EKS vs ECS vs Fargate vs Kubernetes (AWS containers explained)

by Ned Hallett
Published on March 2021

AWS offers a lot of options when it comes to deploying containers. But knowing which service does what can leave even the most seasoned pros scratching their heads.

In this blog, we look at EKS, ECS, Fargate, EC2 and Kubernetes, explaining the role of each in deploying containers on AWS, as well as their pros and cons.

So let’s get started!

Understanding the role of each service 

First of all, it’s important (and easy) to understand which role each service plays in relation to the others.

Essentially, every service is either part of the orchestration layer (which manages containers) or the hosting layer (which runs them).

  • ECS, EKS and Kuberneretes are part of the orchestration layer 
  • EC2 and Fargate are part of the hosting layer

Now let’s have a look at what that means.

EKS vs ECS vs Kubernetes – the orchestration layerAmazon EKS vs AWS ECS

Container orchestration services automate the manual work that goes into managing containers. The main benefits of orchestration are:

  • Simplifying operations – deploying and creating new containers automatically
  • Adding resilience – managing failure and container lifecycles automatically
  • Adding security – removing breaches due to user error and automating security best practices

If you’re working with containers, you’ll almost always want to use an orchestration tool. 

But which one?

ECS (Elastic Container Service)

This is AWS’ own container service. It manages containers in clusters called ECS Clusters.

EKS (Elastic Kubernetes Service) 

Also an AWS container service, EKS differs from ECS in that it’s used to manage Kubernetes clusters on AWS infrastructure. You can also migrate an existing Kubernetes workload to EKS.

Kubernetes 

An open-source container orchestration service, Kubernetes is hugely popular, but if you’re deploying Kubernetes on AWS, you’ll always use EKS to do so.

ECS vs EKS 

ECS pros 

  • Because ECS is AWS’ own container service, it integrates better with the AWS ecosystem, including CloudTrail, CloudWatch, and Amazon ECR (Elastic Container Registry) for the seamless management of Docker images
  • The ECS control plane is totally free, while EKS is charged

EKS pros 

  • Because EKS uses Kubernetes, it’s more flexible, meaning you could migrate your workload to another platform easier than you could from ECS, making it more suitable for complex mult-cloud workloads.
  • EKS is better suited to complex applications
  • EKS ultimately offers more control (over cluster management and scheduling) than ECS

Conclusion

If you have a simpler application and want to incorporate a lot of AWS services, ECS is probably the tool for you.

If you have a more complex project, and particularly if you want to use a multi-cloud approach, EKS is the right choice – and obviously if you want to use Kubernetes.

Fargate vs EC2 – the hosting layer

Amazon EC2 vs AWS Fargate

The hosting layer of your container deployment represents the virtual machines on which your containers will actually be running (or hosted on, hence the name). Here you have two choices.

EC2 

EC2 is the traditional way of deploying containers. Here, you’re running them in an actual VM(s) – simple.

Fargate 

Fargate brings a serverless approach, instead of provisioning servers yourself, Fargate automatically provisions the infrastructure for your containers on a per request basis.

EC2 vs Fargate

On either ECS or EKS, the pros and cons of Fargate vs EC2 are roughly the same:

EC2 pros 

  • EC2 means more manual work, but more control and transparency (because your provisioning the infrastructure yourself)
  • Your team might be more familiar with EC2

Fargate pros

  • Fargate means less work, and often lower costs (because you’re only paying for the resources you consume) – but you have less control and less transparency 
  • Fargate is serverless, which will probably become the norm in the years to come

Conclusion 

If you have the time and budget, and need extra oversight and control, EC2 is the better option. 

If you’re looking to lower cost and off-load management, Fargate’s the way to go.

The takeaways 

  • When deploying containers on AWS, you’ll likely want an orchestration tool (which could be ECS or EKS) and a host, which could be EC2 or Fargate 
  • ECS is AWS’ own service, it’s better suited to simple applications, and it integrates better with the AWS ecosystem
  • EKS is used for deploying Kubernetes clusters on AWS, it’s more complex, and offers more control 
  • EC2 is the traditional way of hosting your containers, there’s more manual work involved, but you gain control and oversight 
  • Fargate brings a serverless approach, it can save costs and scale fast, but you’ll have less control and oversight

As with all things AWS – the choice is with you.

How we can help

As AWS Advanced Consulting Partners, we’re perfectly placed to help you get the most out of your AWS stack. We’ve delivered leading AWS solutions for the likes of Volvo, Heineken and leading global law firm DLA Piper.  

So if you’re looking for a partner to help you access the latest  tech, cut cloud cost or anything else, just get in touch.

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