HashiCorp Nomad:
A Response to Kubernetes Complexity

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Anything can become overly complicated, including cloud network architectures. Many businesses, for example, start with simple, straightforward single cluster applications. But the networking requirements and processes that work well for basic applications don't always scale as the business grows and more clusters, services, and requirements are added.

Information systems, too, are prone to overcomplication — especially at scale. As businesses deploy additional clusters across increasingly distributed architectures, they navigate new levels of complexity. The cloud native ecosystem is constantly growing and full of competing and overlapping technologies. In particular, modern multi-cluster Kubernetes architectures are innately complicated.

When building distributed systems, adopting too many tools and processes is extremely easy. Large enterprises merging legacy workloads into modern architectures are especially susceptible to complexity bias. HashiCorp created Nomad with the goal of helping these businesses with overly complicated architectures simplify their tools and processes to become more efficient and agile.

What is HashiCorp Nomad?

HashiCorp Nomad is a workload scheduling and orchestration system that allows you to automate the management of containerized and non-containerized applications across hybrid- and multi-cloud architectures. It is a platform for declaratively managing and provisioning Infrastructure as Code. You define the task of an application, and HashiCorp Nomad schedules it to run on the appropriate server.

HashiCorp Nomad vs. Kubernetes

Nomad and Kubernetes have a few key differences and support different use cases. To read a detailed comparison of HashiCorp Nomad and Kubernetes, click here.

Kubernetes is an orchestrator for containers. It can only run containerized applications and comes as a full-featured platform that gives you lots of control over your deployments. It benefits from a vibrant community with lots of tools, resources, and support. Kubernetes offers everything needed to run Linux container-based applications at scale, as it is a powerful solution built exclusively for the cloud native stage. Kubernetes helps organizations deploying containerized applications in public cloud environments take full advantage of everything cloud native has to offer.

In contrast, Nomad is a scheduler for payloads, and it can run both containerized and non-containerized applications. Nomad offers you less control than Kubernetes and is a less powerful and feature-rich solution. However, it is a much simpler solution for infrastructure management that helps organizations avoid the innate complexity and steep learning curve of Kubernetes. In particular, Nomad is ideal for hybrid cloud architectures that consist of diverse deployments, as it can run containerized applications alongside non-containerized applications. It is a flexible, lightweight, and automated solution that can form the base layer for a scalable technology stack centered on HashiCorp.

For organizations managing containerized applications alongside non-containerized applications, there are benefits to using HashiCorp Nomad for your Infrastructure as Code management instead of Kubernetes.

What are the benefits of HashiCorp Nomad?

Nomad is flexible.

HashiCorp Nomad is a highly flexible platform that supports all major operating systems. It can deploy and manage any application on any cloud. Nomad can orchestrate containers, legacy workloads, and batch jobs — and it can do so in on-premise, public cloud, and edge environments. It is also a platform-agnostic solution that can schedule workloads across both Windows and Linux servers. Nomad makes information systems flexible, as it allows you to run any application pretty much anywhere.

Nomad promotes standardization.

As Nomad allows you to deploy and scale infrastructure from a single tool, it standardizes development practices. Teams don’t need to deal with different application deployment methods when deploying various applications in distributed environments. For example, if you have a Java application that needs to run on Tomcat, you don’t need to write a new configuration file and deployment style. You can write the same task and job definition for every application and use the same syntax for all tests. Nomad will normalize your applications, so each can be seamlessly scheduled to run on the correct server. Tools, processes, and convictions can be standardized and simplified.

Nomad is lightweight.

Nomad is lightweight and very easy to install, as it arrives as a simple binary that can be deployed quickly on-premises or in the cloud with the same consistency and functionality. This creates operational efficiency, as a relatively small team can manage a Nomad platform.

Nomad isn’t necessarily easy to learn because it assumes you understand infrastructure and, more specifically, Infrastructure as Code. However, it is straightforward and easy to get started with Nomad and try figuring things out. It’s effortless to grab the binary or an image and try Nomad out in a few clicks.

Nomad is scalable.

Nomad is built for autoscaling in large deployments. It is known to be even more favorable to scaling large clusters than Kubernetes. Kubernetes can support clusters with up to 5,000 nodes and orchestrate a maximum of 300,000 containers. Nomad can scale clusters exceeding 10,000 nodes in production and over 2,000,000 containers. Scalability and simplicity are the core advantages that HashiCorp Nomad offers compared to Kubernetes.

Nomad is automated.

Nomad takes a declarative approach to Infrastructure as Code management, and it automates service orchestration. It checks all node’s emergent states to ensure workloads are self-healing. It listens for failures in a node’s state to reconcile the emergent state with the desired state. It enables rolling updates by limiting parallelism and interacting with monitoring tools to determine service health. Nomad automates the rollback of deployment failures or unhealthy configurations. These are a few ways in which HashiCorp Nomad leverages automation to enhance scalability and efficiency.

Nomad integrates easily with other HashiCorp solutions.

Nomad integrates easily with other HashiCorp solutions, and it often works well for organizations to build their architecture around HashiCorp. System administrators can rapidly provision infrastructure with HashiCorp Terraform. Users can use the services deployed by connecting with Nomad servers that can then integrate with Vault and Consul servers. HashiCorp Consul automates network configurations and service discovery and is a K/V store. HashiCorp Vault generates and stores TLS certificates as well as performing secrets management. With Nomad as the scheduler, system administrators can maintain definitions for multiple types of environments from the same place. The Nomad servers can connect with Nomad clients that live within different types of environments.

Webinar: See Our New Integration with HashiCorp Nomad in action.

You have the option of maintaining each solution individually and running everything yourself on-premise or in the cloud. You can also consume each product in their enterprise SaaS offering that is altogether known as the HashiCorp Cloud Platform (HCP). Either way, Nomad makes it painless to take advantage of other HashiCorp solutions.

How Nomad works

HashiCorp Nomad is part of an expansive cloud native ecosystem.

In addition to cooperating easily with other HashiCorp tools, Nomad offers integrations with other cloud native tools. Traefik Proxy helps expose your services to the outside world and manages the routing of ingress traffic into your clusters. It includes built-in support for HashiCorp Nomad and is, in fact, the first ingress and reverse proxy that integrates natively with the service discovery introduced in Nomad Version 1.3. You can learn about how Traefik Proxy integrates with HashiCorp Nomad here.

Traefik Proxy also natively uses the Consul provider to watch for specific keys, read configuration values, and define routing rules. By building your technology stack with tools complementing one another, you can take advantage of all sorts of integrations.

Nomad is an excellent solution for enterprises that require scalability and manage hybrid cloud architectures that consist of both containerized applications and those not tied to cloud or container environments. Nomad offers many benefits, but its flexibility and simplicity exists because it does not offer the extensive features or control that Kubernetes does. Organizations deploying fully containerized applications in cloud environments usually opt for Kubernetes because of its intrinsic suitability for cloud native deployments.

Nomad makes it very easy to connect and run different applications in a single platform — without having to deal with many different tools to manage each type of application. When deciding whether Nomad is right for your organization, you will need to evaluate your long-term roadmap and its requirements.

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References and further reading

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