Kata with Cilium on Google GCE

Kata Containers is an open source project that provides a secure container runtime with lightweight virtual machines that feel and perform like containers, but provide stronger workload isolation using hardware virtualization technology as a second layer of defense. Similar to the OCI runtime runc provided by Docker, Cilium can be used with Kata Containers, providing a higher degree of security at the network layer and at the compute layer with Kata. This guide provides a walkthrough of installing Kata with Cilium on GCE. Kata Containers on Google Compute Engine (GCE) makes use of nested virtualization. At the time of this writing, nested virtualization support was not yet available on GKE.

GCE Requirements

  1. Install the Google Cloud SDK (gcloud) see Installing Google Cloud SDK Verify your gcloud installation and configuration:
gcloud info || { echo "ERROR: no Google Cloud SDK"; exit 1; }
  1. Create a project or use an existing one
export GCE_PROJECT=kata-with-cilium
gcloud projects create $GCE_PROJECT

Create an image on GCE with Nested Virtualization support

As mentioned before, Kata Containers on Google Compute Engine (GCE) makes use of nested virtualization. As a prerequisite you need to create an image with nested virtualization enabled in your currently active GCE project.

  1. Choose a base image

Officially supported images are automatically discoverable with:

gcloud compute images list
NAME                                                  PROJECT            FAMILY                            DEPRECATED  STATUS
centos-6-v20190423                                    centos-cloud       centos-6                                      READY
centos-7-v20190423                                    centos-cloud       centos-7                                      READY
coreos-alpha-2121-0-0-v20190423                       coreos-cloud       coreos-alpha                                  READY
cos-69-10895-211-0                                    cos-cloud          cos-69-lts                                    READY
ubuntu-1604-xenial-v20180522                          ubuntu-os-cloud    ubuntu-1604-lts                               READY
ubuntu-1804-bionic-v20180522                          ubuntu-os-cloud    ubuntu-1804-lts                               READY

Select an image based on project and family rather than by name. This ensures any scripts or other automation always works with a non-deprecated image, including security updates, updates to GCE-specific scripts, etc.

  1. Create the image with nested virtualization support

gcloud compute images create \
    --source-image-project $SOURCE_IMAGE_PROJECT \
    --source-image-family $SOURCE_IMAGE_FAMILY \
    --licenses=https://www.googleapis.com/compute/v1/projects/vm-options/global/licenses/enable-vmx \

If successful, gcloud reports that the image was created.

  1. Verify VMX is enabled

Verify that a virtual machine created with the previous image has VMX enabled.

gcloud compute instances create \
  --image $IMAGE_NAME \
  --machine-type n1-standard-2 \
  --min-cpu-platform "Intel Broadwell" \

gcloud compute ssh kata-testing
# While ssh'd into the VM:
$ [ -z "$(lscpu|grep GenuineIntel)" ] && { echo "ERROR: Need an Intel CPU"; exit 1; }

Setup Kubernetes with CRI

Kata Containers runtime is an OCI compatible runtime and cannot directly interact with the CRI API level. For this reason we rely on a CRI implementation to translate CRI into OCI. There are two supported ways called CRI-O and CRI-containerd. It is up to you to choose the one that you want, but you have to pick one.

If you select CRI-O, follow the “CRI-O Tutorial” instructions here to properly install it. If you select containerd with cri plugin, follow the “Getting Started for Developers” instructions here to properly install it.

Setup your Kubernetes environment and make sure the following requirements are met:

  • Kubernetes >= 1.12
  • Linux kernel >= 4.9
  • Kubernetes in CNI mode
  • Running kube-dns/coredns (When using the etcd-operator installation method)
  • Mounted BPF filesystem mounted on all worker nodes
  • Enable PodCIDR allocation (--allocate-node-cidrs) in the kube-controller-manager (recommended)

Refer to the section Requirements for detailed instruction on how to prepare your Kubernetes environment.


Minimum version of kubernetes 1.12 is required to use the RuntimeClass Feature for Kata Container runtime described below. It is possible to use kubernetes<=1.10 with Kata, but that requires for a slightly different setup that has been deprecated.

Kubernetes talks with CRI implementations through a container-runtime-endpoint, also called CRI socket. This socket path is different depending on which CRI implementation you chose, and the kubelet service has to be updated accordingly.

Configure Kubernetes for CRI-O

Add /etc/systemd/system/kubelet.service.d/0-crio.conf

Environment="KUBELET_EXTRA_ARGS=--container-runtime=remote --runtime-request-timeout=15m --container-runtime-endpoint=unix:///var/run/crio/crio.sock"

Configure for Kubernetes for containerd

Add /etc/systemd/system/kubelet.service.d/0-cri-containerd.conf

Environment="KUBELET_EXTRA_ARGS=--container-runtime=remote --runtime-request-timeout=15m --container-runtime-endpoint=unix:///run/containerd/containerd.sock"

After you update your kubelet service based on the CRI implementation you are using, reload and restart kubelet.

Deploy Cilium

Download the Cilium release tarball and change to the kubernetes install directory:

curl -LO https://github.com/cilium/cilium/archive/v1.6.tar.gz
tar xzvf v1.6.tar.gz
cd cilium-1.6/install/kubernetes

Install Helm to prepare generating the deployment artifacts based on the Helm templates.

Generate the required YAML file and deploy it:

helm template cilium \
  --namespace kube-system \
  --set global.containerRuntime.integration=crio \
  > cilium.yaml
kubectl create -f cilium.yaml


If you are using containerd, set global.containerRuntime.integration=containerd.

Validate cilium

You can monitor as Cilium and all required components are being installed:

kubectl -n kube-system get pods --watch
NAME                                    READY   STATUS              RESTARTS   AGE
cilium-cvp8q                            0/1     Init:0/1            0          53s
cilium-operator-788c55554-gkpbf         0/1     ContainerCreating   0          54s
cilium-tdzcx                            0/1     Init:0/1            0          53s
coredns-77b578f78d-km6r4                1/1     Running             0          11m
coredns-77b578f78d-qr6gq                1/1     Running             0          11m
kube-proxy-l47rx                        1/1     Running             0          6m28s
kube-proxy-zj6v5                        1/1     Running             0          6m28s

It may take a couple of minutes for the etcd-operator to bring up the necessary number of etcd pods to achieve quorum. Once it reaches quorum, all components should be healthy and ready:

kubectl -n=kube-system get pods
NAME                                    READY   STATUS    RESTARTS   AGE
cilium-cvp8q                            1/1     Running   0          42s
cilium-operator-788c55554-gkpbf         1/1     Running   2          43s
cilium-tdzcx                            1/1     Running   0          42s
coredns-77b578f78d-2khwp                1/1     Running   0          13s
coredns-77b578f78d-bs6rp                1/1     Running   0          13s
kube-proxy-l47rx                        1/1     Running   0          6m
kube-proxy-zj6v5                        1/1     Running   0          6m

For troubleshooting any issues, please refer to Installation with managed etcd

Install Kata on a running Kubernetes Cluster

Kubernetes configured with CRI runtimes by default uses runc runtime for running a workload. You will need to configure Kubernetes to be able to use an alternate runtime.

RuntimeClass is a Kubernetes feature first introduced in Kubernetes 1.12 as alpha. It is the feature for selecting the container runtime configuration to use to run a pod’s containers. To use Kata-Containers, ensure the RuntimeClass feature gate is enabled for k8s < 1.13. It is enabled by default on k8s 1.14. See Feature Gates for an explanation of enabling feature gates.

To install Kata Containers and configure CRI to use Kata as a one step process, you will use kata-deploy tool as shown below.

  1. Install Kata on a running k8s cluster
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/kata-rbac.yaml
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/kata-deploy.yaml

This will install all the required Kata binaries under /opt/kata and configure CRI implementation with the RuntimeClass handlers for the Kata runtime binaries. Kata Containers can leverage Qemu and Firecracker hypervisor for running the lightweight VM. kata-fc binary runs a Firecracker isolated Kata Container while kata-qemu runs a Qemu isolated Kata Container.

  1. Create the RuntimeClass resource for Kata-containers

To add a RuntimeClass for Qemu isolated Kata-Containers:

kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/k8s-1.14/kata-qemu-runtimeClass.yaml
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/k8s-1.13/kata-qemu-runtimeClass.yaml
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/k8s-1.13/kata-qemu-runtimeClass.yaml

To add a RuntimeClass for Firecracker isolated Kata-Containers:

kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/k8s-1.14/kata-fc-runtimeClass.yaml
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/k8s-1.13/kata-fc-runtimeClass.yaml
kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/k8s-1.13/kata-fc-runtimeClass.yaml

Run Kata Containers with Cilium CNI

Now that Kata is installed on the k8s cluster, you can run an untrusted workload with Kata Containers with Cilium as the CNI.

The following YAML snippet shows how to specify a workload should use Kata with QEMU:

      runtimeClassName: kata-qemu

The following YAML snippet shows how to specify a workload should use Kata with Firecracker:

      runtimeClassName: kata-fc

To run an example pod with kata-qemu:

kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/examples/test-deploy-kata-qemu.yaml

To run an example with kata-fc:

kubectl apply -f https://raw.githubusercontent.com/kata-containers/packaging/4bb97ef14a4ba8170b9d501b3e567037eb0f9a41/kata-deploy/examples/test-deploy-kata-fc.yaml