A container is a unit of software that contains all the code and dependencies an app needs to run. Containers can be deployed in either the cloud, on a bare metal server, or a combination of both. All of these containers require a management system, and one of the most popular ones currently in use is called Kubernetes. In this guide, we explain what Kubernetes is and cover five of the top Kubernetes competitors.
What Is Kubernetes?
Kubernetes, sometimes called k8s or “kube,” is an open-source containerization platform. The program was developed by Google and made available as open-source software in 2014. Kubernetes allows applications to be run on physical servers, public or private cloud storage platforms, and hybrid combinations — whatever suits your business needs best. It also allows you to automate many processes that were once manual, such as deploying and scaling containerized applications, allowing your team to use their time and energy more efficiently.
Due to its open-source nature and extensive documentation, Kubernetes has become one of the leaders in containerization platforms. However, the system has a significant learning curve and can be confusing to set up and navigate, leading some to seek an alternative to this complicated platform.
Alternatives to Kubernetes
As containerization has become more and more common, other alternatives have entered the market. Here are five Kubernetes competitors you should consider:
Amazon Elastic Container Service, also known as Amazon ECS, is one of the best-known Kubernetes alternatives. It is a managed service offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) designed to integrate seamlessly with other AWS tools — so if you’re already using AWS, it makes sense for you to use Amazon ECS as well. However, this setup means that you’re essentially locked into Amazon as a vendor, so if you later decide to change up either your containerization or your web hosting, it could be difficult and costly to make the switch.
Furthermore, Amazon ECS does allow you to run containers on Fargate or EC2 instances. It is also serverless, easily available, and provides support via AWS Experts. (Standard Kubernetes doesn’t support serverless computing.)
Docker is another open-source containerization solution. It is a more lightweight technology, so it is easier to install and has a shorter learning curve than Kubernetes, but the tradeoff is that it has more limited functionality.
Because Docker has been around for so long — it was one of the first containerization technologies on the market — it has extensive documentation and a pretty good size open-source community. Users do note that larger containerizations can get complicated on Docker, so if you have a lot of clusters, pods, and containers to manage, you might be better off with one of the more robust software options on this list.
Nomad is a container orchestrator that works with both containers and legacy applications. Installation is very simple thanks to its single binary, and it does not require external services. Nomad can run several different types of application workloads, including Docker, non-containerized, micro-service, and batch.
Nomad was developed by HashiCorp, and as result, it integrates with other company products such as Terraform and Vault. Due to its simpler set up, Nomad can only handle cluster management and scheduling, so if you need more capabilities than that, you’ll be better off with some of the other Kubernetes alternatives listed here.
RedHat OpenShift is actually an alternative to Kubernetes that is built on top of Kubernetes: OpenShift combines Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) with Google’s Kubernetes orchestration and Linux containers formatted by Docker. OpenShift is known for its built-in monitoring robust security features (which also mean that containers cannot be run as root due to RedShift’s security protocols).
The user experience gets good reviews and users say that OpenShift is easier to use than Kubernetes on its own. However, they also say that the logs can be hard to understand. The smaller size of the OpenShift community also means that there are gaps in the documentation and that it can be difficult to troubleshoot issues when they arise.
Rancher was designed to make it easier to deploy Kubernetes clusters on both private and public clouds as well as on-premise servers. Rancher allows developers to focus on shipping and deploying code without worrying about IT infrastructure, making it ideal for smaller teams that may not be large enough for dedicated IT support. Notable Rancher features include container load balancing, multi-cloud management, user management, cross-host networks, and persistent storage services. Users do note that documentation can be lacking on certain subjects, and offline installation and management can be quite difficult.