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Kubernetes Control Plane

The Kubernetes control plane consists of the Kubernetes API Server, Kubernetes Controller Manager, Scheduler and other components that are required for Kubernetes to function. Scalability limits of these components are different depending on what you’re running in the cluster, but the areas with the biggest impact to scaling include the Kubernetes version, utilization, and individual Node scaling.

Use EKS 1.24 or above

EKS 1.24 introduced a number of changes and switches the container runtime to containerd instead of docker. Containerd helps clusters scale by increasing individual node performance by limiting container runtime features to closely align with Kubernetes’ needs. Containerd is available in every supported version of EKS and if you would like to switch to containerd in versions prior to 1.24 please use the --container-runtime bootstrap flag.

Limit workload and node bursting


To avoid reaching API limits on the control plane you should limit scaling spikes that increase cluster size by double digit percentages at a time (e.g. 1000 nodes to 1100 nodes or 4000 to 4500 pods at once).

The EKS control plane will automatically scale as your cluster grows, but there are limits on how fast it will scale. When you first create an EKS cluster the Control Plane will not immediately be able to scale to hundreds of nodes or thousands of pods. To read more about how EKS has made scaling improvements see this blog post.

Scaling large applications requires infrastructure to adapt to become fully ready (e.g. warming load balancers). To control the speed of scaling make sure you are scaling based on the right metrics for your application. CPU and memory scaling may not accurately predict your application constraints and using custom metrics (e.g. requests per second) in Kubernetes Horizontal Pod Autoscaler (HPA) may be a better scaling option.

To use a custom metric see the examples in the Kubernetes documentation. If you have more advanced scaling needs or need to scale based on external sources (e.g. AWS SQS queue) then use KEDA for event based workload scaling.

Scale nodes and pods down safely

Replace long running instances

Replacing nodes regularly keeps your cluster healthy by avoiding configuration drift and issues that only happen after extended uptime (e.g. slow memory leaks). Automated replacement will give you good process and practices for node upgrades and security patching. If every node in your cluster is replaced regularly then there is less toil required to maintain separate processes for ongoing maintenance.

Use Karpenter’s time to live (TTL) settings to replace instances after they’ve been running for a specified amount of time. Self managed node groups can use the max-instance-lifetime setting to cycle nodes automatically. Managed node groups do not currently have this feature but you can track the request here on GitHub.

Remove underutilized nodes

You can remove nodes when they have no running workloads using the scale down threshold in the Kubernetes Cluster Autoscaler with the --scale-down-utilization-threshold or in Karpenter you can use the ttlSecondsAfterEmpty provisioner setting.

Use pod disruption budgets and safe node shutdown

Removing pods and nodes from a Kubernetes cluster requires controllers to make updates to multiple resources (e.g. EndpointSlices). Doing this frequently or too quickly can cause API server throttling and application outages as changes propogate to controllers. Pod Disruption Budgets are a best practice to slow down churn to protect workload availability as nodes are removed or rescheduled in a cluster.

Use Client-Side Cache when running Kubectl

Using the kubectl command inefficiently can add additional load to the Kubernetes API Server. You should avoid running scripts or automation that uses kubectl repeatedly (e.g. in a for loop) or running commands without a local cache.

kubectl has a client-side cache that caches discovery information from the cluster to reduce the amount of API calls required. The cache is enabled by default and is refreshed every 10 minutes.

If you run kubectl from a container or without a client-side cache you may run into API throttling issues. It is recommended to retain your cluster cache by mounting the --cache-dir to avoid making uncessesary API calls.

Disable kubectl Compression

Disabling kubectl compression in your kubeconfig file can reduce API and client CPU usage. By default the server will compress data sent to the client to optimize network bandwidth. This adds CPU load on the client and server for every request and disabling compression can reduce the overhead and latency if you have adequate bandwidth. To disable compression you can use the --disable-compression=true flag or set disable-compression: true in your kubeconfig file.

apiVersion: v1
- cluster:
    server: serverURL
    disable-compression: true
  name: cluster

Shard Cluster Autoscaler

The Kubernetes Cluster Autoscaler has been tested to scale up to 1000 nodes. On a large cluster with more than 1000 nodes, it is recommended to run multiple instances of the Cluster Autoscaler in shard mode. Each Cluster Autoscaler instance is configured to scale a set of node groups. The following example shows 2 cluster autoscaling configurations that are configured to each scale 4 node groups.


- name: eks-core-node-grp-20220823190924690000000011-80c1660e-030d-476d-cb0d-d04d585a8fcb
  maxSize: 50
  minSize: 2
- name: eks-data_m1-20220824130553925600000011-5ec167fa-ca93-8ca4-53a5-003e1ed8d306
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2
- name: eks-data_m2-20220824130733258600000015-aac167fb-8bf7-429d-d032-e195af4e25f5
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2
- name: eks-data_m3-20220824130553914900000003-18c167fa-ca7f-23c9-0fea-f9edefbda002
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2


- name: eks-data_m4-2022082413055392550000000f-5ec167fa-ca86-6b83-ae9d-1e07ade3e7c4
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2
- name: eks-data_m5-20220824130744542100000017-02c167fb-a1f7-3d9e-a583-43b4975c050c
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2
- name: eks-data_m6-2022082413055392430000000d-9cc167fa-ca94-132a-04ad-e43166cef41f
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2
- name: eks-data_m7-20220824130553921000000009-96c167fa-ca91-d767-0427-91c879ddf5af
  maxSize: 450
  minSize: 2