ECS Vs. Plain Kubernetes: 5 Key Differences and How to Choose

Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) is a popular container orchestration service, based on proprietary technology developed by Amazon, and known for its simplicity. Many organizations are debating whether to use ECS or deploy “full-blown” Kubernetes clusters. In this article, we’ll explain the differences between the two options and help you make the right choice for your project: ECS or plain Kubernetes.

What is Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS)?

Amazon’s Elastic Container Service (ECS) is a fully managed container orchestration service that simplifies the process of running applications on AWS. It eliminates the need for you to install, operate, and scale your own container orchestration software, manage and scale a cluster of virtual machines, or schedule containers on those virtual machines.

ECS is deeply integrated with other AWS services, making it possible to deploy and scale any workload as a containerized application. It supports Docker containers and allows you to easily run applications on a managed cluster of Amazon EC2 instances.

While ECS does not offer the same level of flexibility and configurability as Kubernetes, it scores high on simplicity and ease of use. It’s an excellent choice for teams already using AWS and those looking for a straightforward, managed solution for deploying containers.

What is Plain Kubernetes?

Kubernetes, often referred to as K8s, is an open source platform designed to automate the deployment, scaling and management of containerized applications. It groups containers into Pods that share the same execution environment, enabling them to communicate and operate as a single unit within a larger ecosystem.

Kubernetes focuses on flexibility and portability. It can run on various platforms, be it on-premises, hybrid or in a public cloud, making it a preferred choice for organizations seeking to avoid vendor lock-in. Furthermore, it has an extensive and vibrant community of contributors who continually work on improving and expanding its capabilities.

Kubernetes is also known for its robust ecosystem, which features a broad array of extensions and supporting services. These tools can enhance Kubernetes functionality, making it an even more versatile and customizable platform.

“Plain Kubernetes” should not be confused with managed Kubernetes services such as Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). These services are fully compatible with open source Kubernetes but handle the heavy lifting of managing the Kubernetes control plane. In this article, we’ll focus on the difference between ECS and running your own “plain Kubernetes” cluster. But you should also consider managed services like EKS as an alternative to both.

5 Key Differences Between ECS and Kubernetes

Origin and Integration

Kubernetes is an open source project initially developed by Google. Its vendor-agnostic nature is one of its key strengths, enabling it to run on any cloud platform or even on-premises. On the other hand, ECS is a proprietary service offered by Amazon, designed specifically for AWS and deeply integrated with its other services.

Ecosystem and Community

Kubernetes boasts a vibrant and diverse community with thousands of contributors worldwide. This vast community results in a rich ecosystem of plugins, extensions and third-party tools. ECS, in contrast, doesn’t have as broad a community or ecosystem. However, it provides a seamless experience for AWS users, with support and integration with other AWS services.

Flexibility and Portability

Kubernetes provides a high degree of flexibility and portability thanks to its open source nature. It allows you to avoid vendor lock-in and gives you the freedom to choose where to run your applications. ECS, being a proprietary AWS service, lacks this level of flexibility but offers a simpler, more streamlined experience for AWS users.

Security and Access Control

Both Kubernetes and ECS have robust security features. Kubernetes offers role-based access control (RBAC), while ECS provides IAM roles. However, Kubernetes’ security model is more complex and requires careful configuration to ensure proper protection. ECS’s security features are simpler to use, thanks to their integration with AWS services.

Persistent Storage

While both platforms support persistent storage, they do so differently. Kubernetes uses the concept of Persistent Volumes (PV) and Persistent Volume Claims (PVC), which provide a high level of flexibility and control. ECS, on the other hand, directly uses Elastic Block Store (EBS) volumes for persistent storage, which are simpler to use but offer less control.

How to Choose Between ECS and Plain Kubernetes

Evaluate Organizational Needs and Priorities

Before you jump into choosing between ECS and Kubernetes, it’s essential to understand your organization’s needs and priorities. Are you focused on rapid deployment and scaling, or is your main concern data security and reliability? The orchestration tool you choose should align with these factors.

ECS may be a suitable choice if you are heavily invested in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem and require tight integration with other AWS services. It works seamlessly with AWS services and offers a simplified management console that is easy to use.

On the other hand, Kubernetes is a more versatile option. It is cloud-agnostic, meaning it can run on any cloud platform or even on-premises. If you foresee your organization using multiple cloud providers or hybrid cloud environments, Kubernetes may be the more strategic choice.

Skill Set and Expertise

Another crucial aspect to consider is the skill set and expertise available within your team. Kubernetes is known for its steep learning curve. It requires a good understanding of its complex architecture and concepts, which can be overwhelming for beginners.

ECS, by comparison, is easier to get started with, especially if your team is already familiar with AWS. It provides a more straightforward setup process and fewer configuration options, which can be a boon for teams without extensive container orchestration experience.

However, Kubernetes’ complexity also brings flexibility and powerful features that ECS does not offer. If your team is willing to invest time learning and mastering Kubernetes, it could provide more control and customization options in the long run.


When choosing a container orchestration tool, you should also consider its future-proofing capabilities. This means considering the tool’s adaptability to future changes and advancements in technology.

Kubernetes has a vibrant and active open source community. This means it is regularly updated with new features and improvements. Moreover, its widespread adoption ensures a large pool of skilled professionals and a wealth of community support.

ECS, while also regularly updated by Amazon, does not have the same level of community involvement. Its future-proofing capabilities are tied to AWS’s roadmap, which may not align with your organization’s long-term strategy.

Cost Implications

Finally, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: Cost. Both ECS and Kubernetes come with their own cost implications.

ECS is a part of the AWS suite, and its pricing model is integrated with AWS. You only pay for the AWS resources you use, such as EC2 instances or EBS volumes. However, if you’re using other AWS services, these costs can add up.

On the other hand, Kubernetes itself is free and open source. But running Kubernetes, especially in a cloud environment, is not free. You’ll need to pay for the underlying infrastructure. Moreover, the cost of managing and operating a Kubernetes cluster can be high, especially if you need dedicated personnel due to its complexity.

In conclusion, choosing between ECS and Kubernetes largely depends on your organization’s specific needs, the skills of your team, your long-term strategy and your budget. Both tools have their strengths and can be the right choice in different scenarios. A thorough evaluation of these factors will help you make an informed decision that best suits your requirements.

Gilad David Mayaan

Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.

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