But does it cloud? Lens 5.0 simplifies cluster access sharing, sports new UI

Version 5.0 of open-source Kubernetes tool Lens has been pushed into the open, introducing its users to capabilities to organise clusters and share access.

Lens is a MIT-licensed open-source project, which was acquired by Docker Enterprise proprietor Mirantis in August 2020 after having taken over the team behind the tool earlier that year. Though officially called a Kubernetes IDE, most onlookers would describe Lens as more of a local cluster management app as it is mostly used to explore and observe clusters and workloads. To help with these endeavours, it includes visualisation, automatic terminal helpers, and Helm chart management functionality amongst other features.

With the new release, however, Mirantis pushes Lens closer towards a cloud offering with what it calls Spaces. The free (for now) cloud service is advertised as a comparatively simple way to share cluster and resource access for troubleshooting and cooperation purposes, without the trouble that comes with exposing the Kubernetes API via the internet. 

To realise this, Spaces use a project called Cluster Connect, which aggregates connected clusters and exposes them through a secured proxy to users (similar to the approach of the Telepresence project). According to the docs, Cluster Connect is based on Mirantis’s reverse tunnel daemon BoreD and fits all shared clusters with an agent that takes care of opening an encrypted connection to Lens Spaces. 

Once signed up for the service, end users will receive a kubeconfig the proxy can use for authentication and tunneling requests, while the agent translates “proxied requests to match desired Kubernetes RBAC user/group”. To give a new user access to the resources in a particular Space, they simply have to be added to it — although admins are promised additional control so that they can define which user or team can do what. 

Mirantis wrote earlier this year that the 5.0 release will just be the beginning for Lens Spaces, foreshadowing new functionality to “increase productivity not only when working with Kubernetes, but any and all cloud-native technologies”. While this seems like a hint towards a widening of scope for the tool, it could also be the beginning of a monetisation strategy for Lens, as the cloud connection practically lends itself to throwing in paid tiers with additional functionality at some point.

The current update also comes with a greatly visible change in the form of a UI component called Catalog. The feature replaces the workspace overview and is claimed to let users group clusters with services, tools, pipelines, automations, and related resources into a searchable view for easier, centralised access. 

There’s also the option of sharing Catalogs between users of a Space to make sure all project members have the same toolings and information available. VP Engineering Miska Kaipiainen, however, noted that the feature isn’t completely where his team wanted it to be yet, so users should expect Catalog improvements in the coming months. 

Teams who have been using Lens for a while will notice that the cluster menu has had to make way for a Hotbar. This new main navigation can be populated with whatever functions a user feels necessary for a productive workflow — for example via drag and drop from a Catalog. Items in the bar can be customised by changing colours, labels, and icons. An old beta announcement also mentioned ways of creating different Hotbars to switch between depending on the current work scenario, though the state of the corresponding GitHub issue suggests this might be still in the works.