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AWS Fargate vs. ECS classic: Which One is Best for My Workload?

When running containers in AWS, should you choose convenience over flexibility?

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7 min read
AWS Fargate vs. ECS classic: Which One is Best for My Workload?

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It's critical for your business applications and SaaS offerings to be scalable, reliable, and secure. Outages can cause significant financial losses and decreased productivity. To prevent these kinds of disasters, companies are turning to containers.

Containers allow you to package an application with all its dependencies into a standardized unit for software development that can run consistently on any platform, Mac, Windows, or Linux and in any environment, development or production. This consistency guarantees that your application will run the same no matter where you deploy it. You'll never hear "it works on my machine" again.

Here, we will discuss two of the most popular container services offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS): Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Fargate.

In this AWS Fargate vs. ECS comparison, we will go over the key features of each service, their main differences, and when you might want to use one service over the other. To this end, you should have a good understanding of which service best meets your needs.

What are containers?

Before we start, let's briefly review what containers are and how they differ from traditional virtualization.

Containers are a form of virtualization that allows you to bundle an application with all its dependencies and deploy it anywhere. This model contrasts conventional virtualization, which packages the entire operating system with your program.

Containers are more efficient because they don't require a complete operating system; they only include the system-level dependencies your application needs to run.

Options for running Dockerized Applications in AWS

If you want to use containers in AWS, you have three main options:

Before we continue, a clarification: Fargate is a launch type option in ECS or EKS. Without Fargate, you must manage the EC2 instances or other servers on which your Docker containers run. For many, this is an undesirable layer of complexity. When you use the Fargate launch type, you can focus on building and maintaining your applications because AWS manages the underlying EC2 instances for you.

Kubernetes (EKS)

Kubernetes is a popular container orchestration platform offered as a managed service by AWS in Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). It is an excellent platform for running containers at scale and has many advanced features, including auto-scaling, self-healing, and rolling updates.

However, EKS is a more complex platform than ECS, usually adopted by teams with substantial experience running their workloads on containers.

Launch Types

AWS offers multiple launch types and modes for running containers using its Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). Below is a brief overview of each:

AWS ECS Launch Types:

  1. EC2: In this launch type, your tasks are launched onto a cluster of Amazon EC2 instances you manage. You have control over the underlying instances, which allows you to use EC2 features like security groups, Elastic IPs, and more.
  2. Fargate: This is a serverless launch type where AWS manages the underlying instances for you. You only define your containers and tasks, and AWS takes care of the rest. This is useful for abstracting away the infrastructure layer, allowing you to focus on your application code.
  3. Fargate Spot: Similar to Fargate, but uses spare EC2 capacity at a lower price. This is suitable for fault-tolerant and flexible workloads.
  4. External: This is for tasks you want to run on external instances, not managed as part of an Amazon ECS cluster, but still want to be part of the ECS orchestration.

AWS EKS Launch Modes:

  1. EC2: Like ECS, you can launch your Kubernetes pods onto a cluster of EC2 instances you manage. This gives you complete control over the underlying infrastructure, including using EC2 features like security groups, Elastic IPs, etc.
  2. Fargate: Just like in ECS, EKS also supports Fargate as a launch type. This allows you to run your Kubernetes pods without managing the underlying EC2 instances. AWS takes care of all the infrastructure management for you.
  3. Managed Node Groups: This is a middle-ground approach where AWS manages the EC2 instances for your EKS cluster, but you still have some control and visibility into the nodes. Managed Node Groups simplify creating, updating, or terminating nodes.
  4. Self-Managed Node Groups: In this mode, you manage the EC2 instances, but AWS manages the Kubernetes control plane. This gives you the most control over your cluster's nodes at the cost of increased management overhead.
  5. Spot Instances: While not a separate launch type, EKS supports using EC2 Spot Instances for running your Kubernetes workloads at a reduced cost, similar to Fargate Spot in ECS.
  6. Graviton Instances: Again, it is not a separate launch type, but EKS supports ARM-based Graviton instances, which can offer cost benefits for certain types of workloads.

Each launch type and mode has its features, limitations, and pricing implications, so the best choice depends on your specific needs, including performance requirements, budget constraints, and management preferences.

Now that we have a general understanding of what containers are and ways to deploy them in AWS let's take a closer look at Amazon ECS and Fargate.

Elastic Container Service (ECS)

ECS is a container orchestration service that allows you to run, stop, and manage Docker containers on a cluster of EC2 instances. With the EC2 launch type, ECS will deploy your containers to your EC2 instances. You need to specify the number of EC2 instances you want, register them in your cluster, and ECS will take care of the rest.

EC2 is the most common launch type used with ECS. When using the EC2 launch type, you are responsible for provisioning and managing the underlying EC2 instances. This gives you more control over the instances but also requires more work.

The Fargate launch type allows you to run containers without provisioning or managing any EC2 instances. Fargate will automatically provision and configure the underlying infrastructure for you. Fargate is the most hands-off approach but also the most expensive. When considering the cost comparison, you must factor in the time and effort it takes to manage EC2 instances and keep them running, which AWS does for you in the case of Fargate.

Features

ECS is a feature-rich platform that offers a wide range of features to help you run your applications. Some of the key features include:

  • Service discovery: ECS can automatically discover and configure your services using Amazon's Route 53 DNS service.
  • Auto-scaling: ECS can automatically scale your cluster up or down in response to changing demand.
  • Health checks: ECS can monitor the health of your containers and automatically replace any that fail.
  • Task definitions: ECS allows you to use JSON to define the tasks you want to run and the environment in which they should run.

Pricing

ECS is a free service, and you only pay for the resources you use. The cost of running ECS will depend on the type of instances you use, the number of instances, and the amount of time your tasks are running.

Pros & Cons

ECS is an excellent choice for users who want the flexibility and control of managing their EC2 instances. This allows you to customize the underlying instances to meet the specific needs of your applications. For example, you can choose which instance type to use, add storage volumes, or install additional software packages on your EC2 instances. The main disadvantage of ECS is that it requires you to manage the EC2 instances in your cluster. This extra work can be time-consuming and difficult, especially if you're unfamiliar with AWS or DevOps practices.

Fargate

Fargate is a managed container service that allows you to run containers without having to provision or manage any EC2 instances. Fargate will automatically provide and configure the underlying infrastructure for you. This turn-key approach is hands-off but also the most expensive.

Fargate is also excellent for running containers in a serverless environment. Fargate allows you to run containers without worrying about provisioning or managing servers. This can help you save time and money on infrastructure costs.

Although, when compared to the EC2 launch type, Fargate is more expensive and offers less flexibility.

Features

Fargate is a relatively new service, and as such, it doesn't have all the features of ECS. However, it includes most of the key features you would need to run your applications.

Some of the key features include:

  • Auto-scaling: Fargate can automatically scale your cluster up or down in response to changing demand.
  • Health checks: Fargate can monitor the health of your containers and automatically replace any that fail.
  • Task definitions: Fargate allows you to define the tasks you want to run and the environment in which they should run.

Pricing

Fargate is a pay-as-you-go service, and you only pay for the resources you use. The cost of running Fargate will depend on the number of tasks you're running, the amount of time your tasks are running, and the amount of memory and CPU your tasks require. It's somewhere between $0.040 per hour and $0.096 per hour for a single task with one vCPU and 2GB of memory.

Pros & Cons

Fargate is an excellent choice for users who want the convenience of a managed service and don't mind paying a bit more for it. Fargate is also a good choice for users who want to run containers in a serverless environment. It also has the advantage of running tasks without provisioning or managing any EC2 instances.

The main disadvantage of Fargate is that it's more expensive than the EC2 launch type and offers less flexibility.

How to choose which is suitable for your workload?

When deciding which service to use, you should consider the following factors:

  • How much control do you need over the underlying infrastructure?
  • Are you willing to manage EC2 instances?
  • How much flexibility do you need?
  • What is your budget?

If you need complete control over the underlying infrastructure and are willing to manage EC2 instances, then ECS is the right choice. If you're looking for a managed service and don't mind paying a bit more, then Fargate is the right choice for you.

Also, keep in mind some specific features you might desire:

If you need auto-scaling or run containers in a serverless environment, then Fargate is the right choice. But, ECS is better if you need more flexibility or are on a budget.

Overall, both services are excellent choices for running containers in AWS. It just comes down to your specific needs and preferences. If unsure, we recommend experimenting with both services to see which works better for you.

How can Pilotcore help?

Tools like Fargate and ECS are excellent for running containers in AWS. But, if you're not familiar with AWS or DevOps practices, they can be a bit overwhelming. That's where Pilotcore comes in.

At Pilotcore, we are experts in AWS and can help you with all your Fargate and ECS needs. We can help you choose the ideal model for your workload, set up your cluster, and even automate the deployment of your applications. The bottom line is that we can help you save time and money on your AWS bill.

Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you.

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