AWS ECS vs Kubernetes: A Complete Guide

Written By

Chase Bolt


Containerization is the modern solution to a cross-platform deployment where the entire application lives inside a container that deploys on different machines. Single containers work perfectly for simple applications, but with a micro-services architecture, each service requires a separate container. However, managing multiple containers can be cumbersome, which is why you have container orchestration tools that aid container communication, health monitoring and management, as well as security protocol processes.

AWS ECS and Kubernetes are two of the top-rated container orchestration services. Both serve the same purpose but each with different features and infrastructure. In this blog, we will look at each comparing their features, as well as, advantages and disadvantages to help you decide which one best suits your use case.

Table of Contents

               AWS Fargate

               AWS EKS VS Fargate

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes is an open-source container orchestration platform originally developed by Google and an industry-leading solution in its domain. It offers several features such as; 

  • Container scalability
  • Self-healing
  • Load balancing
  • Scheduling
  • Easy rollback to previous deployments. 

These features make it ideal for managing large-scale applications. But, the configuration process needs advanced expertise. Essentially, setting up Kubernetes requires users to understand the underlying infrastructure and have experience working with multi-server setups and networks since this level of infrastructure management can be challenging. 

The good news is, Kubernetes’ ecosystem comprises several third-party tools that simplify certain processes and aid Developers.

Even better yet, some Kubernetes alternatives, such as the AWS ECS, provide a managed control plane that takes care of the infrastructure, leaving you to worry about the container deployments only. 

What is AWS ECS?

The Elastic Compute Service (ECS) is AWS’ alternative to Kubernetes for managing multiple containers. AWS ECS uses the Docker Engine to create containers and provides the same features and functionalities as Kubernetes but without the hassle of setting up the basic service. It also integrates easily with other AWS services, further enhancing its capabilities.

You can deploy AWS ECS with AWS EC2 instances or their serverless compute engine, Fargate. With EC2, the setup procedure is similar to what you usually get with virtual machines. While AWS ECS handles the infrastructure for container orchestration, you’ll still be required to select, deploy and maintain the necessary EC2 hosts. This includes choosing the correct virtual machine, storage, network, and configurations such as scaling.

AWS Fargate

This is where AWS Fargate excels as it automates the server management procedure as well. Moreover, it works with both AWS ECS and  AWS EKS and automatically configures the EC2 instances according to your requirements. Consequently, AWS Fargate removes the operational overhead of scaling, patching, securing, and managing servers, and instead, you only have to focus on deploying your application, not the infrastructure.

AWS Fargate Data Plane
Source: AWS Fargate Data Plane

In 2020, AWS introduced the Fargate Data Plane, an architecture that ditched the Docker Container Engine for another one called Containerd. Containerd brings flexibility to the overall stack allowing Developers to introduce more features with lesser overhead. It also supports Docker and OCI images, which means all existing work continues unhindered, avoiding implementation bottlenecks.

Both AWS ECS and Kubernetes offer amazing functionality and great features for managing multiple containers. However, certain differences in how they are both implemented can be a deal-breaker for specific use cases.

AWS ECS vs Kubernetes: Head-to-Head Comparison

Kubernetes, being an open-source platform, offers users much more flexibility in terms of configuration and personalization. In contrast, AWS ECS is slightly more restrictive in comparison but also does a few things better. How do they compare:

AWS ECS Kubernetes
The ECS service itself is free. However, you need to pay for the selected EC2 instances and the storage allocated. Kubernetes is an open-source, free software, and the only costs you incur are for servers, network, storage, etc.
ECS is native to AWS and only runs on Amazon's Cloud service. Kubernetes can be deployed on a user-selected infrastructure. This can BE in-house or Cloud servers, or even specialized services like AWS EKS, Azure AKS, or GCP GKE.
Amazon manages the Backend infrastructure for ECS, and you only have to take care of deploying your images. Kubernetes infrastructure has to be manually set up, which can be a cumbersome process.
It offers less flexibility for configuration customization. Kubernetes is set up manually, which gives you control over how its configured.
It seamlessly integrates with other AWS services, such as Cloudwatch. Several third-party tools, such as K9s can be attached to Kubernetes.These tools have to be manually installed and deployed.

AWS ECS and Kubernetes have pros and cons and some deployment variations, such as specialized services like EKS for plain Kubernetes and Fargate for ECS. Before moving forward, let's briefly discuss how these deployment selections compare.

AWS EKS VS Fargate

For users that prefer Kubernetes for container orchestration, AWS offers the Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). EKS removes the hassle of setting up a Kubernetes control plane by doing it for you.  Primarily, you don’t need to have an in-depth understanding of Kubernetes. Instead, only surface-level knowledge of minor configurations can suffice. The service can be deployed on Amazon or on-premise to allow for management flexibility, which is preferred by some users. On the other hand, if you are using AWS Cloud, EKS can be deployed with both EC2 and Fargate.

As we have briefly seen above, Fargate is Amazon's serverless infrastructure that removes the need to choose or scale computing resources. Fargate automatically; 

  • Selects the best resource configurations for your project. 
  • Handles scaling according to workload requirements. 

Furthermore, It can also be used for the deployment of ECS, EKS, or plain Kubernetes. Paired with existing managed services such as ECS, Fargate takes away every major responsibility of infrastructure management so that you can focus only on the cluster deployment.

AWS ECS vs Kubernetes: Which One Do I Choose?

Choosing the perfect platform for hosting containers largely depends on your organization's current state and budget. AWS ECS is best suited for mid-sized projects where you are not bothered by vendor lock-ins and want to skip hiring in-house experts for the configuration process. Nonetheless, it is important to note that managing the EC2 instances can be challenging, and will most likely require qualified CloudOps experts.

For this reason, it makes more sense to opt for AWS Fargate when you prefer to handle the application only, and not the surrounding IT infrastructure. Another point to note is that ECS makes sense if the existing team is already familiar with using AWS services and their architecture. 

However, if you like the freedom of customization, you might want to stick to classic Kubernetes. Essentially, plain Kubernetes is the go-to option for organizations that want to retain control over their infrastructure. It is preferred for large-scale, long-term projects requiring personalized configurations for the best performance. Alternatively, you can still enjoy the benefits of Cloud infrastructure as it can be deployed on both AWS EC2 and AWS Fargate but allows you to migrate your clusters to another platform.


Both AWS ECS and Kubernetes offer amazing functionality. While AWS ECS restricts users to the AWS Cloud, it offers a preconfigured orchestration environment and easy integration with other AWS services. Kubernetes, on the other hand, although challenging to set up, provides absolute flexibility with its configuration and deployment.

Consequently, the final choice depends on your application and business requirements and the kind of expertise you have in-house. If you’re planning to stick with AWS for all of your work, ECS is a better choice but if you enjoy a personalized setup, Kubernetes might be the way to go.

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