Amazon Web Services (AWS) contains a great many elements, components, and supporting systems within its overall ecosystem. AWS Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a web-based service. It provides scalable computing power on AWS, whereas AWS Elastic Container Service (ECS) is a container orchestration service. To explain ECS vs EC2 briefly, Amazon ECS is a good way to run containers inside Amazon EC2 instances.
However, due to the similarity of their names, some users confuse the terms and their functions. This guide will explain what ECS and EC2 are, what they do, their benefits, and how they differ.
What Is Amazon ECS?
Amazon ECS is a fully-managed container orchestration service designed to make it easy for AWS users to deploy, manage, and scale popular containerized applications. Its deep integration with the AWS platform provides a secure and relatively easy-to-use way to run container workloads in the cloud.
Use cases include:
- The ability to build and deploy container-based applications on-premises or in the cloud with consistent tooling, management, workload scheduling, and monitoring across these environments
- Support for batch processing across the full range of AWS services, including Amazon EC2, Fargate, and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances
- The ability to complete short-lived or long-running tasks
- Scaling of Docker container fleets automatically
The primary benefit of ECS is users can put all their attention on building applications rather than maintaining the underlying infrastructure. It also supports Docker containers, and IT can scale container clusters on-demand when using ECS.
There is also an on-premises version known as ECS Anywhere. It is called up when IT needs to run, secure, and scale Docker containers for on-premises infrastructure. Interestingly, AWS engineers are still involved with ECS Anywhere on the back end.
What Is Amazon EC2?
Amazon EC2 is a web-based service providing scalable computing power on AWS. Businesses can choose from more than 500 instances (servers) based on processors, storage, memory, networking, OS, and pricing models. AWS also supports Intel, AMD, and Arm processors and offers 400Gbps Ethernet networking.
EC2 has a many diverse use cases, including:
- The ability to run both cloud-native and enterprise applications supported by secure, reliable, high-performance compute infrastructure
- Scalability for high performance computing (HPC) applications, running them faster and more cost-effectively with lower latency
- The ability to build and test Apple macOS workloads and dynamically scale their capacity
- Training and deployment of machine learning applications
- Pick and choose the operating system for various AWS services
- Build and run custom applications
- Create highly customized environments with tailored EC2 instances that have specific storage, networking, compute, OS, and memory needs, as well as automatically scaling capacity
- The ability to recover quickly from a disaster and backup data
- Build test environments where you can develop and test complex applications
EC2 instances are often spun up rapidly for projects such as the sudden need to create and utilize an SQL database. This can be done in such a way as to easily scale up and down compute capacity as required by business processes and traffic demands.
These instances can run Linux, Windows, macOS, and other OSs. Virtual machine (VM) images can also be uploaded from on-premises systems to Amazon EC2, where they are converted to be available for cloud computing.
EC2 is beneficial for organizations that may lack skilled engineers and IT veterans who know how to configure complex AWS environments. EC2 also offers a lot of automation and features that make it much easier to consume cloud resources without getting bogged down on technical and back-end details.
As such, EC2 is available on a pay-as-you-go basis. Its pricing structure is based on time and depending on a variety of metrics. These include CPU performance, memory capacity, graphics card performance, and the amount of storage capacity consumed.
How Do These Services Work Together?
EC2 is a compute service that enables applications to run on AWS, whereas ECS is an AWS service used primarily to orchestrate Docker containers. They can work together, but they don’t have to. EC2 runs in a great many instances and environments with ECS being in the picture.
In essence, Amazon ECS is a logical grouping or cluster of EC2 instances that act as a Docker host. ECS needs EC2 instances to underpin it. They are complementary, rather than competing products. The easiest way to understand it is to think of EC2 instances as VMs that can, but don’t have to, run containers. If containers are being operated, ECS is often needed.
To run ECS in EC2, users need an Amazon ECS Container Agent running on that instance. A container agent runs on each EC2 instance that is in operation within an Amazon ECS cluster. The agent is needed to send information about the tasks being run and resources being utilized. That agent can begin and end tasks as required based on requests received from Amazon ECS.
Also note that it is still possible to operate containers on an EC2 instance without ECS. EC2 can still act as a Docker host and operate a large volume of containers as needed.
However, EC2 offers certain benefits, such as more advanced orchestration, that make it attractive to run those containers using ECS. And from a scaling perspective, ECS scales by container cluster on-demand.
In short, it adds clusters rather than scaling compute resources like EC2 — i.e., adding more storage, networking, memory, and compute. Depending on the use case, it may well turn out to be cheaper to scale cluster-by-cluster rather than paying by the second for storage, compute, and so on.
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Batch processing is another reason why many EC2 users choose to run their containers on ECS. ECS has support for batch processing across the full range of AWS services, including Amazon EC2, Fargate, and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances.
Further, users should be aware that AWS now offers G5 instances featuring up to eight Nvidia Tensor Core GPUs powered by AMD EPYC chips. This offers the price–performance needed by graphics-intensive operations, as well as good machine learning training performance.
Thus, interactive video rendering, video editing, computer-aided design, photorealistic simulations, 3D visualization, gaming, and AI users are good candidates for this upgrade. Specific to EC2, users can now launch G5 instances in ECS.
ECS vs EC2: Conclusion
In summary, AWS EC2 and ECS offer scalable computing power and Docker container orchestration for businesses that lack internal staff that specialize in these services.
While it is not necessary to run them together, many businesses do because of the advantages offered. Although, EC2 is the dominant technology and is used far more widely and in many more use cases than ECS.