Top 10 Container Orchestration Tools

The Importance of Container Orchestration

Containers have revolutionized how we distribute applications by allowing replicated test environments, portability, resource efficiency, scalability and unmatched isolation capabilities. While containers help us package applications for easier deployment and updating, we need a set of specialized tools to manage them.

To help with this, orchestration tools provide the framework through which we automate containerized workloads. Such tools help DevOps teams to manage the lifecycle of containers, and therefore implement their networking, load balancing, provisioning, scaling and more. As a result, orchestration tools help teams unlock the full benefits of containerization by offering application resilience, improved security and simplified operations.

Tasks performed using container orchestration tools include:

  • Allocating resources among containers
  • Scaling containers up and down based on workloads
  • Routing traffic and balancing loads
  • Assigning services and applications to specific containers
  • Deployment and Provisioning

In this article, let us find the some of the popular container orchestration tools that an organization can take use of.

List of Top Container Orchestration Tools

1. Kubernetes

Kubernetes was developed by Google in 2008 and handed over to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation in 2014. As one of the most popular open-source container orchestration tool, Kubernetes offers a wide array of benefits, including auto-scaling and automated load balancing.

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The Kubernetes framework consists of four main components:

  • Node—In Kubernetes, a node is is responsible to run containerized workloads, and could either be physical or virtual. These machines serve as hosts for container runtimes, and also facilitate communication between containers and the Kubernetes service.
  • Cluster—This is a set of nodes that share resources and run containerized applications.
  • Replication Controllers—Intelligent agents responsible for scheduling and resource allocation among containers.
  • Labels—These are tags that the Kubernetes service uses to identify containers that are members of a pod.

Kubernetes continues to be a popular choice among developers being open-source platform of extensive tools that offers flexibility and ease of use by improving workflows and maximizing productivity. The platform also offers a large library of functionalities developed by communities all over the world, giving it unmatched microservice management capabilities. As a result, plenty of managed out-of-the-box orchestration solutions are developed based on the Kubernetes.

2. Red Hat OpenShift

OpenShift was developed by Red Hat to provide a hybrid, enterprise-grade platform that extends Kubernetes functionalities to companies that require managed orchestration. The framework is built on an enterprise-grade Linux Operating System that lets you automate the lifecycle of your containerized application.  This lets you easily manage all your workloads using a container to virtualize every host. More so, with its various templates and pre-built images, OpenShift lets you create databases, frameworks and other application services easily. As a result, you get a highly-optimized platform that standardizes production workflows, enables continuous integration and helps companies automate the management of releases. As an added advantage, the Red Hat Marketplace lets you purchase certified applications that can help in a range of areas, such as, billing, visibility, governance and responsive support.

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OpenShift offers both Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Container-as-a-Service (CaaS) cloud service computing models. This essentially lets you either define your application source code in a Dockerfile or convert your source code to a container using a Source-to-Image builder.

Key features of Red Hat OpenShift include:

  • Built-in Jenkins pipelines streamline workflows, allowing faster production
  • Comes with an Integrated Container Runtime (CoreOS), but also integrates well with Standard CRI-O and Docker Runtimes
  • Supports SDN and validates integration with various networking solutions
  • Integrates various development and operations tools to offer Self-Service Container Orchestration
  • Its Embedded Operator Hub grants administrators easy access to services such as Kubernetes Operators, third-party solutions and direct access to cloud service providers, such as AWS
  • OpenShift is an Open-Source, vendor-agnostic platform, without a vendor lock-in commitment

3. Apache Mesos

Mesos is a cluster management tool developed by Apache that can efficiently perform container orchestration. The Mesos framework is open-source, and can easily provide resource sharing and allocation across distributed frameworks. It enables resource allocation using modern kernel features, such as Zones in Solaris and CGroups in Linux. Additionally, Mesos uses Chronos Scheduler to start and stop services, and the Marathon API to scale services and balance loads. To let developers define inter-framework policies, Mesos uses a pluggable application module .

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More details on the Mesos architecture can be found here.

Key features of Apache Mesos include:

  • Linear scalability, allowing the deployment of 10,000s of nodes
  • Zookeeper integration for fault-tolerant master replication
  • APIs for developing new applications in Java, C++, etc.
  • Graphical User Interface for monitoring the state of your clusters
  • LXC isolation between tasks

Advantages of using Mesos seem apparent as Apache claims to have build a number of software projects on Mesos, which include: Long running services such as Aurora, Marathon & Singularity, Big Data Processing Solutions, Batch Scheduling and Data Storage Solutions.

4. Mirantis Kubernetes Engine

Formerly known as Docker Enterprise Edition, Mirantis is an orchestration tool that lets you manage Kubernetes Clusters and Docker Swarms interchangeably to provide ultimate runtime flexibility. The solution offers multiple layers of security that include Role Based Access Control (RBAC) and built-in encryption, providing advanced authentication and access control. With its node-based isolation, Mirantis enables efficient multi-tenant architecture by offering a clear separation of resources. The Mirantis Engine uses Calico for Kubernetes networking and includes an Istio Ingress, enhancing load balancing and providing streamlined gateway controls. Mirantis allows development teams to ship code faster by providing a simple, consistent experience across all major cloud platforms, and offers a choice of various tools and frameworks you can use to improve application portability.

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Mirantis allows organizations to innovate and scale applications using its Drivetrain lifecycle management system. The tool integrates into the Mirantis Cloud platform to deliver regular updating and improvement of open-source software. Incremental updates are enabled via a Git repo, which reduces the cost and time of upgrades. Mirantis Drivetrain lifecycle enables a DevOps approach to development while also enabling a Continuous Delivery pipeline.

Key features of Mirantis Kubernetes Engine include:

  • Easier management of containers using standard image builds
  • Mirantis isolation ensures security by having all applications running independently in different containers
  • Allows application portability across various platforms
  • Mirantis Drivetrain enables continuous integration for faster deployment

5. Helios

Developed by Spotify, Helios helps developers orchestrate Docker containers by deploying them across distributed servers. Helios is particularly popular with developers due to its pragmatic nature and its functionalities that enhance CI/CD pipelines. The platform also fits seamlessly with  most DevOps workflows, that doesn’t require specific Operating Systems, Cloud Services or Network Topologies to manage containers. As an added advantage, Helios documents cluster history, with a log of events such as restarts, deployments and version changes. This essentially helps developers identify root causes or security vulnerabilities efficient using either a HTTP API Client or Command Line Interface.

Key features of Helios include:

  • Easily integrates with DevOps philosophy
  • Vendor-agnostic, works well with any platform or network
  • Can run both single and multi-node instances
  • Does not require Apache Mesos as a prerequisite to run Helios
  • Does not depend on prescribed load balancers and routers

6. Amazon Elastic Container Service (Amazon ECS)

With Amazon ECS, organizations can easily deploy and run container clusters on Amazon’s Elastic Container (EC2) instances. Amazon ECS offers a secure, reliable, and highly scalable orchestration platform, making it appropriate for sensitive and mission critical applications without wasting compute resources. Amazon ECS easily integrates with Amazon Fargate, a serverless computing tool, that lets developers specify resource requirements and eliminates the need for server provision. This lets organizations to focus more on streamlining applications rather than managing infrastructure. It is also easy to cost-optimize your application using Fargate Spot tasks and EC2 Spot instances, cutting off up to 90% of your infrastructure provision fees.

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ECS allows you to use Network Access Control Lists (ACLs) and Amazon Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs) for resource isolation and security. Possibly one of the key features of ECS is that it is available in 69 availability zones and 22 regions globally, guaranteeing peace of mind regarding uptime, reliability, and low latency.

Key features of AWS ECS include:

  • ECS Supports Fargate, a serverless AWS offering, that eliminates the need to manage servers
  • Includes Capacity Providers which dynamically determine compute resources required to run your application
  • Help optimize costs using spot instances for non-persistent workloads
  • ECS creates Amazon VPCs for your containers, ensuring no sharing of resources between tenants
  • Container Registry makes applications compatible within multiple environments

7. Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE)

GKE is a managed orchestration service that provides an easy-to-use environment to deploy, manage and scale Docker containers on the Google Cloud Platform. While doing so, the service engine lets you create agile and serverless applications without compromising security. With multiple release channels offering different node upgrade cadences, GKE makes it easier to streamline operations based on application needs. Through its enterprise-ready, pre-built deployment templates GKE enables enhanced developer productivity across multiple layers of a DevOps workflow.

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For developers, the service engine helps streamline every stage of the SDLC using native CI/CD tooling accelerators, while Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) may utilize GKE for ease of infrastructure management by monitoring resource usage, clusters and networks.

Key features of GKE include:

  • GKE offers rapid, regular and stable release channels, allowing developers to streamline operations
  • The platform sets up the baseline functionality and automates cluster management for ease of use
  • Integrates native Kubernetes tooling so organizations can develop applications faster without compromising security
  • Google Site Reliability Engineers offer support in the management of infrastructure
  • Google consistently improves the GKE platform with new features and enhancements, making it robust and reliable
  • Well-documented platform, making all its features easy to learn and use

8. Azure Service Fabric

Microsoft’s Azure Service Fabric is a Platform-as-a-Service solution that lets developers focus on business logic and application development by making container deployments, packaging and management a lot easier. Service Fabric lets companies deploy and manage microservices across distributed machines, allowing the management of both stateful and stateless services. It also integrates seamlessly with CI/CD tools to help manage application life cycles while letting you create and manage clusters across different environments, including Linux, Windows Server, Azure on-premises and other public cloud offerings.

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Service Fabric uses a .NET SDK to integrate with popular Windows Software Development Kits, such as PowerShell and Visual Studio. To integrate with Linux development solutions, such as Eclipse, it uses a Java SDK. Service Fabric is available across all Azure regions, and is included on all Azure Compliance Certifications.

Key features of Azure Service Fabric include:

  • Service Fabric allows management of containerized applications on both stateful and stateless services
  • Can be used for lift & shift migration using guest executables for legacy applications
  • Enables a Serverless Compute experience, so organizations don’t have to worry about backend provisioning
  • The Azure platform is data-aware, improving workload performance while reducing latency
  • Makes applications resilient by running different tracks for different servers hosting different microservices

Azure Fabric Service can be teamed up with CI/CD services such as the Visual Studio Team Services to ensure successful migration of existing apps to the cloud. This makes it easy to debug applications remotely and seamless monitoring using the Operations Management Suite.

9. Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)

Amazon EKS helps developers create, deploy and scale Kubernetes applications on-premises or in the AWS cloud. EKS automates tasks such as patching, updates and node provisioning, thereby helping organizations to ship reliable, secure and highly scalable clusters. While doing so, EKS takes away all the tedium and manual configuration tasks to manage Kubernetes clusters, helping to cut-down on efforts of performing repetitive tasks to run your applications.

Since EKS is an upstream offering of Kubernetes, you can use all existing Kubernetes plugins and tools for your application. This service automatically deploys Kubernetes with three master nodes across multiple availability zones for ultimate reliability and resilience. With Role Based Access Control (RBAC) and Amazon’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) entities, you can easily manage security in your AWS clusters using Kubernetes tools, such as kubectl. As one of its core features, EKS allows launching and managing Kubernetes clusters easy using a few easy steps.

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Key features of AWS EKS include:

  • EKS provides a flexible Kubernetes Control Plane available across all regions. This makes Kubernetes applications hosted on EKS highly available and scalable.
  • You can directly manage your applications from Kubernetes using AWS Controllers for Kubernetes
  • Extending the functionality of your Kubernetes cluster is simple thanks to EKS Add-ons
  • Easily scale, create, update and terminate nodes from your EKS cluster using a single command
  • Compatibility between EKS and Kubernetes clusters ensures a simple, code-free migration to AWS cloud
  • EKS implements automatic patches and identifies non-functioning masters, ensuring application reliability

Amazon EKS prevents single failure points of Kubernetes cluster by running it across multiple availability zones. This makes the application reliable, resilient and secure since by reducing the Mean-time-to-Recovery (MTTR). Additionally, as a Managed Kubernetes platform, Amazon’s EKS makes your application optimized and scalable through a rich ecosystem of services that eases container management.

10. Docker Swarm

Swarm is the native container orchestration platform for Docker applications. In Docker, a Swarm is a group of machines (physical or virtual) that work together to run Docker applications. A Swarm Manager controls activities of the swarm, and helps manage the interactions of containers deployed on different host machines (nodes). Docker Swarm fully leverages the benefits of containers, allowing highly portable and agile applications while offering redundancy to guarantee high availability for your applications. Swarm managers also assign workloads to the most appropriate hosts, ensuring proper load balancing of applications. While doing so, the Swarm Manager ensures proper scaling by adding and removing worker tasks to help maintain a cluster’s desired state.

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Key features of Docker Swarm include:

  • Manager nodes help with load balancing by assigning tasks to the most appropriate hosts
  • Docker Swarm uses redundancy to enable high service availability
  • Swarm containers are lightweight and portable
  • Tightly integrated into the Docker Ecosystem, allowing easier management of containers
  • Does not require extra plugins for setup
  • Ensures high scalability by balancing loads and bringing up worker nodes when workload increases
  • Docker Swarm’s distributed environment allows for decentralized access and collaboration

As Docker remains one of the most used container runtimes, Docker Swarm proves to be an efficient container orchestration tool. Swarm makes it easy to scale, update applications and balance workloads. This makes it perfect for application deployment and management even when dealing with extensive clusters.


As more cloud deployment technologies emerge, container orchestration tools will keep evolving. As with every technology, each option has its benefits and drawbacks. Managed Service Platforms, such as GKE, EKS and Mirantis, provide unmatched functionality while incurring little costs. Other offerings, like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm should be evaluated for the trade-offs in performance, complexity and flexibility before adoption.

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