only 10% of CPU power was being occupied, even if the percentage increase seems massive.

I'd say there is probably a use case for running each of these stacks on a Raspberry Pi and it's up to the reader to decide when and where. I personally like the benefits of having a declarative way to run the same OS and K8s versions on a Pi cluster as in the data center, along with the consistency and stability that enables. But does that mean I am going to demand that you use Talos and vanilla Kubernetes, dear reader? Nope. You do you! I did, however, have a very fun few days coming up with some ways to test all this out. And heck, it may even make sense for us to put K3s on "the best damned OS for Kubernetes" at some point, who knows.

I'm also interested in any tests others may be able to come up with. Feel free to hit me up in the Talos Slack or Twitter.