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AWS Kubernetes service surfaces in EKS, alongside Fargate

An AWS Kubernetes service unveiled at re:Invent adds long-awaited support for the container orchestration platform, but a surprise offering in Fargate muddies the waters.

A much-anticipated AWS Kubernetes service was rolled out at re:Invent this week, but it shared the spotlight with another project, Fargate, which aims to render container cluster management moot.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rolled out multiple container services this week. One was a preview of the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) Container Service for Kubernetes (EKS), which includes managed Kubernetes masters, disaster recovery features and managed version updates. The other, now available in the U.S.-East region, is Fargate, which abstracts container host clusters away from IT operators completely.

DevOps shops that run on AWS have anticipated an offering like EKS since Amazon joined the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) in August 2017. Fargate, while not unprecedented in the market, also turned their heads.

"I'm surprised they went that far," said Cole Calistra, CTO of Kairos, a provider of human facial recognition and analytics for developers in Miami. He called Fargate "serverless for containers."

Fargate, like competitor Microsoft's Azure Container Instances, is managed by the cloud provider's customer at the container level without the need to touch the servers and VMs that make up the container host cluster. The concept appeals to Calistra, but he wants to perform a detailed cost-benefit analysis to decide if Fargate is an improvement over a self-managed Kubernetes deployment.

AWS Fargate container service
An AWS diagram illustrates the different abstractions offered by its EC2 Container Service and the new Fargate container service.

Fargate vs. EKS: AWS users debate abstraction ideal

Some AWS shops still in planning mode with containers see a place for both an AWS Kubernetes service and Fargate, depending on the workload.

"We've been asking [AWS] for managed Kubernetes for a long time. It's exciting AWS is taking on the management burden with EKS," said Calvin French-Owen, co-founder of San Francisco-based data analytics company Segment.

But for developers who don't need to customize the container infrastructure or work with Kubernetes ecosystem tools such as StatefulSets, Fargate promises an easier user experience, where they don't have to worry about scalability or cost requirements when they deploy applications, French-Owen said.

French-Owen said he hopes AWS will eventually eliminate a limitation in its Elastic Network Interface (ENI) -- a virtual network interface that users attach to an instance in a virtual private cloud -- for EKS on the number of secondary IP addresses that can be assigned to Kubernetes Pods. On large EC2 instances, users receive up to 40 secondary IP addresses per ENI, but this will initially limit the number of containers that Segment can pack onto an EKS host, French-Owen said.

We'd like to use AI to tell us where to deploy containers on public or private cloud as a financial decision -- it should be that easy.
Brad LinderDevOps and big data evangelist, Dish Technologies

Larger companies cited EKS support for an upstream open source version of Kubernetes as key to multi-cloud container portability.

"We have more evaluation to do, but we probably wouldn't go with Fargate, because it's more Amazon-specific [than EKS]," said Brad Linder, DevOps and big data evangelist at Dish Technologies, the engineering arm of Dish Network in Englewood, Colo. "We'd like to use AI to tell us where to deploy containers on public or private cloud as a financial decision -- it should be that easy, to make decisions like that using software."

EKS will prompt another AWS user to re-evaluate his choice of container orchestrator. Somos Inc., a nonprofit organization that manages North America's 43 million toll-free telephone number records in Herndon, Va., went with Docker swarm mode after early tests of Kubernetes revealed a steep learning curve, said the company's Scrum master, Gary McKay. But Kubernetes has emerged as the container orchestration standard since then, and EKS might offer Somos an easier way to use it, he said.

Fargate roadmap plots integration with EKS

At least at first, the AWS Kubernetes service and Fargate will appeal to different audiences, said Jay Lyman, analyst at 451 Research. Engineers who want to deploy AI applications to train algorithms probably won't want to mess with the underlying server infrastructure and will likely choose Fargate, he said. Financial services or healthcare companies whose governance rules mandate certain operating systems, or other infrastructure-based governance controls, will probably favor EKS, he added.

But while users must choose the right level of abstraction for different workloads, the two products will eventually link together. Amazon plans to use EKS to underpin Fargate in 2018, according to a company blog post. Analysts also expect EKS to become generally available once AWS attains Kubernetes Certified Service Provider status with the CNCF under a certification it rolled out in September.

The niches to be divvied up between AWS container service options, and how the company's container strategy will shake out long-term, are still a little bit muddy, Lyman said. "It seems Amazon wants a horse in the Kubernetes race, but Fargate has broader availability today," he said.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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