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Beyond Kubernetes: 6 Essential Container Management Platforms

If you've used containerization, then you understand that container management is no joke. You can always rely on Kubernetes to orchestrate everything, but there are other useful alternatives you should know about. Here are some of the most important ones.
Daniel Zacharias

CameronG

September 12, 2023
Kubernetes-container-management-alternatives

Did you ever hear about the backend developer who tried to manage all of his containers manually? They said it was like trying to organize a cupboard full of Tupperware — they just couldn’t find the right lid!

To be serious though, if you’ve done some work in backend development or played around with containerization, then you understand that managing containers is no joke. It’s an essential part for having efficient, scalable and trusty software production and deployment.

Kubernetes may have been everyone’s first choice for container management but there are other options out there too. Let’s take a look at what they have got going on!

Demystifying container management: Beyond the Kubernetes hype

Picture this, you are getting ready to take a grand trip across multiple countries. You’ve got your bags packed, an itinerary made up and friends with whom you’ll be traveling — It’s all very exciting! Managing everything can seem like quite a task, though that is where having the help of a tour operator will come in handy. They organize your travel arrangements, accommodations and even set up sightseeing tours so that your journey remains worry-free.

Similarly container management platforms play out as the tech world’s own version of tour operators. These services enable automated deployment & scaling for applications based on containers while also making sure they have proper networking availability.

At its core, container orchestrators make sure your software runs properly through all the different systems and networks it needs to traverse. 

Kubernetes has been a top pick for quite some time now because of how reliable and versatile it is. Plus, there’s plenty of community support out there too! Still though, if you’re looking to explore areas beyond what Kubernetes can handle then maybe one of these other six might help keep you from getting lost in tech purgatory.

1. Docker Swarm: A comprehensive review of features, pros, and cons

If you already use Docker, then opting for Docker Swarm as a container orchestration platform would be an amazing decision! 

It actually comes prepackaged with everything needed to seamlessly scale up operations. In addition, it’s super convenient when it comes time to increase workloads or even just organize them better. Using Docker Swarm paves the way towards increased efficiency within those operations as well.

Some of its best features include:

  • Command line interface — Docker Swarm is integrated with Docker CLI, so if you’re already using Docker, there’s no new syntax or tools to learn.
  • Service discovery — It comes with service discovery out of the box, allowing containers to find each other automatically.
  • Load balancing — It also has built-in load balancing to distribute the containers evenly across the system.
  • Rolling updates and rollbacks — Let’s not forget its support for rolling updates while allowing for easy rollbacks if something goes wrong

Pros 

It’s so easy to get up and running, which is perfect for small-scale projects and teams who are new to container orchestration. Plus, it integrates well with Docker which makes the whole experience even smoother using the Docker CLI or Compose files.

Cons 

The downside is that when you need more scalability, say larger clusters, Swarm doesn’t quite offer as much compared to other platforms out there. That said, it might not be best suited for larger projects down the line.

As a community dude, one thing that I don’t particularly like about Docker Swarm is the lack of third-party integrations and support from other communities when compared to Kubernetes. It limits my ability to troubleshoot issues or expand further.

2. Apache Mesos: Unpacking the benefits and drawbacks

Apache Mesos really stands out in tech circles as something special – it’s almost like having your own chief who delegates resources among applications! 

This powerful but flexible tool assigns CPU, memory and input/output tasks precisely where they’re needed across various programs, giving you surgical precision to manage your apps. Having worked with it briefly, I realized its incredible power in creating an efficient resource distribution through which distinct applications get the resources they need. In turn, this facilitates user-friendly experience and optimal utilization of existing sources.

It’s also fault-tolerant, using ZooKeeper to ensure master and agent nodes are replicated and can withstand any potential issues.

Moreover, Mesos supports the two most popular container standards, Docker and AppC, which makes running applications in a containerized form incredibly easy. Not only that, you also get proper resource isolation when using Apache Mesos. It isolates CPU usage, memory consumption, I/O operations, file system accesses as well as rack locality to name a few.

Pros 

If your work revolves around managing large projects or if you’re part of an organization with lots of developers then choosing Apache Mesos is definitely something worth considering. 

Mesos’ flexibility sets it miles apart from its competitors since it’s capable enough to handle different workloads ranging from Hadoop all the way up to Kafka (and more!). What comes across as one of its greatest features, though, is how easily other orchestrators like Kubernetes could be run on top, if needed.

Cons 

Keep in mind that Apache Mesos can be quite challenging to set up and manage, especially compared to other container management platforms. Additionally, it may not be the most suitable option for smaller projects or teams. 

Another point worth thinking over is that even though Mesos has been around for a while its community support is as scarce as walking through the Sahara desert — It isn’t too popular with third-party integrations such as Kubernetes.

3. Amazon ECS: A deep dive into its capabilities and limitations

Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) is Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) container management platform. It’s a one-stop-shop to run, stop, and manage Docker containers within a cluster environment.

For AWS developers, look no further. These features will blow your mind (talking from experience):

  • Deep integration with AWS — It’s natively integrated with many other AWS services like Elastic Load Balancing, Amazon RDS, Amazon S3, and IAM.
  • Scalability — It took me off guard how easy it is to scale your applications up or down with simple service calls!
  • Security — It leverages the same security measures provided by AWS, including VPC, data encryption, and IAM roles.
  • Monitoring and logging — It’s also integrated with Amazon CloudWatch and AWS CloudTrail, providing monitoring and logging capabilities. It turns app performance tracking, bottle identification, and debugging from a hellish task into 10-minute coffee relaxation.

Pros 

If you already use AWS, Amazon ECS is a handy choice because of its smooth connection with the AWS environment. It’s created to manage most of the difficult tasks related to application management, saving you valuable time, so you can spend more energy on creating your applications to their highest possible potential.

Cons

When used along with the Amazon ecosystem it can be very helpful but that’s just about all it offers. It’s tightly connected with AWS, causing you to stress when attempting to run your applications in a multi-cloud setting or offline. Additionally, the expense structure is tough to grasp. 

Aside from that Amazon ECS is free of charge, but resources from AWS (EC2 instances or EBS volumes) are NOT!

4.OpenShift: Evaluating its strengths and weaknesses

OpenShift isn’t just some average container management platform. It belongs to the Red Hat’s containerization software family. 

From my recent experience with OpenShift, I can only say it’s quite impressive. It’s basically like they’ve combined all the complicated aspects of container orchestration into something that is much more friendly to use. 

All that power is thanks to these features:

  1. Developer-focused options — OpenShift includes developer-centric features like application templates and a developer console for easier app deployment.
  2. Automated operations — It automates many operational tasks such as patching, updates, and scaling.
  3. Integrated CI/CD — Built-in continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) tools are included from the get-go!
  4. Security — It provides several security features, including built-in authorization and role-based access control. (My favorite!)

Pros 

Here’s a major benefit: This platform was designed specifically for larger organizations! And what could make things sweeter than that? Well, it sits atop Docker & Kubernetes yet offers some additional features as well. How cool is that?!

It also has these robust security features that make you feel like your data is securely guarded. What’s more, it has the ability to run a wide range of applications, making it an incredibly versatile platform.

Cons

Just like high-end gadgets come with a higher price tag, OpenShift isn’t any different. While there may be some free tiers available, if you want access to all its capabilities then expect to pay up. And because smaller teams or projects wouldn’t require such pricey services and/or resources, it might seem more than necessary for their requirements i.e., ‘getting a Ferrari when they actually needed a sedan’.

Setting up and managing OpenShift sometimes resembles assembling IKEA furniture: You get the parts along with instructions but still are unable to figure out how everything goes together?

5. Rancher: An in-depth analysis

Nothing shouts open-source container management like Rancher! Rancher is crafted to make stuff easier. It’s just like having your own personal aide that deals with all the tiny details of deploying and managing containers. 

How do you ask? 

It’s thanks to features like:

  • Multi-Cluster management — Rancher allows you to manage multiple Kubernetes clusters from a single interface, regardless of where the clusters are running.
  • Integrated tools — Comes with integrated tools for logging, monitoring, alerting, and CI/CD.
  • Catalog of applications — I could go on and on about the convenient collection of Helm charts that simplifies the process of deploying intricate applications.
  • Access control — With Rancher, you can easily manage access control, security, and other governance practices from a central location.

Pros

One thing I truly value about Rancher is how easy it is. They have done away with the complexity associated with containerization, which is an incredible feat for teams to get on board with containers without becoming overwhelmed or discouraged through its challenges.

And you know what else is awesome about Rancher? It’s like a buffet of container management platforms. Whether you’re into Docker or prefer Kubernetes, Rancher has got your back. Both are supported!

Cons 

As much as I like Rancher, it’s not without its quirks. You know how some people really like one band and ignore the others? Well, Rancher is a bit like that. It supports Docker, sure, but Kubernetes is its favorite. 

While Rancher is great for managing a decent-sized herd of containers, it might struggle when you’re dealing with a full-on stampede. It’s like trying to use a huge truck to move a house — It can handle a lot, but there are limits to what it can do.

6. Nomad: Assessing its advantages and disadvantages

Let’s say you’re doing roadie work, transporting different instruments or pieces of equipment around from one gig to another. Some will come nicely packaged like in containers but others won’t. Imagine having to lug something as big and unwieldy as a grand piano! 

It sounds tricky right off the bat. So is there anything that could make this kind of job easier? In that case, Nomad is your go-to solution!

You can thank the following features for that:

  • Simplicity — Nomad is designed to be simple and easy to use. It has a minimal API surface and is easy to operate and understand.
  • Flexibility — Nomad supports both containerized and non-containerized applications, and it can run on any Unix-based system.
  • Scalability — Nomad is designed to scale and can manage thousands of nodes across multiple data warehouses.
  • Integration with HashiCorp Tools — Nomad integrates well with other HashiCorp tools like Consul for service discovery and Vault for secret management.

Pros 

What I truly enjoy about Nomad is that it doesn’t complicate matters excessively. It’s like a companion who keeps things effortless and smooth. This makes it ideal if you’re newbie at container orchestration or simply prefer simplicity over complexity. 

Additionally, it’s flexible enough to work with both containerized and non-containerized applications. It’s sorta like having your bestie always around in any situation. They know how to look good no matter what occasion (or outfit!)

Cons 

While I’m a big fan of Nomad, it’s not perfect.

Its simplicity is great and all, but if you need to do something complex then you might be outta luck. Plus, its community isn’t as active compared to other platforms. 

It feels kinda similar to living in a small town. Sure there’s some charm, but sometimes you gotta go for that hustle and bustle found in bigger cities.

Beyond Kubernetes: A wrap-up

If ease-of-use is what floats your boat then either Nomad or Rancher will have you containerizing with hardly any effort at all.

But if versatility matters more than anything else because you want both non-containerized as well as containerized apps running smoothly side by side? Then look no further than the North Star itself — Nomad.

Although for robust enterprise features across large scale deployments OpenShift should probably make the cut, and don’t forget Amazon ECS too! Think about these tools being able to shape themselves around whatever application requirements are needed. Now THAT’S how flexibility works!

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