Philips Hue Uses Kubernetes to Keep the Lights On

Friday Mar 31st 2017 by Sean Michael Kerner
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Kubernetes isn't a science project; it's now being used to help enable the Smart Home revolution.

BERLIN — The open-source Kubernetes container management and orchestration system isn't just for hyperscale data center operators, it can also benefit consumer electronics vendors. Speaking at the Kubecon / CloudNative EU conference in Berlin this week, Mark Van Straten, Senior Developer at development firm Q42, detailed how Philips embraced Kubernetes to help enable the next generation of the Philips Hue smart light bulb product.

Van Straten told the audience he attended a Kubecon conference in 2015 to make a technical assessment of Kubernetes. At the time, the Philips Hue KubernetesKubernetes 1.2 release was current and Van Straten was looking to see if there were organizations that were actually running Kubernetes in production. What he found was at the time, production deployments of Kubernetes were few and far between.

Though there were not many production deployments, Van Straten was impressed by the passion of the developer community and the direction the Kubernetes project was headed. As a result, in the summer of 2016, Van Straten helped to build the Kubernetes system that now literally helps Philips to keep thousands of lightbulbs on (and off) around the world.

Van Straten explained that the original deployment of Philips Hue back in 2012 made use of the Google App Engine (GAE) for its cloud backend. That system today has now largely migrated over to Kubernetes and Google Container Engine (GCE).

The Transition from Google App Engine to Kubernetes and GCE

The Philips Hue backend has not been re-architected in a microservices approach with Kubernetes. Van Straten explained that all requests now go through the Huge Cloud API, which is run as a Kubernetes service.

From there, the system routes traffic through a token validation system and backend notifier, connected to a bridge websocket API and a bridge HTTP API. Finally, the bridge API communicates with the Philips Hue hub, which in turn controls the actual lightbulbs in a consumer's home.

Philips recently updated its Hue hub and Van Straten commented that it is now more powerful and is able to make a persistent websocket connection, decreasing the overall latency of the system.

While there are still some pockets of virtual machine legacy infrastructure in place, Van Straten emphasized that the goal and direction is to offload most of the traffic to the Kubernetes microservices approach.

Perhaps the most impressive benefit of the migration to Kubernetes is the operational efficiency. Van Straten said the Philips Hue Kubernetes system is functionally maintained by a team of only five developers.

Resolving the Kubernetes Pain Point for Philips

Moving to Kubernetes was not without its own set of challenges. For one, Van Straten noted that Philips had to move to a DevOps culture and measure everything. He's hopeful that the Kubernetes cluster federation will mature in the month ahead as well, as he currently sees that as a pain point for Philips.

"We have experienced that Kubernetes is great at resource allocation and lifecycle management to help us build true microservices," Van Straten said.

"Every Kubernetes release has felt like a gift to us, full of new features," he added.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at ServerWatch and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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