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Infrastructure, Application Development, Containers and Kubernetes, Getting Started with Google Cloud

Kubernetes Vs. Docker Swarm: Comparing App Containerization Technologies

By Jennifer Marsh | March 29, 2021

Whether you're an experienced coder or an app development novice, software packages like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm are two great tools that can help streamline virtualization methods and container deployment. 

As you search for an orchestration tool, you will come across two common platforms: Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. Docker dominates the containerization world, and Kubernetes has become the de-facto standard for automating deployments, monitoring your container environment, scaling your environment, and deploying containers across nodes and clusters. When comparing Docker with Kubernetes, the main difference is that Docker is a containerization technology used to host applications. It can be used without Kubernetes or with Docker Swarm as an alternative to Kubernetes.

While both architectures are massively popular in the world of container orchestration, they have some notable differences that are important to understand before choosing one over the other. Today, we're discussing Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm's different containerization capabilities to help teams and engineers choose the exemplary architecture for their app development purposes.  


What Is an App Container?


To fully understand the differences between Docker and Kubernetes, it's essential to understand what is an app container. In software development, a container is a technology that hosts applications. They can be deployed on virtual machines, physical servers, or on a local machine. They use fewer resources than a virtual machine and interface directly with the operating system kernel rather than via hypervisor in a traditional virtual machine environment, making containers a more lightweight, faster solution for hosting applications. Application containers allow apps to run simultaneously without the need for multiple virtual machines in traditional environments, freeing up infrastructure storage space and improving memory efficiency.

Many large tech companies have switched to a containerized environment because it's faster and easier to deploy than virtual machines. Container technology runs on any operating system, and it can be pooled together to improve performance. 


What Are Kubernetes and Docker?


Kubernetes and Docker Swarm are two popular container orchestration platforms designed to improve app development efficiency and usability. Both Kubernetes and Docker Swarm bundle app dependencies like code, runtime, and system settings together into packages that ultimately allow apps to run more efficiently.

Kubernetes is an open-source container deployment platform created by Google. The project first began in 2014, while Docker Swarm was invented one year earlier by Linux in 2013 to improve app development's scalability and flexibility. Still, both projects come with different architectural components with different app development capabilities that fuel the Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm debate.

Kubernetes Architecture Components

A critical difference between Kubernetes and Docker Swarm exists in the infrastructures of the two platforms. Kubernetes architecture components, for instance, are modular; The platform places containers into groups and distributes load among containers, alleviating the need to run applications in the cloud. This is different from Docker in that the Docker Swarm architecture utilizes clusters of virtual machines running Docker software for containerization deployment. 

Another main difference between the two platforms is that Kubernetes itself can run on a cluster. Clusters are several nodes (e.g., virtual machines or servers) that work together to run an application. It's an enterprise solution necessary for performance and monitoring across multiple containers.


Another difference between Kubernetes and Docker Swarm is scalability. Should you decide to work with other container services, Kubernetes will work with any solution allowing you to scale into different platforms. Considered an enterprise solution, it will run on clusters where you can add nodes as needed when additional resources are required.


Docker Swarm is specific to Docker containers deploying without any additional installation on nodes. With Kubernetes, however, a container runtime is necessary for it to work directly with Docker containers. Kubernetes uses container APIs with YAML to communicate with containers and configure them. 

Load Balancing

Load balancing is built into Kubernetes. Kubernetes deploys pods, which comprise one or several containers. Containers are deployed across a cluster, and the Kubernetes service performs load balancing on incoming traffic.

Docker Swarm Architecture Components

Docker Swarm architecture has a different approach for creating clusters for container orchestration. Unlike Kubernetes that uses app containers to distribute the load, Docker Swarm consists of virtual machines hosting containers and distributing them.


Docker Swarm is specific to Docker containers. It will scale well with Docker and deploy faster than Kubernetes, but you are limited to Docker technology. Consider this limitation when you choose Docker Swarm vs. Kubernetes.


While the Docker Swarm architecture allows for much faster, ad-hoc deployments when compared to Kubernetes, Docker Swarm has more limited deployment configuration options, so these limitations should be researched to ensure that it will not affect your deployment strategies.

Load Balancing

The DNS element in Docker Swarm handles incoming requests and distributes traffic among containers. Developers can configure load balancing ports to determine the services that run on containers to control incoming traffic distribution.


Difference Between Docker and Kubernetes


To recap, while Kubernetes and Docker Swarm have many similar capabilities, they also differ significantly in their scalability, deployment capabilities, and load balancing. Kubernetes vs. Docker Swarm ultimately comes down to an individual developer or team's need to scale or streamline aspects of their containerization deployment, whether those processes would be better suited to a platform capable of speedy deployments like Docker Swarm or flexibility and load balancing like Kubernetes.

When to Use Kubernetes

Google developed Kubernetes for deployments that require more flexibility in configurations using YAML. Because Kubernetes is so popular among developers, it's also a good choice for people who need plenty of support with setup and configurations. Another good reason to choose Kubernetes is if you decide to run on Google Cloud Platform because the technology is effortlessly configurable and works with Google technology.

Kubernetes is an enterprise solution, so its flexibility comes with additional complexities, making it more challenging to deploy. However, once you overcome the challenge of learning the environment, you have more flexibility to execute your orchestration.

When to Use Docker Swarm

Because Docker Swarm was built directly for Docker containers, it's beneficial for developers learning containerized environments and orchestration automation. Docker Swarm is easier to deploy, so that it can be more beneficial for smaller development environments. For small development teams that prefer simplicity, Docker Swarm requires fewer resources and overhead. 


Extra Credit

  1. https://searchitoperations.techtarget.com/definition/application-containerization-app-containerization

  2. https://www.docker.com/resources/what-container#:~:text=A%20container%20is%20a%20standard,one%20computing%20environment%20to%20another.&text=Available%20for%20both%20Linux%20and,same%2C%20regardless%20of%20the%20infrastructure.

  3. https://www.sumologic.com/glossary/docker-swarm/#:~:text=A%20Docker%20Swarm%20is%20a,join%20together%20in%20a%20cluster.&text=The%20activities%20of%20the%20cluster,are%20referred%20to%20as%20nodes.

  4. https://thenewstack.io/kubernetes-vs-docker-swarm-whats-the-difference/

  5. https://kubernetes.io/docs/concepts/overview/what-is-kubernetes/

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