Modern applications are increasingly being built using cloud containers because of their incredibly fast deployment speed, workload portability, and the ability to simplify resource provisioning for time-pressed developers.
The explosion of container adoption over the last few years has brought with it a wave of container-related products and services from the industry’s main cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud).
Below is a brief overview of what containers are, a look at Kubernetes (the industry’s leading container orchestration tool), and a breakdown of the big three’s cloud-native container offerings. We’ve also provided some useful resources to help your organization manage the complexity of containers.
What are containers?
Simply put, a container is a unit of software that bundles up code and all its dependencies into a single package so that an application can run quickly and reliably from one computing environment to another (e.g. moving from staging to production, moving from a physical machine in a data center to a virtual machine in a private/public cloud).
Whereas virtual machines (VMs) virtualize at the hardware level, containers virtualize at the operating system level. Because of this, containers are far more lightweight than VMs, making them faster to spin up and much more portable (VMs carry around with them their own OS, the application itself, any necessary libraries, etc.).
Containers are great for application development because developers and IT Ops teams can trust that their application’s environment will be consistent no matter where that application is eventually deployed. This means spending less time diagnosing and debugging and more time shipping new functionality to users.
What is Kubernetes?
As applications grow to span multiple containers across multiple services, operating them becomes more complex. How do you coordinate and schedule containers, update applications without service interruption, or monitor and diagnose problems over time?
The answer to these questions sits with container orchestration tools. Kubernetes, the industry’s leading orchestration tool, is designed to automate many of the manual processes involved with deploying, scaling, and operating containerized applications (other popular container orchestration tools include Mesos and Docker Swarm).
There’s a lot to learn about Kubernetes and I found this guide from Red Hat to be exceptionally helpful.
Comparing cloud containers services: AWS vs. Azure vs. GCP
AWS, Azure, and GCP each offer a full suite of products and services to help organizations build, deploy, and manage containerized environments—many of which offer similar services and functionality. To help you get started, we’ve compiled some of those services below (with links to cloud provider-specific pages to learn more).
AWS Cloud Container Services
Amazon EKS (Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service) is a managed service that makes it easy to run Kubernetes on AWS without needing to install, operate, and maintain your own Kubernetes control plane. Amazon EKS users are also able to take full advantage of the performance, scale, reliability, and availability of the AWS platform. Further, Amazon EKS seamlessly integrates with a suite of other AWS services, and any application running on Amazon EKS is compatible with those applications already running in your existing Kubernetes environment.
Amazon ECS (Amazon Elastic Container Service) is a fast, highly scalable, and fully managed container orchestration service that allows users to easily run and scale containerized applications on AWS. Unlike Amazon EKS, which is AWS’ managed service for Kubernetes, Amazon ECS is AWS’ own orchestration service that supports Docker containers.
Amazon EKS vs. ECS
While both Amazon EKS and Amazon ECS offer similar integrations with the broader AWS portfolio, each service provides different use cases for organizations looking to manage their containerized applications—and differ in areas such as networking and ease of deployment.
So should you use Amazon EKS or ECS? It truly depends on your organization’s needs. While pricing is relatively similar between the two services, Amazon EKS has a minimal charge per cluster per month, which has the potential to add up quickly. If you’re already running workloads on Kubernetes, Amazon EKS might be familiar territory for your DevOps teams. If you haven’t navigated the world of containers yet, ECS might be the best option. Bottom line—determine your architectural needs and dive deep into each solution’s limitations.
AWS Fargate is a serverless compute engine that provides on-demand, right-sized compute capacity for cloud containers. By reducing the operational overhead of scaling, patching, securing, and managing servers, Fargate allows DevOps to focus on what they care about most—building applications. Fargate works for both Amazon EKS and ECS.
Azure Cloud Container Services
Azure Kubernetes Service
Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) is a highly available, secure, and fully managed Kubernetes service. With AKS, Azure users can unify their development and operations teams on a single platform to rapidly build, deliver, and scale their containerized applications with confidence. As a fully managed service, AKS reduces the complexity and operational overhead of managing Kubernetes by offloading much of that responsibility to Azure.
For those of you familiar with Microsoft’s Azure Container Service (ACS), ACS was retired as a standalone service on January 31, 2020.
GCP Cloud Container Services
Google Kubernetes Engine
Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) provides a managed environment for deploying, managing, and scaling your containerized applications using Google infrastructure. With GKE, your Kubernetes control pane is managed by Google SREs (Site Reliability Engineers), who will monitor your cluster and its computing, networking, and storage resources for you—giving back time for internal engineers to focus on application development.
Google Cloud Run
With Google Cloud Run, develop and deploy highly scalable containerized applications on a fully managed serverless platform. Cloud Run enables users to deploy stateless HTTP containers, which means developers can use the programming language of their choice (‘any language, any library, any binary’), removes the overhead associated with resource provisioning, and pairs with both Docker and GKE.
*Other Google Cloud container services to explore: Google Container Registry
Additional container resources
Moving to containers is a big change for any organization, and success isn’t guaranteed unless challenges around poor visibility, lack of cost and usage accountability, and outdated IT processes are made. Below are a few container resources to help you get started:
Managing Kubernetes costs: While Kubernetes comes with numerous benefits around developer productivity and application delivery, there are still challenges that arise as more and more teams in your organization begin to adopt containers.
Optimizing your container environment: As your organization increases its use of containers, maintaining visibility and governance in such a dynamic environment can be difficult.
Learn how CloudHealth can help you optimize your container environment and start making more strategic decisions around cost allocation and driving accountability.
Tackling six common container challenges: As your teams continue to adopt containers, you’re likely finding that your current development methodology is outdated and unable to adapt. Your developers might be wondering which applications are best suited for containers, while your security team is worried about security vulnerabilities related to third-party container images.
Read this guide to learn how you can tackle six common container challenges.