Azure Containers, SSH Keys and Windows

When working with containers on Azure there are a couple things to keep in mind around key management. I’ll use Azure Container Service (AKS) for the context here, but in the end, keys are keys.

You have two options when creating a cluster on AKS:

az aks create --resource-group YourRG --name YourCluster --generate-ssh-keys

az aks create --resource-group YourRG --name YourCluster --ssh-key-value \PATH\TO\PUBLIC\KEY

With –generate-ssh-keys, Azure will automatically create the necessary key for you named id_rsa and in the $HOME\.ssh folder, of the machine that created the cluster. If there are already keys with that name there, it will re-use those.

Once your cluster is created, you’ll use

az aks get-credentials --resource-group YourRG --name YourCluster

to download an access token to set the current context for your session, manage the cluster and deploy containers.

If you happen to work from more than one machine, or expect other people to also access this cluster or make other clusters using the same keys, you need to share these auto-created keys appropriately. I work from two different machines, wasn’t paying attention and ended up with two different “default” sets of keys. I awkwardly discovered this when creating a cluster with my home machine, traveling with my laptop and then finding myself unable to access the cluster while out of town. Joys.

Using “–generate-ssh-keys” shall henceforth be known as “the lazy way” of key management.

To do this better, create your keys manually, put them in a secure location accessible by those who matter and then make your clusters using “–ssh-key-value” instead.  (Let’s call this the “thoughtful way.”) You will also need to provide the path to the key when requesting the access token. For example:

az aks get-credentials --resource-group YourRG --name YourCluster --ssh-key-value \PATH\TO\PUBLIC\KEY

As I’m a Windows user, I use PuttyGen for my key creation. I will refrain from recreating the wheel of how to do this, as there are already some pretty comprehensive posts, either in Microsoft Docs or this one by Pascal Naber.

A Note about AKS vs ACS: As of this writing, you have two different ways of creating container clusters in Azure. ACS allows you to create clusters orchestrated with Kubernetes, Docker Swarm or DC/OS. Due to the nature of the way these are created, you have full access to the master node VM. If you’ll be using Putty to connect to the master node of your ACS cluster directly, you’ll need to use a Putty-specific PPK file for your private key and specify it in your Putty session settings. If you create a Kubernetes cluster using AKS (as I did in my examples above) you won’t have SSH access to the master node.

A Note About Service Principals: In addition to automatically generating keys, AKS/ACS will automatically generate the necessary service principals needed. However, it won’t generate a new SP for each cluster. If you have a suitable SP already in your subscription, it will re-use that one. So just keep that in mind for your production clusters. You may want to provide different service principals for various clusters, etc. You can read more about setting up Azure AD SPs for AKS if you so desire.


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