AWS ECS vs AWS EKS: How To Choose?

There is a rapid mobilization of enterprises to cloud computing from on prem services. Most of the enterprises choose from global cloud providers be it Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google cloud and so on. Within cloud providers there are different offerings on cloud hosting such as VM based hosting, container-based hosting etc. Which one to choose from as per the business services needs and best aligned to their applications and requirements or preferences related to managing operations. 

Today we look more in detail about AWS ECS and AWS EKS container services, what are the key differences , benefits, and use cases.

What is AWS ECS?

AWS ECS or Elastic container service is a container orchestration and management service.

  • It enables running and managing containers on AWS. Users can quickly deploy, scale, and manage containerized applications using some simple APIs and underlying Amazon infrastructure which is the basis of Amazon own applications.
  • It lets users define a set of tasks with docker containers, create a cluster of EC2 instances and launch and manage tasks within the EC2 cluster.
  • Amazon  ECS also provides a web-based service console to allow users to view, manage and monitor application containers.
  • This service is supported with a wide range of AWS services such as EC2, Amazon S3, CloudFormation, VPC and IAM. 

What is AWS EKS?

AWS EKS or Elastic Kubernetes services is used to deploy, manage, scale containerized applications with Kubernetes.

  • It is a fully managed service so customers need not to worry about managing or maintaining the underlying infrastructure.
  • It is an open-source Kubernetes project and uses the same APIs and tools which are used for any Kubernetes clusters. It makes it easier to migrate existing workloads onto AKS.
  • It is designed for a high availability and scalability architecture.
  • It supports auto scaling, rolling updates, self-healing features and integrates with other AWS services such as Amazon Relational database service (RDS), Amazon Elastic block store (EBS), Amazon simple queue service (SQS) and Amazon simple notification service (SNS).

AWS ECS vs EKS: What is the difference?

Both services allow you to run containers at scale, but they have some key differences.

Container Orchestration SystemProprietary (ECS)Kubernetes (EKS)
Abstraction LevelHigher-level, managed serviceLower-level, self-managed Kubernetes
ComplexityLower, AWS manages much of the setup
Specialized skills not required
Higher, more control and customization

Require specialized skill for deployment
Orchestration EngineAWS ECS (Elastic Container Service)Kubernetes
ScalingAuto scaling supportedAuto scaling supported
Service DiscoveryIntegrated service discoveryRequires additional setup (e.g., KubeDNS)
Deployment StrategiesRolling updates, blue/green, canaryKubernetes-based (canary, blue/green, etc.)
CompatibilityWorks well with AWS servicesWorks with any containerized application
Logging and MonitoringAWS CloudWatch for logs and metricsIntegrates with various monitoring tools (Prometheus, Grafana, etc.)
NetworkingBuilt-in networking solutions (VPC, ALB, etc.)
ECS allows housing 120 tasks per instance
Kubernetes Network Policies, CNI Plugins

EKS allows 750 pods / nodes per instance
Resource ManagementTask Definitions and ECS ServicesKubernetes Pods and Deployments
CostPay for resources and tasks
Moderately priced
Pay for underlying EKS cluster and resources
Comparatively Highly priced
Community and EcosystemSmaller compared to Kubernetes
Official support from Amazon
Large Kubernetes community and ecosystem
CustomizationLimited customization optionsHighly customizable and extensible
Compatibility with Third-Party ToolsLimited compared to KubernetesBroad compatibility with Kubernetes tools
Managed Control PlaneFully managed by AWSPartially managed (EKS control plane)
Cluster UpgradesAWS manages upgrades for youYou manage EKS control plane upgrades
Use CasesWell-suited for simpler workloads, especially if you are in the AWS ecosystemBetter for complex, multi-cloud, or on-premises scenarios, or if you prefer Kubernetes
Learning CurveEasier for AWS-focused teamsSteeper learning curve for Kubernetes expertise
Availability ZonesAutomatically distributes tasks across Availability ZonesKubernetes manages Availability Zone placement
Service Mesh IntegrationAWS App Mesh for service meshService mesh options like Istio or Linkerd
Download the comparison table: AWS ECS vs AWS EKS

Use cases for Amazon ECS and EKS: Which one to choose?

When considering the decision between AWS ECS and AWS EKS, it is important to take into account your individual use case, familiarity with container orchestration systems, and the desired level of control and customization.

For deployment of large and complex and highly available and scalable applications, EKS is a better choice. It is also good if Kubernetes API support is required to migrate existing workloads. Deployment of containers across multiple infrastructures and flexibility are some of the true advantages of Amazon EKS.

For a simple, easy to use solution for application deployment and management is the criteria then ECS is the right choice. If there is no need for additional features such as migration etc. and you want to work on AWS exclusively and have limited expertise and resources with Kubernetes technology. 

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