Kubernetes on Microsoft Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) with Autoscaling#


These instructions involve parts of the Azure command line that are in preview, hence the following documentation is subject to change.

You can create a Kubernetes cluster either through the Azure portal website, or using the Azure command line tools.

This page describes the commands required to setup a Kubernetes cluster using the command line. If you prefer to use the Azure portal see the Azure Kubernetes Service quickstart.

  1. Prepare your Azure shell environment. You have two options, one is to use the Azure interactive shell, the other is to install the Azure command-line tools locally. Instructions for each are below.

    • Using the Azure interactive shell. The Azure Portal contains an interactive shell that you can use to communicate with your Kubernetes cluster. To access this shell, go to portal.azure.com and click on the button below.



    • If you get errors like could not retrieve token from local cache, try refreshing your browser window.

    • The first time you do this, you’ll be asked to create a storage account where your shell filesystem will live.

    • Install command-line tools locally. You can access the Azure CLI via a package that you can install locally.

      To do so, first follow the installation instructions in the Azure documentation. Then run the following command to connect your local CLI with your account:

      az login

      You’ll need to open a browser and follow the instructions in your terminal to log in.

  2. Activate the correct subscription. Azure uses the concept of subscriptions to manage spending. You can get a list of subscriptions your account has access to by running:

    az account list --refresh --output table

    Pick the subscription you want to use for creating the cluster, and set that as your default. If you only have one subscription you can ignore this step.

    az account set --subscription <YOUR-CHOSEN-SUBSCRIPTION-NAME>
  3. Setup the CLI for Autoscaling features. First install the aks-preview CLI extension. This will grant access to new commands.

    az extension add --name aks-preview

    We then need to register the scale set feature.

    az feature register --name VMSSPreview --namespace Microsoft.ContainerService

    A VMSS is a Virtual Machine Scale Set, that is to say an autoscalable set of virtual machines.

    The previous command will take a while to register. Use the following command to check it’s status.

    az feature list \
      --output table \
      --query  "[?contains(name, 'Microsoft.ContainerService/VMSSPreview')].{Name:name,State:properties.state}"

    Once the VMSSPreview feature has been registered, refresh the registration with the following command.

    az provider register --namespace Microsoft.ContainerService
  4. Create a resource group. Azure uses the concept of resource groups to group related resources together. We need to create a resource group in a given data center location. We will create computational resources within this resource group.

    az group create \
                  --name=<RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> \
                  --location=<LOCATION> \
                  --output table


    • --name specifies the name of your resource group. We recommend using something that uniquely identifies this hub. For example, if you are creating a resource group for UC Berkeley’s 2018 Spring Data100 Course, you may give it a <RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> of ucb_2018sp_data100_hub.

    • --location specifies the location of the data center you want your resource to be in. For options, see the Azure list of locations that support AKS.

    • --output table specifies that the output should be in human readable format, rather than the default JSON output. We shall use this with most commands when executing them by hand.

    Consider setting a cloud budget for your Azure account in order to make sure you don’t accidentally spend more than you wish to.

  5. Choose a cluster name.

    In the following steps we’ll run commands that ask you to input a cluster name. We recommend using something descriptive and short. We’ll refer to this as <CLUSTER-NAME> for the remainder of this section.

    The next step will create a few files on your filesystem, so first create a folder in which these files will go. We recommend giving it the same name as your cluster:

    mkdir <CLUSTER-NAME>
  6. Create an ssh key to secure your cluster.

    ssh-keygen -f ssh-key-<CLUSTER-NAME>

    It will prompt you to add a password, which you can leave empty if you wish. This will create a public key named ssh-key-<CLUSTER-NAME>.pub and a private key named ssh-key-<CLUSTER-NAME>. Make sure both go into the folder we created earlier, and keep both of them safe!

    This command will also print out something to your terminal screen. You don’t need to do anything with this text.

  7. Create a virtual network and sub-network.

    Kubernetes does not by default come with a controller that enforces networkpolicy resources. networkpolicy resources are important as they define how Kubernetes pods can securely communicate with one another and the outside sources, for example, the internet.

    To enable this in Azure, we must first create a Virtual Network with Azure’s own network policies enabled.

    This section of the documentation is following the Microsoft Azure tutorial on creating an AKS cluster and enabling network policy, which includes information on using Calico network policies.

    az network vnet create \
        --resource-group <RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> \
        --name <VNET-NAME> \
        --address-prefixes \
        --subnet-name <SUBNET-NAME> \


    • --resource-group is the ResourceGroup you created

    • --name is the name you want to assign to your virtual network, for example, hub-vnet

    • --address-prefixes are the IP address prefixes for your virtual network

    • --subnet-name is your desired name for your subnet, for example, hub-subnet

    • --subnet-prefixes are the IP address prefixes in CIDR format for the subnet

    We will now retrieve the application IDs of the VNet and subnet we just created and save them to bash variables.

    VNET_ID=$(az network vnet show \
        --resource-group <RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> \
        --name <VNET-NAME> \
        --query id \
        --output tsv)
    SUBNET_ID=$(az network vnet subnet show \
        --resource-group <RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> \
        --vnet-name <VNET-NAME> \
        --name <SUBNET-NAME> \
        --query id \
        --output tsv)

    We will create an Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) service principal for use with the cluster, and assign the Contributor role for use with the VNet. Make sure SERVICE-PRINCIPAL-NAME is something recognisable, for example, binderhub-sp.

    SP_PASSWD=$(az ad sp create-for-rbac \
        --name <SERVICE-PRINCIPAL-NAME> \
        --role Contributor \
        --scope $VNET_ID \
        --query password \
        --output tsv)
    SP_ID=$(az ad sp show \
        --id http://<SERVICE-PRINCIPAL-NAME> \
        --query appId \
        --output tsv)

    You will need Owner role on your subscription for this step to succeed.

  8. Create an AKS cluster.

    The following command will request a Kubernetes cluster within the resource group that we created earlier.

    az aks create --name <CLUSTER-NAME> \
                  --resource-group <RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> \
                  --ssh-key-value ssh-key-<CLUSTER-NAME>.pub \
                  --node-count 3 \
                  --node-vm-size Standard_D2s_v3 \
                  --enable-vmss \
                  --enable-cluster-autoscaler \
                  --min-count 3 \
                  --max-count 6 \
                  --kubernetes-version 1.12.7 \
                  --service-principal $SP_ID \
                  --client-secret $SP_PASSWD \
                  --dns-service-ip \
                  --docker-bridge-address \
                  --network-plugin azure \
                  --network-policy azure \
                  --service-cidr \
                  --vnet-subnet-id $SUBNET_ID \
                  --output table


    • --name is the name you want to use to refer to your cluster

    • --resource-group is the ResourceGroup you created

    • --ssh-key-value is the ssh public key created

    • --node-count is the number of nodes you want in your Kubernetes cluster

    • --node-vm-size is the size of the nodes you want to use, which varies based on what you are using your cluster for and how much RAM/CPU each of your users need. There is a list of all possible node sizes for you to choose from, but not all might be available in your location. If you get an error whilst creating the cluster you can try changing either the region or the node size.

    • --enable-vmss deploys the cluster as a scale set.

    • --enable-cluster-autoscaler installs a Cluster Autoscaler onto the cluster (though counterintuitively, does not enable it!).

    • --min-count/--max-count are the minimum/maximum number of nodes in the cluster at any time.

    • --kubernetes-version installs a specific version of Kubernetes onto the cluster. To autoscale, we require >= v 1.12.4, though it’s recommended to use the most recent version available (you can find out what the most recent version of kubernetes available is by running az aks get-versions --location <LOCATION>).

    • --service-principal is the application ID of the service principal we created

    • --client-secret is the password for the service principal we created

    • --dns-service-ip is an IP address assigned to the Kubernetes DNS service

    • --docker-bridge-address is a specific IP address and netmask for the Docker bridge, using standard CIDR notation

    • --network-plugin is the Kubernetes network plugin to use. In this example, we have used Azure’s own implementation.

    • --network-policy is the Kubernetes network policy to use. In this example, we have used Azure’s own implementation.

    • --service-cidr is a CIDR notation IP range from which to assign service cluster IPs

    • vnet-subnet-id is the application ID of the subnet we created

    This should take a few minutes and provide you with a working Kubernetes cluster!

  9. If you’re using the Azure CLI locally, install kubectl, a tool for accessing the Kubernetes API from the commandline:

    az aks install-cli

    Note: kubectl is already installed in Azure Cloud Shell.

  10. Get credentials from Azure for kubectl to work:

    az aks get-credentials \
      --name <CLUSTER-NAME> \
      --resource-group <RESOURCE-GROUP-NAME> \
      --output table


    • --name is the name you gave your cluster

    • --resource-group is the ResourceGroup you created

    This automatically updates your Kubernetes client configuration file.

  11. Check if your cluster is fully functional

    kubectl get node

    The response should list three running nodes and their Kubernetes versions! Each node should have the status of Ready, note that this may take a few moments.

  12. Enabling Autoscaling

    We now move to the Azure Portal to enable autoscaling and set rules to manage the Cluster Autoscaler.

    First we need to register Microsoft Insights for use on the active subscription.

    az provider register --namespace microsoft.insights

    To check the status of the registration, run the following command:

    az provider show -n microsoft.insights

    Once the application has been registered, navigate to your active subscription on the Portal.

    Under “Resources”, select the VMSS. It should be named something like aks-nodepool1-<random-str>-vmss.


    From the left-hand menu, select “Scaling”. Click the blue “Enable autoscaling” button and an autogenerated form for a scale condition will appear. We will add two new rules to this condition:

    • Increase the instance count by 1 when the average CPU usage over 10 minutes is greater than 70%

    • Decrease the instance count by 1 when the average CPU usage over 10 minutes is less than 5%


    Make sure the “Scale based on metric” option is selected and click “+ Add new rule”, another autogenerated form will appear. This will be pre-filled with the required settings to fulfill our first rule, so save it by clicking “Update” and click “+ Add new rule” again.


    The second form needs to be edited for the second rule to decrease the instance count by 1 when the average CPU usage over 10 minutes is less than 5%. Save this rule and then save the overall scale condition, the cluster will be updated automatically.


    This form can also be used to change --node-count/--min-count/--max-count that was set previously by using the “Instance limits” section of the scale condition (“Default”, “Minimum” and “Maximum” respectively).

    If you prefer to use the command line, you can run the following:

    az aks update \
      --name <CLUSTER-NAME> \
      --resource-group <RESOURCE-GROUP> \
      --update-cluster-autoscaler \
      --min-count <DESIRED-MINIMUM-COUNT> \
      --max-count <DESIRED-MAXIMUM-COUNT> \
      --output table

    Both --min-count and --max-count must be defined.


If you create the cluster using the Azure Portal you must enable RBAC. RBAC is enabled by default when using the command line tools.

Congrats. Now that you have your Kubernetes cluster running, it’s time to begin Setting up helm.