Vanilla vs Distribution Kubernetes: Understanding the Differences

Roman Glushach
3 min readSep 25, 2023
Distribution vs Vanilla Kubernetes

Kubernetes is a popular open source platform for container orchestration, which allows you to deploy, scale and manage your applications across multiple nodes. However, not all Kubernetes deployments are the same. Depending on your needs and preferences, you may choose to use vanilla Kubernetes or a distribution of Kubernetes that offers additional features and benefits.

Vanilla Kubernetes

Vanilla Kubernetes is the upstream version of Kubernetes that is maintained by the Kubernetes community. It is the most basic and pure form of Kubernetes, without any modifications or additions. Vanilla Kubernetes is also known as stock Kubernetes or plain Kubernetes.


  • Flexible: highly flexible and customizable, allowing users to create and deploy a wide range of applications and workloads
  • Cost-effective: free and open-source, which means that users do not have to pay for support or maintenance fees


  • Steep learning curve: can be difficult to learn and use, especially for users who are new to container orchestration
  • Complex deployment and management: deploying and managing vanilla Kubernetes requires more technical expertise and manual configuration

Distribution Kubernetes

A Kubernetes distribution is a packaged version of Kubernetes that includes additional features, tools, integrations, and support. A Kubernetes distribution aims to simplify the installation, configuration, management, and operation of Kubernetes clusters.

Types of Kubernetes Distributions

  • Enterprise Kubernetes: designed for large enterprises and offer additional features such as advanced security, scalability, and manageability. Examples of enterprise Kubernetes distributions include Red Hat OpenShift, IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service, and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)
  • Community Kubernetes: designed for the open-source community and offer a range of features and tools that are not available in Vanilla Kubernetes. Examples of community Kubernetes distributions include CoreOS, Fedora, and openSUSE
  • Cloud-Native Kubernetes: designed for cloud-native applications and offer additional features such as serverless computing, service mesh, and observability. Examples of cloud-native Kubernetes distributions include AWS Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS), Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS), and Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)
  • Hybrid Kubernetes: designed for organizations that need to run Kubernetes on-premises and in the cloud. Examples of hybrid Kubernetes distributions include VMware Tanzu, OpenStack, and Kubernetes on AWS


  • Easier to use: provide a more streamlined and simplified experience for users, with additional tools and features that make it easier to deploy and manage applications
  • Additional features: offer additional features and capabilities, such as advanced security, scalability, and manageability
  • Support and maintenance: typically supported and maintained by the vendor, which means that users can receive support and updates more quickly and easily
  • Integration with other tools: integrate with other tools and services, such as monitoring, logging, and security solutions, which can simplify the deployment and management of applications
  • Security and compliance: some distributions come with built-in security features and compliance controls, making it easier for organizations to meet industry regulations and protect their applications and data


  • Less flexible: they are designed to meet specific needs and use cases. This can limit the range of applications and workloads that can be deployed
  • Vendor lock-in: can lead to vendor lock-in, as users may become dependent on the vendor’s tools and features
  • Additional cost: often come with additional costs, such as support and maintenance fees, which can add to the overall cost of using Kubernetes

Which one to chose

The choice depends on several factors

  • Level of expertise and experience with Kubernetes
  • Infrastructure Compatibility
  • Budget and resources
  • Use case and requirements
  • Preference and goals
  • Long-Term Goals



When it comes to choosing between a Kubernetes distribution and vanilla Kubernetes, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It ultimately depends on the organization’s requirements, resources, and level of expertise. Kubernetes distributions offer simplified deployment, integrated tooling, and commercial support, but they may result in vendor lock-in and limited flexibility. On the other hand, vanilla Kubernetes provides greater customization, access to the latest updates, and avoids vendor lock-in, but requires more technical expertise and manual configuration.



Roman Glushach

Senior Software Architect & Engineer Manager at Freelance