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Cover image for EKS vs ECS - Which one is best for you

EKS vs ECS - Which one is best for you

An age-old theme has been the bane of every software developer and operations engineer's existence since the dawn of software development. β€œWell, it works on my machine!” is commonly heard when an application developed by the software developer on their machine works perfectly yet inexplicably crashes when deployed on production. Whether it's a small package that came pre-installed on the shiny MacBook development environments or just a misconfiguration on the operations engineer part, the result is hours of tense debugging and a hostile work environment.

Thankfully, containers came and solved the problem. Containers are small, standardized units of software that come prepackaged with their environment, dependencies, and configurations so that they work seamlessly in all environments. Containers include everything the application needs to run, thus eliminating any deployment issues that may arise in non-container application development and deployment path. However, containers are simple execution blocks that can run a piece of code on their own. You need a platform where you can automate code deployment, provisioning, and how they work together. That's where Container orchestration comes in.

Container orchestration automates the operational effort needed to run an application or service. It involves essential requirements such as networking, deployments, provisioning, scaling processes, load balancing, etc.

Containers on their own are lightweight base executions of code and, due to their temporary nature, tend to shut down. When creating large-scale solutions that may contain thousands of such small containers (With the increased adoption of Microservices- independent applications that run in their containers yet communicate with each other to provide services), managing them manually can become an enormous task. Thankfully, many container orchestration services provide tools and infrastructure to allow you to use containers at scale and build confidently. In this blog, we will look at two of the most popular on the AWS platform, ECS and EKS.

ECS - AWS’ Answer to Container Orchestration:

AWS Launched ECS (Short for Elastic Container Service) to address the container orchestration problems in 2015. AWS has not stopped adding more functionality and capabilities to its premier container orchestration service. Many of AWS’s own managed services consumed ECS container management capabilities. AWS’s Text to speech managed service, AWS Polly, AWS’s batch processing service - the main stay in big data and computations batch processing jobs, AWS Batch or AWS’ principal Machine Learning offering, AWS Sagemaker; all use ECS as the container orchestration platform.

Not only that, but many high-profile enterprise clients and technology leaders also opt for AWS’ ECS platform for running their production workloads. Tech giants such as Samsung, Duolingo, and Volkswagen are also significant users of the ECS platform for running containers in their accounts, leveraging the best containers offered with the simplicity and ease of management that AWS ECS provides.

EKS - AWS Answer to running Kubernetes:

To understand EKS, we first need to know what Kubernetes is. Kubernetes is a container orchestration platform created by Google as an open-source project. Loved and supported by the community, it has become an influential presence in the Container landscape. Currently maintained by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, Kubernetes provides a vast and ever-growing library of functionalities. From application deployment, scaling, automation, and management to more intricate control options such as setting custom RBAC controls and creating sidecar containers for monitoring and management. EKS provides fine grain, deeply accessible power of the container workloads you run at the cost of an ever-increasing learning curve.

AWS EKS is Amazon’s answer to container orchestration on Kubernetes for the AWS platform. Kubernetes was designed to be cloud agnostic - anything created on Kubernetes should work for AWS, Azure, On-prem, in a hybrid environment, you name it. EKS takes over the management part of the control plane and allows users to create, build and deploy on the cloud without having to worry about managing the control plane.

ECS VS EKS - What are the differences:

There are many critical differences between the two platforms because of the different engines that underline the orchestration; however, the fundamental difference between ECS and EKS is complexity.

ECS is very beginner friendly. AWS takes away most of the management; the user only needs to define what images to use, the requirements and environment variables the task will require, and the container is ready to be launched in a service. There is no requirement to learn the cluster's configuration, users' configuration, etc. EKS, on the other hand, comes with a steep learning curve. Any user needs to be familiar with Kubernetes protocols (one of the first things you need to do when you create a new EKS cluster is to authenticate and create users and groups so they can view the resources in the cluster). The upside to the complexity is the complete control EKS provides you in creating and managing your container platform. If you want to create multiple environments within the same EKS Cluster, you can do so with namespaces (A functionality not present in ECS). You also have access to advance monitoring, management, and security options with AWS since it is all created, set up, and managed by the user.

A couple of other differences between ECS and EKS are.

Networking:

You can allow Network ENI with ECS tasks with one EC2 instance capable of supporting around 120 tasks. EKS takes it forward and enables ENIs to be allocated and shared between pods. This drastically increases container density, with configurations allowing up to 720 Kubernetes pods to be placed upon EC2 instances.

So if you are looking for a greater container placement per EC2 resource, EKS is your go-to service.

Learning Curve and Ease of deployment:

ECS is simple, convenient, and much more straightforward. Clients do not need extra knowledge or training to work with ECS. Comparatively, EKS requires knowledge of the Kubernetes system to be able to operate anything. It requires a deep learning curve due to the inherent complexity of the underlying architecture of Kubernetes and is not a beginner-friendly solution.

ECS is a fully managed service. You do not need to set up additional infrastructure or manage configurations. You can start with container orchestration simply by creating a task definition, using it to complete tasks, and then running a service. AWS manages the infrastructure and management for you. Additionally, since this is an AWS-managed and provided service, there is no control plane.

EKS requires additional configuration and management after the cluster is created. Users will need to define pods, deployments, and services and manage user pools, namespaces, and other authentication. Secondly, Since the Kubernetes environment works with master and node structure, AWS provides a control plane for you, which is also charged.

Exclusivity:

Both ECS and EKS are platforms specific to AWS; however, since EKS is just a containerization solution built on the Kubernetes platform for AWS, you can take any of the resources and artifacts created for EKS and deploy them on any cloud or On-Prem platform.

That is not the case for ECS. All task definitions, containers, and services are exclusively available to AWS.

Pricing:

You only pay for the compute resources provisioned for container orchestration for ECS. There is no charge for using the AWS-managed service.

EKS deploys a control plane for each EKS cluster and manages the High Availability of the control plane in multiple Availability zones. You are charged 0.1$ per hour for each control plane.

Support:

Due to EKS’s open-source nature, the Kubernetes engine has widespread community support, with new features and functionalities coming out regularly.

ECS is an AWS Managed service. On the other hand, it receives less frequent updates and upgrades; however, you benefit from a superior enterprise AWS Support for the service.

Conclusions:

To conclude, both ECS and EKS are container orchestration platforms with their own merits. However, you can easily decide which of these services fits your use case from some critical differences in architecture and functionalities.

ECS is a better fit for your platform. If you are:

  1. New to containers and just starting with containerized workloads and container orchestration, ECS is the platform for you. The beginner-friendly deployments, ease of getting started, and the platform's simplicity (no significant knowledge curve required) make it perfect to just upload a container image to a repository and get started.
  2. ECS will suit your use case if you have a smaller application stack with limited container requirements. ECS works seamlessly with simpler deployment processes and requirements.
  3. Reduced costs - since ECS does not have a control plane, you do not get charged for multiple clusters meaning you can run hundreds of clusters without any additional charge.

On the other hand, EKS will be a much better decision if you are:

  1. A hybrid environment - EKS supports cloud and on-prem workloads, so if you have requirements that necessitate using a localized network/storage for compliance or audit purposes, etc.
  2. Large, microservice environments - If you have an extensive application with multiple containers and several environments, EKS’ namespace functionality can be the perfect fit to set up everything inside a single container.
  3. If you require finer control on the containers regarding security, authentication, monitoring, and logging, EKS has multiple community-created functionalities such as istio, App mesh, etc.

Containers are the future of modern computing, and both ECS and EKS are wonderful solutions to automate your application deployment and management. Whether you are just starting with containers and gravitating towards ECS or are more advanced and looking to build on the Kubernetes platform and thus moving towards EKS, know that you are in good hands on an AWS-managed service.

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