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simplyblock and Kubernetes

Simplyblock provides high-IOPS and low-latency Kubernetes persistent volumes for your demanding database and other stateful workloads.

Kubernetes Persistent Volumes: How to & Best Practices

Updated: Jun 28

Kubernetes Persistent Volumes (or PVs) are resources that provide storage to your Pods. A single PV represents a single logical storage entity, such as a directory, or block storage device, and can be ephemeral or persistent. PVs are either bound to the lifecycle of the Pod and are created, updated, and deleted automatically, respective to the Pod’s lifecycle, or they are managed manually.


One of the advantages of Kubernetes is its extensibility, and with that to deploy applications with the resources they need. By default, application Pods created by Kubernetes have readable and writable disk space, however this disk space is ephemeral and will disappear 


What are Persistent Volumes (PVs)?

Kubernetes manages storage for Pods and containers through volumes. The concept is similar to partitions on harddisks, where a larger entity is broken into smaller entities which can be used “somewhat” independently. That said, a Kubernetes Volume is a way to define storage for data.


A volume in Kubernetes introduces the separation of concerns between the actual storage and the Pod, making it possible to utilize a wide variety of storage providers, from ephemeral, temporary storage, over local directory mounts and object storage providers, to local or remote block storage devices. With the former being ephemeral storage, and the latter options being persistent storage (meaning, the content stored survives a restart).


Persistent volumes are either created manually (statically) by an administrator, or dynamically through a Persistent Volume Claim (PVC), but for now we want to go the manual route.


apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolume
metadata:
  name: postgres-wal-vol-pv
spec:
  storageClassName: sb-unlimited-encrypted
  capacity: 20Gi
  accessModes:
    - ReadWriteOnce
  persistentVolumeReclaimPolicy: Recycle

In the example, we create a new persistent volume with 20 GB capacity. ReadWriteOnce tells Kubernetes that only one cluster node can access this PV. However, all Pods on that node may access it.


Depending on your requirements, there are other values for the access permissions:

  • ReadWriteOnce: Allows all pods on a single node to mount the volume in read-write mode.

  • ReadWriteMany: Allows multiple pods on multiple nodes to read and write to the volume. Remember, this could be dangerous with databases and other applications that don’t support shared state.

  • ReadOnlyMany: Allows multiple pods on multiple nodes to read the volume. Very practical for a shared configuration state.

  • ReadWriteOncePod: Allows a single pod on a single node to read-write mount the volume.


Important note though, not all storage providers (CSI driver implementations) support all modes.


What is a Persistent Volume Claim (PVC)?

The Persistent Volume Claim is the actual request to mount a persistent volume into a Kubernetes pod. The idea is to separate the concern of “I need storage” from the deployment of the actual storage backend. The latter can be handled by the operations team, deploying a storage cluster and providing the necessary StorageClass, probably even defining a StorageClass default value if none is configured. That way all default requests will be fulfilled through the default storage class, while specific requirements (such as for a database) can be made explicit.


The PVC either refers to a statically provisioned persistent volume, or can provision it dynamically when consumed by a pod. Binding a PVC to a statically provisioned persistent volume is as simple as the following example:

apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolumeClaim
metadata:
  name: postgres-wal-vol-pvc
spec:
  storageClassName: "" # Explicitly disable dynamic provisioning
  volumeName: postgres-wal-vol-pv # Volume reference

To bind a persistent volume claim to our precreated volume, we just need to refer to it. The PVC will stay in an unresolved state, waiting for the requested persistent volume to become available.


To support dynamic provisioning of the persistent volume, if not available, we can either remove the storageClassName property and get the default storage class, or we can specify one explicitly. In either case, the underlying persistent volume will automatically be created using the storage class of choice and be bound to the requesting PVC.


In this case, most of the PV configuration will be moved to the PVC:

apiVersion: v1
kind: PersistentVolumeClaim
metadata:
  name: postgres-wal-vol-pvc
spec:
  storageClassName: sb-unlimited-encrypted
  accessModes:
    - ReadWriteOnce
  resources:
    requests:
      storage: 20Gi

What is a StorageClass?

To make a storage provider available to Kubernetes, a so-called StorageClass is used. A StorageClass contains multiple configuration values to describe characteristics such as storage capacity and performance. When creating a volume (ephemeral or persistent), the PV is configured (implicitly or explicitly) using the StorageClass of choice, and the underlying storage provider will take care of provisioning and the volume’s lifecycle.


apiVersion: storage.k8s.io/v1
kind: StorageClass
metadata:
  name: sb-unlimited-encrypted
provisioner: csi.simplyblock.io
parameters:
  csi.storage.k8s.io/fstype: ext4
  pool_name: testing1
  qos_rw_iops: "0"
  qos_rw_mbytes: "0"
  qos_r_mbytes: "0"
  qos_w_mbytes: "0"
  compression: "False"
  encryption: "True"
  distr_ndcs: "1"
  distr_npcs: "1"
reclaimPolicy: Delete
volumeBindingMode: Immediate
allowVolumeExpansion: true

In the above example a StorageClass resource is defined which utilizes the simplyblock CSI driver (csi.simplyblock.io). CSI stands for Container Storage Interface and is the official Kubernetes standard for implementing storage providers to interact with. Imagine it to be a set of required and optional operations that can be executed on a volume (like provisioning, snapshotting, deleting).


The benefit of storage classes is that the same storage provider may be used to implement multiple different volume characteristics. In the above example the storage class named sb-unlimited-encrypted isn’t rate limited in any way, it can go as fast as possible, but it is encrypted. In a second one sb-10mbps-encrypted we may want to limit the speed, for example to make sure that boot volumes can’t cannibalize the performance of volumes used for database storage.


Anyhow, while a good chunk of the StorageClass properties are defined by the spec, the parameter properties are defined by the storage provider itself. Therefore, when creating storage classes, make sure to look up the storage providers documentation for a reference of all available properties.


Lifecycle of a Persistent Volume and Persistent Volume Claim

Like all resources inside Kubernetes, PVs and PVCs have their own lifecycle, sometimes directly depending on other resources, such as pods.


During this lifecycle, a persistent volume is in one of the following stages:

  • Provisioning: The PV is being provisioned, either statically or dynamically.

  • Binding: The PVC is being bound to a PVC. This happens when the administrator either creates a PVC manually consuming the PV, or in the case of dynamic provisioning, it is bound to the requesting PVC.

  • Using: The PV and PVC are being consumed by a pod. That doesn’t mean that a PV is actively used (in the sense that it has active read-write operations), but it is mounted into a running container.

  • Reclaiming: If a reclaim policy is configured, the volume will be reclaimed by Kubernetes once the user is done with it. Depending on the policy, the volume is either retained (meaning the PV will not be deleted together with the PVC), deleted (the volume will be deleted together with the PVC), or recycled (this approach is deprecated, don’t use it).


Important note, if a persistent volume claim is deleted while the bound persistent volume is still attached to a running pod, the PVC isn’t immediately removed, but scheduled for removal once the pod has shut down.


Not less important though, if you want to reuse a PV after it is reclaimed with the retain policy, this will only work for statically created PVs. Also make sure that your PV doesn’t have the claimRef property. We didn’t mention that property before since dynamic provisioning is the recommended way of creating PVs.


Best Practices

When using persistent volumes and volume claims, there are a few things to remember. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are the rules I ran by when we were using Kubernetes at my own startup and previous companies.


  • Utilize dynamic provisioning as much as possible. Situations where you want to statically provision a PV are rare. Always ask yourself if you do the right thing when you want to use it.

  • Define a default StorageClass, commonly used in most volumes. It should be fast enough for common logging and other features. If you need something faster for specific cases, consider a separate storage class which will be explicitly defined in the request.

  • Consider your options in terms of storage providers (CSI drivers). Like always, the one-fits-all category of solutions is uncommon. Kubernetes provides you with everything to employ multiple different storage providers. Use the best tool for the job. There is a searchable list of available CSI providers available.

  • Consider if ephemeral storage may be enough for certain volumes. If your application has persistent and non-persistent storage requirements, enable it to use different volumes.

  • When configuring storage classes, make sure to use appropriate parameters. Always double check the vendor's documentation for available parameters.

  • Make sure to use appropriate access modes. If a pod doesn’t need write access, you shouldn’t provide it with such. Just a small bit of security, but every bit counts.

  • Along the same lines, encrypt data at rest (and in transit) if available!

  • Make sure you configure the reclaim policy. You don’t want to suddenly run out of storage with just one pod, because you never reclaimed the storage of previous ones.

  • Implement storage quotas and limits. Most CSI drivers offer expandable volumes, make good use of them for resource planning and controlling.


If you feel like I totally missed something, please let me know on X/Twitter or Mastodon. Also remember to follow simplyblock on X 😁


Conclusive thoughts

Kubernetes storage is complex but not complicated. The important bit to understand is that a pod uses a PVC to be paired with a PV. If the PV doesn’t exist yet, Kubernetes will dynamically provision and bind it. If the pod is removed, the PVC and PV will be removed respectively (except defined differently). That makes the management of storage ideal for applications with need for persistent storage, such as databases, applications for file sharing, systems that need to share state, or AI and machine learning use cases.


For the most demanding of such applications, simplyblock offers a highly scalable, latency-optimized disaggregated storage. Disaggregated means that storage and compute are scaled independently of each other, making it much more cost effective than hyper-converged storage. Furthermore, simplyblock provides thin provisioning, immediate snapshots, a Kubernetes CSI driver, and a lot more features. Learn more about simplyblock, or try it out now.

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