Azure Kubernetes Service: Features, Architecture & Getting Started -

Azure Kubernetes Service: Features, Architecture & Getting Started

What Is Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)? 

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is a managed container orchestration service provided by Microsoft Azure, which simplifies the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized applications. 

AKS is built on the popular open-source Kubernetes system, allowing developers to leverage Kubernetes features and tools while benefiting from the scalability, security, and integration capabilities of the Azure cloud platform. 

By automating key aspects of Kubernetes cluster management, AKS helps to reduce the complexity and operational overhead for developers and DevOps teams.

In this article:

Azure Kubernetes Service Features and Capabilities 

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) offers a range of features and capabilities that make it an attractive choice for managing containerized applications. Some key features and capabilities include:

  • Managed Kubernetes control plane: AKS provides a fully managed Kubernetes control plane, automating critical tasks such as patching, upgrading, and monitoring, which helps reduce the operational overhead for developers and DevOps teams.
  • Scalability: AKS enables easy scaling of applications and resources to meet changing demands. It supports horizontal pod autoscaling, cluster autoscaling, and manual scaling to ensure optimal resource utilization.
  • Integrated Azure services: AKS allows seamless integration with various Azure services such as Azure Active Directory, Azure Monitor, Azure Policy, and Azure DevOps, providing a comprehensive cloud-based solution for container management.
  • Security and compliance: AKS offers built-in security features such as role-based access control (RBAC), private clusters, and Azure Private Link for secure communication. Additionally, it is compliant with various industry standards and certifications.
  • DevOps and CI/CD integration: AKS supports integration with popular DevOps and CI/CD tools like Jenkins, GitLab, and Azure Pipelines, which simplifies deployment and management of containerized applications.
  • Multi-node pools: AKS supports the use of multiple node pools within a single cluster, allowing you to run different types of workloads with varying resource requirements, operating systems, or availability zones.
  • Networking options: AKS provides flexible networking options, including Azure Virtual Network (VNet) integration, network policies, and ingress controllers, to tailor the network architecture based on your needs.
  • Persistent storage: AKS supports various storage options for persistent data, such as Azure Disks, Azure Files, and Azure NetApp Files, enabling stateful applications to retain their data across pod restarts and updates.
  • Windows container support: In addition to Linux containers, AKS also supports Windows containers, which allows developers to run Windows-based applications on the same Kubernetes cluster.
  • Global availability: AKS is available in multiple Azure regions across the globe, ensuring high availability and minimal latency for applications deployed in the service.

Azure Kubernetes Service Architecture 

Image Source: Azure

The Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) architecture consists of several components working together to manage containerized applications. Here’s an overview of the key architectural elements:

Control plane 

The control plane is a set of managed Kubernetes components that maintain the overall state and configuration of the cluster. These components include the API server, etcd, controller manager, and scheduler. AKS manages the control plane for you, ensuring high availability, automatic updates, and seamless integration with Azure services.

Node pools 

Node pools are groups of virtual machines or virtual machine scale sets that act as worker nodes in the Kubernetes cluster. Each node pool can have different configurations, such as VM sizes, operating systems, or availability zones. Nodes within the same pool share the same configuration.


Pods are the smallest deployable units in Kubernetes and consist of one or more containers that share the same network namespace and storage volumes. AKS schedules and runs your application’s containers inside these pods across the worker nodes.


Kubernetes services are abstractions that define a logical set of pods and a policy to access them. In AKS, services enable communication between different components of an application, as well as between internal and external users.


Ingress in AKS is a set of rules that control external access to services running in a cluster. It can include load balancing, SSL termination, and name-based virtual hosting. Ingress resources in AKS can be managed using Azure Application Gateway or Kubernetes-native ingress controllers.

Learn more in our detailed guide to AKS architecture (coming soon)

Azure Kubernetes Service Pricing 

Here’s a breakdown of the pricing options available for AKS:

Azure Free Tier

AKS itself doesn’t have a separate free tier, but you can use the Azure free tier to create an AKS cluster. The Azure free tier provides a set of free services and a limited amount of resources each month for 12 months. However, this might not be suitable for production workloads due to resource constraints. The Kubernetes control plane management is provided free of charge in AKS, but you still need to pay for the worker nodes that run your applications. The free tier differs from the Standard pricing tier, so it’s important to know what is and isn’t covered in the free services.


With the Pay-As-You-Go pricing tier, you only pay for the resources you consume. This includes the virtual machines, storage, and networking associated with your AKS cluster. The cost of the virtual machines depends on the size, region, and operating system you choose. Similarly, storage and networking costs depend on the resources you consume. This pricing tier provides flexibility and is suitable for workloads with variable resource requirements.

Reserved Instance Pricing

Azure offers Reserved Virtual Machine Instances, which allow you to reserve virtual machines for a 1-year or 3-year term in exchange for discounted rates compared to the pay-as-you-go pricing. By committing to a longer-term, you can achieve significant cost savings. This option is ideal for workloads with predictable resource requirements.

Azure Spot VMs

Spot Virtual Machines (VMs) are Azure’s unused virtual machines that are available at a discounted rate compared to the pay-as-you-go pricing. They can be used with AKS node pools to run workloads at a lower cost. However, Spot VMs come with the risk of being evicted if Azure needs the capacity back. This pricing option is suitable for fault-tolerant and flexible workloads that can handle interruptions.

Savings Plans

Azure Savings Plans are also available for a variety of Azure compute services, including Azure Kubernetes Service. Suited for dynamic workloads, Savings Plans offer predictable hourly spend that customers commit to over one or three years. Savings Plans can reduce compute spend by up to 65% and can be applied to multiple services.

Learn more in our detailed guide to AKS pricing

AKS Tutorial: Create an AKS Cluster 

Before you start, ensure that you have an Azure subscription. If you don’t, sign up for a free Azure account.

Follow these steps to create an AKS cluster:

  1. Log in to the Azure portal.
  2. In the Azure portal menu or on the Home page, click on Create a resource.
  3. Choose Containers > Kubernetes Service.
  4. In the Basics tab, set the following options:

Project details:

  • Choose an Azure Subscription.
  • Pick or create an Azure Resource group, such as myResourceGroup.

Cluster details:

  • Set the Preset configuration to Standard ($$). For additional information on preset configurations, refer to the Cluster configuration presets in the Azure portal.
  • Provide a Kubernetes cluster name, like myAKSCluster.
  • Choose a Region for the AKS cluster and retain the default value for the Kubernetes version.
  • Set API server availability to 99.5%.

Primary node pool:

  • Keep the default values.

Image Source: Azure

  1. Click Next: Node pools when done.
  2. Retain the default Node pools settings and click Next: Access at the bottom of the screen.
  3. In the Access tab, configure these options:
  • The default value for Resource identity should be System-assigned managed identity. Managed identities offer an identity for applications to use when connecting to resources that support Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) authentication.
  • The Kubernetes role-based access control (RBAC) option should be the default value for more granular control over access to the Kubernetes resources deployed in your AKS cluster.
  1. Click Next: Networking when finished.
  2. Retain the default Networking settings and click Next: Integrations at the bottom of the screen.
  3. In the Integrations tab, enable the recommended out-of-the-box alerts for AKS clusters by selecting Enable recommended alert rules. You can view the list of alerts that are automatically enabled by choosing this option.
  4. Press Review + create. Upon navigating to the Review + create tab, Azure performs validation on the chosen settings. If the validation is successful, proceed to create the AKS cluster by clicking Create. If the validation fails, it will highlight the settings that need adjustment.
  5. It will take a few minutes to create the AKS cluster. Once your deployment is complete, access your resource by either:
    • Clicking Go to resource, or
    • Navigating to the AKS cluster resource group and selecting the AKS resource. In this example, search for myResourceGroup and choose the resource myAKSCluster.
Image Source: Azure

Ensure availability and optimize Azure Kubernetes Service with Spot by NetApp

Spot by NetApp’s portfolio provides hands-free Kubernetes optimization. It continuously analyzes how your containers are using infrastructure, automatically scaling compute resources to maximize utilization and availability utilizing the optimal blend of spot, reserved, and pay-as-you-go compute virtual machine instances as well as Savings Plans.

  • Dramatic savings: Access spare compute capacity for up to 91% less than pay-as-you-go pricing
  • Cloud-native autoscaling: Effortlessly scale compute infrastructure for both Kubernetes and legacy workloads
  • High-availability SLA: Reliably leverage Spot VMs without disrupting your mission-critical workloads

Learn more about how Spot supports all your Kubernetes workloads.