Magdalena Jackiewicz
Editorial Expert
Magdalena Jackiewicz
Reviewed by a tech expert
Magdalena Szultk
DevOps Engineer

Practical guidelines for using Kubernetes on AWS EKS

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As you navigate the complex landscape of Kubernetes and cloud infrastructure, choosing the right combination of tools can greatly facilitate your daily operations. Deciding on the best ones is a difficult task in itself, as AWS’s cloud products and solutions offering is robust.

At the same time, following Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) best practices on Kubernetes coupled with the potential of AWS can give you an incomparable ability to automatically manage the scaling of your apps.

In this article, we’re sharing our comprehensive list of EKS best practices and tools that will elevate your understanding of setting up  efficient Kubernetes container orchestration on AWS. Read on for our tips and that will elevate your cloud strategy.

Understanding Kubernetes

Kubernetes plays a fundamental role in the world of microservice-based apps. It’s essentially an orchestration powerhouse for containerized applications. Picture it as a maestro directing a symphony of containers, making sure each plays its part at the right time, in harmony with the others. It groups containers into logical units, ensuring they communicate and function seamlessly across a cluster of machines.

If you're running microservice-based apps, Kubernetes gives you the toolset to manage these containers effectively. From load balancing and rolling updates to self-healing mechanisms and secret management, it covers a broad range of operational needs. In essence, Kubernetes simplifies the complexities of modern software development.

It was originally developed by Google and now maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).

Key Kubernetes concepts

To fully understand Kubernetes, you must first familiarize yourself with the key concepts pertinent to it:


A cluster acts as the backbone of Kubernetes technology, serving as a logical collection of both control-plane and worker nodes. The cluster provides the runtime environment for containers and ensures that resources are allocated optimally for application needs.

Control plane

The control plane is the Kubernetes brain, overseeing the entire cluster. It's responsible for scheduling Pods, maintaining desired states, and more. The control plane handles the complexity of coordination and management, making it easier for teams to focus on application logic rather than infrastructure.

Worker nodes

Worker nodes are special types of nodes that follow the instructions from the control plane to run containers. These nodes do the actual computational lifting, executing the tasks that power your applications.


Each node is essentially a machine-physical or virtual-responsible for running containers. In EKS, these often take the form of EC2 instances. vNodes are the workhorses of any EKS setup, executing the tasks outlined by the control plane.


A Pod is the smallest deployable unit in Kubernetes. It can contain one or more containers that share the same network namespace, storage, and IP address.


These ensure a specified number of Pod replicas are running at all times, making app scaling and maintenance easier. They are critical for managing application state and releasing updates.


A ReplicaSet ensures that a predetermined number of identical Pods are running at any point. This brings resiliency and high availability to applications, automatically replacing failed Pods.


They enable load balancing and provide a stable endpoint for accessing Pods. We can distinguish between the following:

  • ClusterIP,
  • NodePort, and
  • LoadBalancer Services.

ConfigMaps and Secrets

ConfigMaps are critical for separating configuration data from application code. Secrets are essential for managing sensitive information like passwords and API tokens securely.

Ingress controller

An ingress controller governs how external traffic reaches services inside the Kubernetes cluster. It provides advanced routing rules and is crucial for exposing multiple services under the same IP address.


Namespaces are like virtual clusters within a physical cluster, used for resource allocation and access control. They are vital for multi-tenant environments, isolating resources and configurations for different teams or projects.

The role of Kubernetes

Kubernetes is an orchestrator, so it can be compared to an orchestra director: just as they are responsible for managing musicians to produce seamless music pieces, Kubernetes is responsible for managing server clusters in a machine.

More specifically, Kubernetes was designed to automate the different processes related to deployment, scaling and management of containerized applications:

  • scaling applications up or down based on demand,
  • self-healing by replacing failed containers or Pods,
  • load balancing traffic to ensure high availability,
  • rolling out updates and rollbacks with minimal downtime,
  • distributing workloads across different nodes in the cluster for optimal resource utilization.

This powerful platform essentially automates what would be cumbersome to achieve manually, eliminating the risk of manual errors.

Advantages of Kubernetes

Kubernetes offers a robust and scalable infrastructure for container orchestration, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are some key advantages you wouldn’t want to miss out on:

  • Automated scheduling: Kubernetes automates the distribution of applications across a cluster based on resource requirements and constraints. This eliminates the need for manual orchestration, taking care of deployment for you.
  • Scalability: Kubernetes has the ability to automatically adjust the number of Pod replicas based on real-time metrics such as CPU utilization and inbound traffic, thus maintaining optimal performance during demand fluctuations.
  • Enhanced portability: Kubernetes is designed to be cloud-agnostic, allowing for seamless portability of applications across various cloud environments, including public, private, and hybrid clouds. It ensures that applications remain consistent throughout the development lifecycle, thereby reducing environment-specific issues.
  • Efficient resource utilization: Kubernetes optimizes the use of underlying hardware, allowing for better resource allocation compared to traditional virtualization methods. This results in increased operational efficiency and reduced infrastructure costs.
  • Robust ecosystem: Kubernetes supports a wide range of Custom Resource Definitions (CRDs), plugins, and additional services, enabling a modular approach to orchestration. Its extensive marketplace also offers a broad array of pre-configured templates and enterprise support options, facilitating faster and more secure deployments.
  • Developer productivity: Kubernetes integrates smoothly with various Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, thereby streamlining the development process and reducing time-to-market. It also offers solid self-healing capabilities, such as automatically restarting failed containers, which enhances the system's resilience and reliability.
  • Security: Kubernetes employs role-based access controls (RBAC) to provide granular control over who can access specific resources, thereby enhancing security protocols within the cluster. It also features built-in functionalities for securely managing sensitive data like API keys, passwords, and certificates.
  • Advanced networking features: Kubernetes assigns each Pod its own unique IP address, allowing for efficient and straightforward network communication within the cluster. Kubernetes provides features to specify how Pods communicate with each other, enabling enhanced network security and isolation.

EKS best practices for Kubernetes deployment

Amazon EKS is more than just a managed Kubernetes service; it's a robust AWS service that streamlines the complexities of container orchestration. By eliminating the hassle of manual work, it greatly simplifies the deployment, management, and scaling of applications. It provides high availability, automated updates, and integrations with various AWS services – all you need for modern application development.

Ensure correct cluster infrastructure configuration

There are a number of tools that can automate and manage what we have within a cluster. Making good use of them will give you advantages in both scalability and reliability. Make sure you utilize the following tools as you create an EKS cluster.

Infrastructure as Code (IaC)

This is probably the most important aspect of cluster configuration. Automated provisioning can be achieved using IaC tools like Terraform or AWS CloudFormation, speeding up the deployment process. It's also advisable to subject your IaC setup to code reviews, just as you would with application code. This helps catch errors or inefficiencies early in the development cycle, contributing to more robust and reliable configurations.

Kubernetes Cluster Autoscaler

Utilizing the Kubernetes Cluster Autoscaler offers a twofold advantage for Amazon EKS configurations. Firstly, it enables dynamic adjustments of your cluster size according to current resource needs. This ensures that the cluster isn't under-provisioned, preventing performance bottlenecks and enhancing user experience.

Secondly, it allows for effective cost management. The Autoscaler will scale down the resources during low utilization periods, thereby reducing operational expenses and offering a cost-effective solution. More on autoscaling on EKS further below.


Implementing Karpenter for scalability adds another layer of dynamism when creating an EKS cluster. Karpenter's event-driven autoscaling can swiftly respond to changes in workload requirements, making your EKS cluster more elastic and responsive. Additionally, Karpenter supports multiple AWS instance types, allowing for a heterogenous environment. This is particularly useful for organizations that require various types of compute resources for different tasks, offering a broader range of scalability options.

AWS CodeCommit

Adoption of source control strategies is key for effective EKS configuration management. Platforms like AWS CodeCommit not only help maintain version histories of your EKS configuration files but also enable you to implement robust branching and merging strategies. This can be crucial for managing configurations across different environments such as development, staging, and production, ensuring consistency and reliability.

Note that integration with AWS CodeCommit doesn't stop at source control. It should extend into your CI/CD pipeline to achieve automated deployments.

Use different types of autoscalers

When creating an EKS cluster, use various types of autoscalers from the available options, as each specializes in different aspects of resource scaling. Consider the following:

Cluster Autoscaler

This type focuses on modifying the overall size of the cluster by either adding or removing nodes based on workload demands. Cluster Autoscaler particularly useful for efficiently managing cluster costs while ensuring that capacity is available when needed.

Horizontal Pod Autoscaler (HPA)

HPA adjusts the number of Pod replicas in a given deployment or ReplicaSet. This is beneficial for applications with fluctuating workloads, as it dynamically scales the number of Pods to meet the current resource needs. It often uses CPU and memory usage as metrics for scaling. Use application-specific metrics like queue length for more effective scaling with Horizontal Pod Autoscaler.

Vertical Pod Autoscaler (VPA)

VPA dynamically adjusts CPU and memory reservations for individual Pods. This is critical for applications that experience varying resource needs over time but don't necessarily require more instances of the Pod. Unlike HPA, which scales out, VPA scales up, providing more resources to existing Pods.

In some scenarios, using both HPA and VPA can be effective. HPA can manage the number of instances, while VPA adjusts the resources for those instances. However, using both requires careful configuration to ensure they do not conflict with each other. Exercise caution especially with VPA; it may conflict with HPA when scaling the same resource.

Facilitate cluster networking

In EKS, networking is a critical component and Amazon actually offers a number of plugins that can help you ensure optimum performance and manageability.


The Amazon VPC CNI plugin serves as a cornerstone for native AWS integration. When you use this plugin, Kubernetes Pods are endowed with IP addresses directly from your VPC (virtual private cloud). This strategy brings about two significant advantages.

The first is that it markedly enhances network performance by facilitating direct addressing without the need for additional translation layers.

The second advantage is the ease with which you can apply VPC security groups and network Access Control Lists (ACLs) to your Pods. However, one must be judicious in managing IP addresses so as to not exhaust the IP resources in your subnet. Additionally, employing VPC security groups to isolate Pods based on function or security requirements can tighten the security within your clusters.


Calico focuses on enabling granular network policies that dictate how Pods communicate with one another. These policies can be extremely effective for enhancing the security posture of your EKS clusters by restricting ingress and egress traffic as per your organizational guidelines.

Calico is also highly scalable, meaning it can adapt as your networking requirements evolve. This is especially useful when your network policy needs change rapidly, perhaps due to increased complexity or scale of operations.


Weave presents a simplified networking solution that is particularly beneficial for smaller clusters or teams that are new to Kubernetes. By creating a virtual network that interconnects Docker containers across multiple hosts, Weave makes it much easier to manage networking. Moreover, it allows for automatic discovery of containers, simplifying network configuration.

Weave's network also automatically routes traffic between hosts, thereby providing a level of fault tolerance. This attribute becomes critical for applications that require high levels of availability.

In addition to these technology-specific practices, there are also some general best practices that should be followed.

  • Deploying your EKS clusters across multiple Availability Zones is recommended to increase availability.
  • Using a mix of public and private subnets allows you to isolate workloads and reduce their exposure to the internet, increasing your security profile.
  • And last but not least, regular monitoring of network metrics and logs is crucial. This helps you quickly identify any network anomalies or potential security threats, enabling proactive measures to mitigate risks.

Maximize security

Security first. Always! Ensuring robust security in Amazon EKS involves multiple layers of considerations, ranging from access control to auditing. Given the critical role that Kubernetes plays in orchestrating containerized applications, adhering to best practices is vital for protecting both data and infrastructure.

Ensure utmost protection of credentials

One of the first considerations is restricting credentials for EKS. Unlike traditional IAM (Identity and Access Management) users, EKS uses its own set of credentials. Therefore, tightly controlling who has access to these credentials is crucial for securing the cluster. Limiting credential issuance to only those individuals who require EKS access for their job functions can substantially mitigate the risk of unauthorized access.

Another EKS best practice is to avoid using a service account token for authentication. While service account tokens can make it easier to manage permissions for applications running in your cluster, they can also pose a security risk if not managed properly. A compromised token could give an attacker wide-ranging permissions, so alternative methods of authentication should be employed to increase the security of your EKS cluster.

The principle of least privilege should always be applied to AWS resources accessed from your EKS cluster. Each service, application, or user should have only the minimum permissions necessary to perform their tasks. This is where employing least privileged access becomes imperative. By restricting access to only what's needed, you reduce the potential for unauthorized actions within your AWS resources.

Lastly, regular auditing of access to your EKS cluster can help you maintain a tight security posture. At RST, we carry out such audits every month. AWS offers native tools like AWS CloudTrail, along with third-party integrations, that allow you to monitor who has accessed your AWS EKS cluster and what actions they have taken. Regularly reviewing these logs can help you identify any unauthorized or suspicious activity early, enabling you to take corrective measures promptly.

Implement a solid patch management strategy

Having a solid game plan for patch management is key to keeping your AWS EKS clusters secure. Don't just set it and forget it – make a habit of regularly checking for and applying security updates to both your EKS control plane and worker nodes. You can also use automated scanners to spot vulnerabilities before they become problems. And hey, why not tie patch management into your existing CI/CD pipeline? It makes rolling out those updates a whole lot smoother.

Manage access with IAM and RBAC 

Safeguarding access to your AWS EKS cluster with passwords or authentication tokens isn’t a good idea, as they can simply be stolen. EKS best practices include managing user access rather than protecting login credentials. Two AWS tools are particularly important here: Identity and Access Management (IAM) and Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) – both are used to ensure security and overall integrity of your EKS clusters.

Identity and Access Management – IAM

IAM is a powerful tool that allows you to precisely decide who should be granted access to your EKS clusters and what actions they can perform inside them – it’s your primary security guard. Need someone to only have read-only access for audits? IAM has got you covered. Or perhaps you need to grant full admin rights for managing the cluster? No problem, you can set that up too. It's incredibly versatile, allowing you to customize access for different scenarios and security levels.

Role-Based Access Management – RBAC

RBAC plays the same role but with your overall Kubernetes resources: it enables you to specify which users or groups can perform specific actions on specific resources. It allows you to e.g. limit a developer's access to a specific Pod or allow a DevOps team to manage a set of services, right down to individual Kubernetes API objects.

Together, IAM and RBAC give you this layered security model that's both broad and deep, allowing for tightly coordinated access controls from the AWS layer down to specific Kubernetes resources.

Use managed node groups

Managing nodes in an EKS cluster can be time-consuming and complex, so using Amazon’s managed node groups can greatly simplify this task. Additionally, they take care of the entire node lifecycle and updates, which are implemented automatically, offering better security and system stability while taking that responsibility off your shoulders.

What’s more, managed node groups are compatible with Kubernetes autoscalers, so they dynamically optimize resource allocation for you, scaling up during high-traffic periods and down during quieter periods.

In addition, managed node groups on EKS are seamlessly integrated with IAM for fine-grained control over your resources, they support multi-AZ deployments right out of the box and easily mesh with AWS-native services like CloudWatch for monitoring and CloudTrail for logging.

Still, you’re not constrained into a one-size fits-all solution, as you can easily customize your EKS Kubernetes cluster through EC2 launch templates. All in all, with managed node groups you get simplicity, security, and operational efficiency, so why not use them?

Use namespaces

Namespaces in EKS bring organization, security, and resource efficiency to your Kubernetes game. They make cluster management less of a chore and more of a strategic play, boosting both security and efficiency.

Smart EKS developers use namespaces to manage their clusters. They allow different teams or projects to share the same Kubernetes environment without getting into each other’s lane. They also allow you to manage access control in an easier way.

Debugging is also easier when you're using namespaces. Services like AWS CloudWatch can zoom into specific lanes, helping you spot issues faster. It streamlines your logging and monitoring, basically turning you into a troubleshooting whiz.

Finally, we want to mention resource quotas. You can set those at the namespace level, too. This is your speed limit, ensuring no team hogs all the resources and creates a bottleneck for everyone else.

Implement robust monitoring and logging mechanisms

Monitoring and logging in Kubernetes EKS are essential for a couple of key reasons. First, they provide real-time insights into your cluster's health and performance, helping you catch issues before they escalate. Second, they offer a detailed historical record of events and interactions, which is invaluable for debugging and compliance. Essentially, these tools act as your eyes and ears within the EKS environment, enabling proactive management and informed decision-making.

In terms of Kubernetes monitoring and logging, EKS best practices typically combine the use of AWS-native services with third-party solutions. Consider the below for enhanced security and compliance.

CloudWatch and CloudTrail

These offer robust AWS-focused monitoring and logging capabilities. CloudWatch gives you a deep dive into your EKS clusters' health and performance, while CloudTrail offers an exhaustive log of API interactions in your AWS ecosystem.


For advanced security monitoring, integrate Snyk into your EKS environment. Snyk specializes in identifying and fixing vulnerabilities in your dependencies and container images, providing an additional layer of security monitoring that specifically caters to the Kubernetes environment.

New Relic

On the infrastructure side, tools like New Relic can offer more specialized monitoring capabilities. New Relic provides real-time insights into the performance, uptime, and overall health of your EKS clusters. It gives you the ability to monitor not just the cluster itself but also the applications running within it, offering more granular metrics and alerts.

Prometheus or Grafana

These offer insights at the application layer. Prometheus or Grafana tools specialize in capturing and visualizing metrics that are specific to your Kubernetes setup.


AWS X-Ray is a solid choice if you're looking to pinpoint and resolve performance bottlenecks across your entire microservices architecture.

Ensure backup and disaster recovery

Backup and disaster recovery aren't just nice-to-haves when you're managing a Kubernetes cluster on Amazon EKS; they're absolute musts. A solid backup strategy is your safety net for quick recovery from any nasty surprises like hardware failures, data wipes, or the accidental “whoops, didn't mean to delete that” moments.


Enter Velero, your go-to for a holistic backup and restore game plan on EKS. It doesn't just back up your Kubernetes resource configs; it also takes care of persistent volumes. Whether you need to bring back your whole cluster or just specific pieces, Velero's got you covered.

When setting up Velero, timing is everything. Schedule your backups at intervals that match your organization's tolerance for data loss. Do your data sets get refreshed often? Maybe daily backups are your speed. If things are a bit more static, a weekly backup might suffice. Tailor your backup schedule to fit the unique pulse of your operation.

Use a dedicated CI/CD

For any team focused on high-speed, reliable software delivery, automating deployments is a must. Amazon EKS shines when it comes to deploying containerized apps, and coupling it with a CI/CD pipeline takes your DevOps game to the next level. So, what are some of the EKS best practices here?

Jenkins or AWS CodePipeline

If you pair EKS with tools like AWS CodePipeline or Jenkins, you'll be able to automate the build, test, and deployment stages in no time.

Jenkins is a great choice if you’re all about customization. With its Kubernetes plugins, Jenkins gives you a plethora of options to shape your CI/CD workflows just the way you like. From complex scripting to third-party tool integrations – it’s incredibly versatile.

On the other hand, AWS CodePipeline is a great option if you want to stay within the AWS ecosystem. It seamlessly integrates with AWS services, simplifying your entire deployment routine from source control to EKS.

By sticking to these tools practices, you're setting yourself up for deployment workflows that are efficient, secure, and reliable.

Use Helm

Helm is your go-to package manager for Kubernetes on EKS. It makes the deployment of containerized apps more manageable and precise.

What sets Helm apart are its “charts”. They combine all the Kubernetes pieces your app needs to work seamlessly, eliminating all the manual fuss. Deployments, services, and more are set up for you. And, if you have a more complex microservices app, Helm charts will simplify all those configurations into reusable templates.

Charts can be shared across the Kubernetes community, setting a standard for EKS best practices and seamless deployments. Looking for more? The Helm Hub, a central chart repository, lets you discover ready-to-go charts or share your own with the world.

Finally, Helm lets you track chart and release versions, making rollbacks simple when things don't go as planned.

Implement reliability checks

Boosting the reliability of your Amazon EKS clusters requires a holistic strategy, encompassing health monitoring, redundancy mechanisms, resource scaling, geographical diversification, and routine updates. Here are some EKS best practices based on key aspects.

Health monitoring

In a Kubernetes environment, readiness and liveness probes are essential for assessing Pod health. Readiness probes confirm a Pod's ability to take on traffic, while liveness probes check if the application is operational. These probes help Kubernetes to reassign or reboot problematic Pods, enhancing application resilience.

Employing multiple replicas and nodes

To improve fault tolerance, distribute multiple Pod replicas across diverse worker nodes. Should a node malfunction, this setup redirects traffic to functioning Pods on alternate nodes. While EKS automates this distribution, customization options are available for specific requirements.

Using multiple Availability Zones (AZ)

For heightened availability, set your worker nodes to span multiple AZs. This safeguard ensures uninterrupted application access even if a specific AZ faces an outage.

Routine updates

EKS facilitates straightforward Kubernetes version upgrades. Regularly updating your cluster and its components offers you the latest features, performance boosts, and security enhancements. Always validate these updates in a test environment to preclude any adverse impact on your existing workloads.

Setting up Kubernetes clusters on AWS EKS with RST

Amazon EKS offers excellent Kubernetes capabilities that, when coupled with the robust AWS infrastructure, can greatly support you in building highly scalable and efficient apps. To do so, however, you need to be well-versed with EKS best practices to take full advantage of this potential. As an official AWS partner and expert in Kubernetes consulting services, we can help you in these endeavors.

If you have any questions about EKS, our processes or potential cooperation, just send us a message via this contact form and we’ll get back to you.

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