VirtualizationAmazon ECS vs. EC2: What’s the Difference?

Amazon ECS vs. EC2: What’s the Difference?

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In the ever-evolving landscape of cloud computing, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has become a dominant force, providing a wide array of services to cater to diverse business needs. Among these services, Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) stand out as two prominent solutions for deploying and managing applications in the cloud.

Because of the similar names — and even closer abbreviations — Amazon ECS and EC2 are frequently confused, but they serve very different functions.

In this article, we will delve into the differences between the two services, exploring their use cases, pricing models, and how they work together. Additionally, we will discuss alternatives to these services offered by other cloud providers, like Microsoft Azure and Google Kubernetes.

Amazon Web Services icon.

What is AWS?

Amazon Web Services, or AWS, is a leading cloud computing platform offered by Amazon, empowering businesses with an extensive suite of on-demand computing resources and services. 

As one of the pioneers in the cloud computing industry and with a worldwide market share of its cloud infrastructure at 32%, AWS has garnered immense popularity for its reliability, scalability, and global reach. With data centers strategically located across the globe, it provides businesses with the ability to deploy applications and services in multiple regions, ensuring low latency and high availability for end-users.

The core principle of AWS lies in its pay-as-you-go model, which allows organizations to access computing power, storage, and other services on demand without the need for upfront capital investments in physical infrastructure. This flexibility enables businesses to scale up and down their resources based on fluctuating demands, optimizing cost efficiency.

Whether it’s a small startup or a multinational enterprise, AWS caters to a wide range of industries and use cases, from simple web hosting to complex big data analytics and artificial intelligence applications.

What is Amazon ECS?

Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) is a fully managed container orchestration service offered by AWS. It streamlines the deployment, management, and scaling of containerized applications

Amazon ECS allows businesses to reap the benefits of container technology without the complexities of manual management. At its core, ECS leverages Docker containers, a widely adopted containerization platform, to encapsulate applications and their dependencies, ensuring consistency and reliability across various environments.

With ECS, developers and IT teams can easily package their applications into lightweight, portable containers, providing an isolated and consistent runtime environment. You can deploy and manage these containers across a cluster of EC2 instances, which ECS handles seamlessly.

As containers abstract away application dependencies, they eliminate potential conflicts between applications and simplify the process of software deployment. This decoupling of application logic from infrastructure allows for enhanced flexibility, rapid scaling, and efficient resource utilization.

Use cases

Amazon ECS is an ideal choice for businesses looking to containerize their applications and take advantage of the inherent benefits of containerization, such as improved scalability, portability, and resource efficiency.

For example, a startup developing a microservices-based ecommerce platform can use ECS to deploy individual services in separate containers. This approach allows them to scale each service independently based on demand, reducing operational overhead and optimizing resource use.

Moreover, ECS is well-suited for continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) workflows. It seamlessly integrates with other AWS services like Amazon Elastic Container Registry (ECR) and AWS CodePipeline, streamlining the development and deployment pipeline.

For instance, a software development team can use ECS along with AWS CodeBuild and CodeDeploy to automate the process of building, testing, and deploying containerized applications, ensuring rapid and reliable releases.


Amazon ECS pricing is flexible and directly tied to the resources consumed, allowing users to scale their operations effectively and efficiently. Amazon ECS operates on a “pay-as-you-go” structure, meaning that there are no additional costs associated with using the service itself; instead, users are charged based on the AWS resources they utilize, such as Amazon EC2 instances or EBS volumes.

There are two primary charge models for Amazon ECS: AWS Fargate Launch Type and Amazon EC2 Launch Type.

  • AWS Fargate Launch Type: Users pay for the vCPU and memory resources that their containerized applications consume. This pricing is calculated from the moment you begin downloading your container image until the task or Pod terminates.
  • Amazon EC2 Launch Type: This type carries no additional charges. Users only pay for the AWS resources they use. It’s worth noting that the pricing model for Amazon ECS on AWS Outposts mirrors that of Amazon EC2.

ECS vs. Fargate

AWS Fargate is a serverless computing engine for running containers on Amazon ECS and Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS).

While both ECS and Fargate facilitate container management, they differ in terms of infrastructure management. ECS requires users to manage the underlying EC2 instances, while Fargate abstracts away this complexity, allowing users to focus solely on deploying containers.

Consequently, Fargate is ideal for those who want to embrace a serverless approach without dealing with server provisioning and management.

For example, a data analytics company processing large volumes of data in containers may choose Amazon Fargate to automate the scaling of containers based on the incoming workload. This eliminates the need to manage the underlying EC2 instances and reduces operational overhead, enabling the team to focus on analyzing data and deriving valuable insights.

AWS EC2 logo

What is Amazon EC2?

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is a foundational and pivotal service within the AWS ecosystem, offering a versatile and scalable solution for businesses seeking to compute capacity in the cloud.

EC2 provides resizable virtual machines (VMs), known as instances, which users can rent and customize to match their specific computational requirements. The on-demand nature of EC2 allows organizations to rapidly provision new instances or adjust existing ones, ensuring optimal resource utilization and cost-effectiveness.

With a wide array of instance types to choose from, businesses can select the most suitable configuration to run a diverse range of applications, such as web servers, databases, machine learning workloads, and high-performance computing tasks.

This flexibility and robustness make Amazon EC2 an indispensable component for empowering businesses to adapt, innovate, and thrive in the ever-evolving world of cloud computing.

Use cases

Amazon EC2 is highly versatile and suitable for a wide range of use cases, from hosting web applications and databases to running batch processing and big data analytics workloads. Businesses can choose from various instance types based on their computational needs, memory requirements, and storage preferences.

EC2’s scalability and flexibility make it an excellent option for both SMBs and large enterprises with varying demands.

For instance, a media streaming platform experiencing fluctuating traffic can use Amazon EC2 to auto-scale the number of instances during peak hours, ensuring a seamless user experience without investing in physical infrastructure.


The Amazon EC2 pricing structure follows a pay-as-you-go model, offering flexibility and scalability to its users. There are several ways through which users can pay for EC2 instances:

  • On-Demand: This provides the flexibility to pay for compute capacity by the hour or second, with no long-term commitments required. The pricing is calculated per instance-hour consumed, and for specific instance types, partial instance hours are billed per second.
  • Savings Plans: These plans are billed at a much lower rate than on-demand in exchange for a 1-to-3 -year commitment at a certain constant rate of instance-hour usage.
  • Spot Instances: These are heavily discounted instances that can be purchased whenever there is unused capacity in the AWS cloud. Because the amount of available space can fluctuate dramatically, this model is only recommended for highly flexible and fault-tolerant workloads — though it can save a lot of money for those who can accommodate it.

Data transfer costs are also a part of Amazon EC2 pricing. The first 10 TB per month are charged at $0.09 per GB, the next 40 TB at $0.085 per GB, the next 100 TB at $0.07 per GB, and any data transfer greater than 150 TB per month is billed at $0.05 per GB.

Users of Amazon EC2 can further optimize their costs through EBS-optimized instances, which are designed to maximize the IOPS provisioned on an EBS volume.

EC2 vs. Lambda

Amazon EC2 and AWS Lambda are two distinct computing models provided by AWS. While EC2 offers traditional VM instances where users are responsible for managing the infrastructure and resources, Lambda offers a serverless computing model.

With AWS Lambda, developers can run code without provisioning or managing servers. They pay only for the compute time consumed by their functions.

EC2 is ideal for applications requiring more control over the environment and resource allocation, whereas Lambda suits event-driven, short-duration tasks with automatic scaling and low operational overhead.

For example, an online retail platform can use Amazon EC2 to run its main web application while employing AWS Lambda to handle image resizing and thumbnail generation when users upload product images. This way, they can take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness of Lambda for specific tasks while retaining control over their core application on EC2 instances.

How do ECS and EC2 work together?

Amazon ECS and EC2 complement each other to provide a robust and scalable infrastructure for containerized applications. ECS relies on EC2 instances to host the containerized applications. These instances are grouped into clusters, and ECS automatically manages the scaling of containers across the clusters. You can customize the EC2 instances to cater to specific performance requirements, and ECS ensures efficient utilization of these instances by orchestrating the containers.

For instance, a ride-sharing platform adopting a microservices architecture can use Amazon ECS to deploy and manage containers for various services, such as user authentication, ride booking, and payment processing. EC2 instances are provisioned to meet the performance requirements of each service, and ECS ensures that containers are dynamically scaled up or down based on demand.

The integration of ECS and EC2 enables businesses to leverage the benefits of containerization while maintaining granular control over the underlying infrastructure. This collaboration empowers developers to build highly available and scalable applications with ease.

Amazon ECS and EC2 alternatives

While Amazon ECS and EC2 are dominant players in the cloud computing space, several alternatives offered by other cloud providers cater to specific business needs. Here are some notable alternatives:

Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Azure provides Azure Container Instances (ACI) and Azure Virtual Machines (VMs) as alternatives to Amazon ECS and EC2, respectively.

ACI allows users to deploy containers without managing VMs, similar to Amazon Fargate. On the other hand, Azure VMs offer resizable compute capacity, similar to Amazon EC2, and support a wide range of operating systems and applications.

For example, a software development team using Microsoft Azure might opt for ACI to deploy a containerized web application, freeing them from the burden of managing VMs. Meanwhile, for a complex data processing task, they could choose VMs to customize the computing environment and resources for maximum efficiency.

For more information, here’s our complete guide to Azure VMs.

Google Kubernetes Engine

Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) is a managed Kubernetes service offered by Google Cloud Platform and simplifies container orchestration. It provides powerful features for deploying and managing containerized applications. While GKE primarily focuses on Kubernetes, Google Cloud also offers Google Compute Engine (GCE) as its equivalent to Amazon EC2.

A machine learning startup may choose GKE to deploy and manage machine learning models in containers, leveraging Kubernetes’ robust orchestration capabilities. At the same time, they might utilize GCE to run data preprocessing tasks, taking advantage of the flexible and scalable virtual machine instances.

Other ECS and EC2 alternatives

Various other cloud providers and platforms offer container management and VM services, each with its unique features and strengths. Some notable alternatives include Alibaba Cloud Elastic Container Instance, IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service, and Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) Compute.

An e-commerce company expanding its presence in the Asian market might consider Alibaba Cloud Elastic Container Instance for its containerized application deployment due to its strong regional presence and low-latency performance.

Alternatively, they could use IBM Cloud Kubernetes Service for its robust Kubernetes support and advanced security features, or OCI Compute for its flexible VMs and bare metal instances.

Bottom line: Using Amazon ECS and EC2 for containerized applications

Amazon ECS and EC2 are two distinct yet complementary services offered by AWS, addressing different use cases and catering to diverse business requirements. Amazon ECS excels at managing containerized applications, promoting scalability, and simplifying the CI/CD pipeline. On the other hand, Amazon EC2 offers a wide range of virtual machine instances, providing flexibility and control over infrastructure.

When choosing between Amazon ECS and EC2, businesses must consider their application requirements, development workflows, and long-term scalability needs. Additionally, exploring alternatives offered by other cloud providers can provide valuable insights and help organizations make informed decisions.

Whether you’re using AWS or another vendor, if you’re considering virtual desktop infrastructure, make sure you read our list of top tips and best practices for a successful VDI rollout.

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