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Kubernetes vs Docker vs OpenShift vs ECS vs Jenkins vs Terraform

To better understand the differences between these services, let's first look at the difference between containerization and container orchestration.

In short, containers contain code and the resources needed to run the code, while container orchestration is the automation of the management tasks of many containers (clusters).

Containerization or containers are a method of building, packaging and deploying software. In essence, a container includes code and everything the code needs to run properly. A container is completely isolated and abstracts away the underlying infrastructure and operating system. Furthermore, it is a portable container that can be deployed on almost any infrastructure or public cloud service.

Container orchestration is the automation of many of the underlying operational tasks required to run containerized workloads or services. This includes a wide range of tasks required to manage a container’s lifecycle including provisioning, deployment, scaling, networking, load balancing and more.

Kubernetes vs Docker

Kubernetes is an open-source technology for orchestrating containers and deploying distributed applications, while Docker is an open-source technology for automating the deployment of applications as portable, self-sufficient containers that can run in the cloud or on-premises.

In short, Docker is used to containerize applications and Kubernetes is used to manage clusters of containers. Docker can run on its own while Kubernetes needs a container runtime in order to orchestrate. Kubernetes is most commonly used with Docker but it can also be used with any container runtime. ie. RunC or cri-o.

Although Kubernetes vs Docker is a common question these days, they are not directly comparable; in fact, they are complementary. While Docker provides an open standard for containerization of applications, Kubernetes provides the standardised means of orchestrating (managing) clusters of containers from a central platform.

A more logical comparison would be Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm, Docker's native clustering solution. However, Kubernetes was designed to work well with Docker. Docker has since embraced Kubernetes and they are, in fact, offering their own integrated Kubernetes distribution in place of Docker Swarm as the default orchestration tool for Docker Enterprise.

Consider Docker only, for smaller projects where the overhead of spinning up Kubernetes is unnecessary or unwanted.

Consider Docker + Kubernetes for larger projects with multiple containers and where you need high-availability and efficient scaling.

Docker vs Kubernetes

Kubernetes vs OpenShift

Kubernetes and OpenShift are both container orchestration platforms or Container-as-a-Service (CaaS) providers. However, OpenShift offers a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) too, that utilizes Kubernetes to manage and run applications more efficiently. While OpenShift also has an open-source version, their core focus is to provide a commercial container management platform with added functionality such as stricter security policies, commercial support, networking and container image management.

OpenShift is a RedHat Linux product and can only run on RedHat Atomic or Enterprise Linux (RHEL) for the commercial versions, and CentOS for the open-source version. On the contrary, Kubernetes is supported by most major cloud service providers like AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud Platform, and can run on any Linux distribution.

Furthermore, even with Kubernetes' large open-source community, deploying and managing Kubernetes is a very complex and resource-intensive undertaking while OpenShift provides an abstracted user interface where it is easier to visualise and manage application clusters and containers.

Consider Kubernetes for high-demand applications if you have the resources to correctly manage it while taking advantage of their flexible deployment options.

Consider OpenShift for a commercial, all-inclusive solution that offers constant and dedicated support.

Kubernetes vs OpenShift

Kubernetes vs Amazon ECS and EKS

Kubernetes and Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) are both highly scalable container management solutions. ECS is an Amazon Web Services (AWS) solution for managing containers and is tightly integrated with other AWS services like Route53, Elastic Load Balancer (ELB), Identity and Access Management (IAM) and many more. This makes it a little easier to add container orchestration to your solution, provided your whole solution runs on AWS.

While Amazon ECS is an AWS opinionated container orchestration solution that only supports Docker containers on AWS, they also offer Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) which is Kubernetes on AWS. This allows you the flexibility to orchestrate clusters across many different cloud service providers and on-premises servers. Essentially, EKS is Kubernetes that runs on AWS infrastructure.

Kubernetes brings more to the table than just container management. It provides a complete, managed execution environment for deploying, running, managing and orchestrating containers. While it also supports AWS, you have the added advantage of being able to move applications managed by Kubernetes to any other cloud service provider (GCP, Azure, etc.) or Linux distribution.

Furthermore, Kubernetes is open-source and has a plug-in architecture that allows for many different open-source solutions to be added to its core functionality, such as OpenVSwitch for a network model and NFS for storage. It also boasts some unique features like shared secrets, config maps, auto-scaling and auto-healing of containers using cluster- and application-specific probes.

A lot of the Kubernetes features can also be integrated with ECS, however, you'll have to combine quite a few AWS services like AWS Lambda to get the same features.

Consider Kubernetes for a highly customisable and portable container solution that can be set up to meet all your needs. Keep in mind, though, that you'll have to build your solution yourself which means you need to have the necessary skills and resources.

Consider Amazon ECS if you'll be running everything on AWS and you don't have the skills or resources to build your own Kubernetes solution. This also means you can take advantage of all the easily integrated services that AWS offers.

Consider Amazon EKS for a hybrid solution that integrates easily with other AWS services but allows you the flexibility of also orchestrating containers across other cloud platforms and on-premises infrastructure.

Kubernetes vs Amazon ECS

Kubernetes vs Jenkins

Kubernetes is a complete, managed execution environment for deploying, running, managing and orchestrating containers while Jenkins is an open-source continuous integration and deployment (CI/CD) server that enforces automation in building, testing and deployment of applications.

Kubernetes and Jenkins are mostly used in unison where Kubernetes takes care of the container management and orchestration, while Jenkins ensures continuous integration and deployment through automating the building, testing and deployment pipelines.

In this case, it's not a question of either/or but rather using a combination of the two for an automated and efficient software release cycle that follows modern Agile methodologies.

Kubernetes vs Jenkins

Kubernetes vs Terraform

Kubernetes is a container orchestration platform that allows developers to manage clusters of containers like Docker containers, while Terraform is an open-source infrastructure-as-code software tool that provides developers with a consistent CLI workflow to manage hundreds of cloud services.

Terraform allows developers to manage, deploy and orchestrate infrastructure as code. This means they codify cloud APIs into declarative configuration files that enable developers to manage infrastructure with human-readable code. Furthermore, this allows for any output generated by the infrastructure to be used as input to configure other infrastructure including Kubernetes clusters.

Terraform integrates seamlessly into any cloud service provider including each of their own Kubernetes solutions. For this reason, Kubernetes and Terraform are often used in unison. However, Terraform can be used to manage almost any cloud infrastructure and Kubernetes can be used on its own to manage any containerized infrastructure like Docker containers.

Consider Kubernetes if your infrastructure solely consists of containers and you have the resources to build and maintain your own container orchestration solution.

Consider Terraform if your infrastructure consists of a combination of many different types of infrastructure, including Kubernetes, from different providers. This will allow you to easily manage and automate most of your infrastructure with human-readable code.

Kubernetes vs Terraform

Docker vs OpenShift

Docker is an open-source technology for automating the deployment of applications as portable, self-sufficient containers that can run in the cloud or on-premises.

OpenShift is a PaaS that allows developers to deploy and scale applications easily through their platform which also makes use of container orchestration technology, Kubernetes, to manage Docker containers.

While both technologies use the same underlying container technology, Docker is simply the container technology itself. OpenShift, on the other hand, adds abstracted container cluster orchestration, management and some other features to form a whole software development and deployment solution.

Consider Docker alone for smaller projects and prototyping where there is no need to rapidly scale.

Consider OpenShift for a complete container management platform that offers many additional services including dedicated support.

Docker vs OpenShift

As an example of how many of these technologies can work together let's consider the following:

You can use Terraform to manage all of your infrastructure which includes Kubernetes. Kubernetes will handle the container orchestration and receive its instructions from Terraform. Our services are all contained in Docker containers which are managed automatically by Kubernetes. Furthermore, we can integrate Terraform with Jenkins to add CI/CD workflows and automation.

This is just a simple example of how these technologies and services complement each other. There are multiple ways of building a development and deployment pipeline and most cloud providers each provide their own combinations and services specially designed for this.