Argo Kubernetes workflow engine integration review


My team recently completed a project that integrated a Kubernetes workflow engine, Argo. I've tried to summarise our usage at a high level and record the various issues we encountered that are worth revisiting as the project evolves.

We started using Argo in the v2.0.0-alpha3 timeframe and have shipped using Argo 2.0.0.

We implemented:

  • A service owning the domain model and storing the status and outputs of tasks.
  • A workflow service that submits workflows, choosing from available workflows based on the domain model and setting global parameters based on user configuration. The service then watches the workflow and updates the domain model service. We track the individual steps within the workflow, rather than just caring about overall inputs/outputs.

The workflows use global parameters, S3 for input artifacts and makes heavy use of artifact passing. Otherwise we just use the core container and steps template features.

The experience was very positive, particularly considering the early stage of the Argo project. We went looking for Kubernetes CI/workflow tooling, as it seemed that newer projects building directly on Kubernetes could have a significant benefit in reduced complexity. It was encouraging to find Argo and Brigade in that space.

The scope of Argo made it easy to understand how it could be embedded in our application. I really appreciated the separation between Argo and Argo CI. We needed a domain-specific application model, rather than trying to fit with an existing structure.

The declarative nature of the configuration and the minimal effort with which we got a multi-step workflow with artifact passing working were significant factors in selecting Argo.

Issues to revisit

  • We wrote a straightforward Java model of the Workflow CRD for use with the Java Fabric8 Kubernetes client. This predated the availability of the OpenAPI definitions, and I hope to revisit this to make use of them (though they seem to be missing the status part of the CRD). A well documented CRD model would have helped significantly in communicating how Argo worked within the team. I often found myself referring to the Go type definitions.

  • The ability to add metadata to steps (or DAG tasks) that would appear in the status node tree would be helpful. I'll try to propose something specific. At the moment, we're transforming step names to unique IDs to let us trivially map back step results to our identifiers. This works fine, but can be unhelpful when debugging. It might be possible to extend the work done on PR 789.

  • Testing workflows with argo submit would benefit from better CLI support for passing input artifacts and getting output artifacts (issue 695, issue 524).

  • argo install was great for getting started, but it has led to Argo being managed separately from our Helm-based deployment process. We came across argo-helm a little late to switch to it. Having Helm as a first class option in the getting started docs might help adoption.

  • We've ended up with a separate cluster for our Argo deployment vs other services, mostly because we couldn't resource limit Argo within a namespace without it failing the workflows at submission time (whereas, cluster-wide, we'll just have temporarily unschedulable pods). Solutions in this area all look non-trivial, but we may have the opportunity to investigate further depending on the usage of the project. There's been helpful discussion from the Argo team on issues (e.g. issue 740).

  • Support for periodic cleanup of completed workflows, potentially also including their S3 artifacts, would have saved some effort and might be a good fit for the controller. For workflows scheduled via our API, we ended up using a Kubernetes CrobJob to delete them, but we still ended up manually cleaning up workflows and S3 data from ad hoc Argo use. Some kind of clean up seems likely to be essential for all users (at least of the Kubernetes resources). We also hit and worked around a Fabric8 bug affecting the cascading delete of pods.

  • It would be helpful to improve the accuracy of the "in-progress" status issue 525 covers this, though it would presumably be possible to work around this by also watching pods.

Future enhancements

  • We plan to switch to DAG-based workflows as soon as 2.1.0 ships. It proved non-trivial to author workflows in order to ensure maximum parallelism with the step template syntax. We've tried the DAG syntax in 2.1.0-alpha1 and it will simplify workflow authoring considerably.

  • Future work will probably require some ability to configure the workflows we run beyond simple parameterisation, by enabling/disabling steps or related groups of steps based on user choices. I think this will end up bespoke, but Argo features such as templates with optional input artifacts could help build this (issue 805). The DAG model should be easier to manipulate in this way than steps templates.

  • We used the built-in artifact passing, and synced the artifacts to separate permanent storage as the workflow completed. An alternative (but more ambitious) approach would have been to look at making Argo's artifact passing pluggable, and directly use our storage APIs. Initially the HTTP option seemed tempting here, but it didn't support upload or the tar.gz handling.