Subscribe to the feed


"The External Secrets Operator (ESO) extends Kubernetes with Custom Resources, which define where secrets live and how to synchronize them. The controller fetches secrets from an external API and creates Kubernetes secrets. If the secret from the external API changes, the controller will reconcile the state in the cluster and update the secrets accordingly."

— ESO Docs.


The External Secrets Operator (ESO) supports different modes of operations such as: Shared ClusterSecretStore, Managed SecretStore per Namespace, ESO as a Service which is the mode of choice picked for this guide.

In an ESO as a Service setting, the operator can be deployed cluster-wide, for example in the openshift-operators namespace. This makes the Operator Life Cycle management easier in that only one instance and a single version of the ESO is deployed in the cluster; and it is made available to all namespaces. Hence, application developers can focus on providing their workload secrets specifications using the ExternalSecret and SecretStore Custom Resources (CRs) to have their secrets pulled from the secrets provider (such as the AWS Secrets Manager).

Below diagram depicts the ESO as a Service setup whereby application teams manage ExternalSecret, SecretStore custom resources; and the platform team handles Operator installation and upgrades.


Problem Statement

This guide makes an attempt to show one of the many methods we can utilize to store "sensitive" data in an external secrets management system such as AWS Secrets Manager, retrieve that data via the ESO and have them stored in Kubernetes secrets for applications to use.


To address this concern, we will leverage the ESO which will be deployed as a Service (diagram above) on a ROSA (OpenShift v4.10+) cluster. In other words, the operator custom resources (ExternalSecret, SecretStore) will be available to all existing and future namespaces for application developers to use.

In this guide, the AWS Secrets Manager is used as the secrets provider. However, with few tweaks the solution can be used with any of the providers1 supported by ESO.

Three (3) helm charts are utilized to deploy this solution. Furthermore, the solution simulates an enterprise deployment environment where Corporate InfoSec policies require all container images be hosted and served from a private, internal registry.

The following charts are deployed in this order:

  • eso-operator-install: Deploys the ESO operator and its CRDs (OperatorGroup, Subscription) in the openshift-operators namespace.

  • eso-operator-patch: Two container images are needed for the operator complete setup. This chart Deploys the resources needed to apply patches to the operator. Moreover, the chart creates an OperatorConfig resource which references a private container image; while the CronJob periodically patches the operator ClusterServiceVersion (CSV) to reference another private container image.

  • eso-secrets-sync: Deploys the CRs (ExternalSecret, SecretStore) needed to integrate with the secrets provider, as well as creating the Kubernetes secrets backed by one or more AWS Secret Manager buckets.

    • Secret: Kubernetes object for storing the AWS IAM User credentials
    • SecretStore: ESO custom resource that references the Secret.
    • ExternalSecret: ESO custom resource for defining the relationship between AWS Secret Manager bucket's {key, value pairs and the "to be" created Kubernetes secrets.


  • A running Red Hat OpenShift 4.7+ cluster
  • Access to an AWS account
  • AWS Secrets Manager bucket created, and required groups and policies applied
  • An IAM user with rights to at least read secret manager buckets
  • An OpenShift ServiceAccount with edit access to deployment namespaces
  • The following CLI tools
    • podman or docker or skopeo
    • oc or kubectl
    • helm


These Helm charts have been tested on Red Hat OpenShift v4.10.x.

The guide uses two example micro-services (Product Service and the Shipping Service), which will use the ESO to access and fetch "sensitive" data from the AWS Secrets Manager service.

Note that the following screenshots and code snippets intentionally show sample sensitive data as examples. The AWS account and ROSA cluster used for this demo will be decommissioned by the time this content goes live.


I. AWS Secrets Manager Setup

1. Create the AWS Secrets Manager buckets

Product Service Empty Bucket  product-service-bucket-empty

Shipping Service Empty Bucket  shipping-service-bucket-empty

Follow this link to learn more about the AWS Secrets Manager service.

2. Place secrets data into the buckets following the {"key": "value"} pair format.

IMPORTANT: For multi-line strings such as certificates, application properties and config files, ensure secrets values are Base64 encoded to retain formatting. AWS Secrets Manager does not support space and newline based formatting.

For example to encode/decode a plaintext file, execute this command:

# Encode to base64
base64 < cleartextFile.txt > encodedFile.txt

# Decode from base64
base64 -d < encodedFile.txt > cleartextFile.txt

Before the secrets are stored


After the secrets are stored

Product Service Stored Secrets  product-service-bucket-stored

Shipping Service Stored Secrets  shipping-service-bucket-stored

3. Create the AWS IAM Policy

We will create a new eso-demo-iam IAM User and grant it read access to the non-prod/eso-demo/product-service/secrets and non-prod/eso-demo/shipping-service/secrets ASM buckets.

IAM Policy with Read permission to the two (2) buckets:

"Version": "2012-10-17",
"Statement": [
"Sid": "VisualEditor0",
"Effect": "Allow",
"Action": [
"Resource": [
"Effect": "Allow",
"Action": "secretsmanager:ListSecrets",
"Resource": "*"


4. Create the IAM User and assign it the Policy

Create the IAM user and select the credential type as Access Key - Programmatic access:


Pay close attention to the selected option on the right most tile  iam-user-add-policy

Preview the user to be created  iam-user-add-review

The IAM user has been created, Access key ID and Secret access key are displayed:

Take note of the Access key ID and Secret access key info.

II. Deploying the External Secrets Operator using Helm

We now proceed with installing the operator and its custom resources.

The setup simulates an environment where enterprise InfoSec policy allows container images only from the corporate private registry or OpenShift's internal registry.

The eso-operator-patch chart is created to address this requirement. The chart deploys a CronJob resource, which periodically replaces the default Github container registry ( image reference defined in the ClusterServiceVersion (CSV) by a private image pushed via skopeo into the OpenShift cluster eso-build namespace.

Clone the guide repository and use the repo folder as default directory.

1. Create the build and deployment (demo) namespaces

# For ImageStreams
oc create namespace eso-build

# For Application deployment
oc new-project eso-demo


2. Push Operator Images to internal registry


Operator Controller Manager Image:

  • Public Image:
  • Internal Image: image-registry.openshift-image-registry.svc:5000/eso-build/external-secrets-helm-operator:v0.6.1

OperatorConfig Image:

  • Public Image:
  • Internal Image: image-registry.openshift-image-registry.svc:5000/eso-build/external-secrets:v0.6.1

Before images were copied to internal registry eso-build namespace:


Get public route of OpenShift internal registry. Follow this link to learn more about internal registry for OpenShift.

# Expose registry via a Route if not available
oc patch --patch '{"spec":{"defaultRoute":true}}' --type=merge

# Get the hostname of the registry route
REGISTRY_HOST=$(oc get route default-route -ojsonpath='{}' -n openshift-image-registry)


Run skopeo commands to copy images from github container registry ( to internal registry.

# Controller Manager Image
skopeo copy docker:// \
docker://${REGISTRY_HOST}/eso-build/external-secrets-helm-operator:v0.6.1 \
--dest-username $(oc whoami) \
--dest-password $(oc whoami -t) \
--override-os linux

# OperatorConfig Image
skopeo copy docker:// \
docker://${REGISTRY_HOST}/eso-build/external-secrets:v0.6.1 \
--dest-username $(oc whoami) \
--dest-password $(oc whoami -t) \
--override-os linux

After images are pushed to internal registry in eso-build namespace:


We are now ready to deploy the operator and its custom resources.

3. Install the eso-operator-install Helm chart

The chart creates the Subscription and OperatorGroup CRs.

The OperatorGroup template is disabled by default because it is getting deployed in the openshift-operators namespace, which already has this CR. Set operator.globalOperatorGroupExists: false in the chart file (values.yaml) if you want to include it in the chart deployment.

helm upgrade --install eso-operator-install ./eso-operator-install -n openshift-operators

After successful installation, the operator is available in eso-demo despite having been deployed in a different namespace.


4. Install the eso-operator-patch Helm chart

Before we proceed with installing this chart, we need to grant the service accounts in the openshift-operators namespace the permission to pull images from eso-build namespace:

OPERATOR_NS=openshift-operators                               \
IMAGE_NS=eso-build \
oc policy add-role-to-group \
system:image-puller system:serviceaccounts:${OPERATOR_NS} \
--rolebinding-name=eso-image-pullers \

Here's the values.yaml file. Note the Image repositories values.

name: external-secrets-operator
# The service account and associated roles must be created first.
serviceAccountName: eso-images-patch-sa
# CronJob will run every 5min
patchSchedule: '*/5 * * * *'

deploymentName: "external-secrets-operator"
# The original PUBLIC image repository
# The new PRIVATE image repository -- Make sure you replace 'eso-build' with your namespace
repository: "image-registry.openshift-image-registry.svc:5000/eso-build/external-secrets"
pullPolicy: IfNotPresent
tag: 'v0.6.1'

startingCSV: external-secrets-operator.v0.6.1
deploymentName: "external-secrets-operator-controller-manager"
# The original PUBLIC image repository
# The new PRIVATE image repository -- Make sure you replace 'eso-build' by your namespace
repository: "image-registry.openshift-image-registry.svc:5000/eso-build/external-secrets-helm-operator"
pullPolicy: IfNotPresent
tag: 'v0.6.1'

Install the helm chart

helm upgrade --install eso-operator-patch ./eso-operator-patch -n openshift-operators

After Installation:  operator-config-installed

The Customer Resources created as a result:  operator-config-resources

We are now ready to deploy the CRs that will synchronize the Kubernetes secrets from AWS Secrets Manager.

III. Secrets Synchronization

The eso-secrets-sync chart will deploy the ExternalSecret and SecretStore, which will:

  1. Authenticate to AWS using the eso-demo-iam IAM User, and
  2. Fetch and create kubernetes Secrets as specified in the values.yaml file.

Each list item under references one application or an AWS Secrets Manager bucket.

For example:

region: us-east-1
authSecretName: eso-aws-authn-secret
- name: product-service
enabled: true
project: eso-demo
# Default value is 1h
refreshInterval: 30m
# Possible Values: "Opaque", "", "", ""
secretType: Opaque
localSecretName: product-service-secret
remoteSecretBucket: "non-prod/eso-demo/product-service/secrets"
# templateKey: Replace dots(.) by underscores; use snake case(substr1_substr2_substr3)
- remoteKey: "mysql.username"
isRemoteValueB64Encoded: false
templateKey: "mysql_username"
localSecretKey: "mysql.username"
- name: shipping-service
enabled: true
project: eso-demo
# Default value is 1h
refreshInterval: 10m
# Possible Values: "Opaque", "", "", ""
secretType: Opaque
localSecretName: shipping-service-secret
remoteSecretBucket: "non-prod/eso-demo/shipping-service/secrets"
# templateKey: Replace dots(.) by underscores; use snake case(substr1_substr2_substr3)
- remoteKey: "mongodb.username"
isRemoteValueB64EncodedIn: false
templateKey: "mongodb_username"
localSecretKey: "mongodb.username"

1. Install the eso-secrets-sync chart

The chart is deployed alongside the application workloads that are going to use the generated secrets objects. In this example the namespace is eso-demo.

Before chart deployment:  eso-esecret-empty

helm upgrade --install eso-secrets-sync ./eso-secrets-sync -n eso-demo

After chart deployment:  eso-esecret-ready

2. Validate synchronization of the secrets

Product Service's secrets {key, value} pairs generated:  eso-secrets-ready-product

Shipping Service's secrets {key, value} pairs generated:  eso-secrets-ready-shipping

As can be seen, the secrets have been successfully created, with content from AWS Secrets Manager. The ExternalSecret CR also restores secrets upon deletion or modification of fetched {key, value} pairs.

Once secrets are synchronized, next steps are to update CI/CD jobs to disable secrets creation, and modify application deployment templates to reference our new secrets.

IV. Summary

In this guide we've demonstrated how to setup ESO as a service on OpenShift with images served from the internal registry. Additionally, we've demonstrated some basic to advanced concepts of Kubernetes package management using Helm, skopeo, oc/kubectl. Furthermore, through the eso-operator-patch chart, we've shown one method of modifying an operator CSV to get its managed pods to pull from a private/internal container image registry.


About the author

Browse by channel

automation icon


The latest on IT automation for tech, teams, and environments

AI icon

Artificial intelligence

Updates on the platforms that free customers to run AI workloads anywhere

open hybrid cloud icon

Open hybrid cloud

Explore how we build a more flexible future with hybrid cloud

security icon


The latest on how we reduce risks across environments and technologies

edge icon

Edge computing

Updates on the platforms that simplify operations at the edge

Infrastructure icon


The latest on the world’s leading enterprise Linux platform

application development icon


Inside our solutions to the toughest application challenges

Original series icon

Original shows

Entertaining stories from the makers and leaders in enterprise tech