Orchestration Platforms in the Ring: Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm

Orchestration Platforms in the Ring: Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm

Since the inception of docker, the technology has becomes so popular that its name is often used to refer to container technology as a whole. Through its ability to bring a uniformity and reliability to containers that hadn’t been seen prior to docker 1.0., Docker, Inc was able to convince many companies in the industry to favor their technology over relatively heavy virtual machines. As docker’s popularity grew, so did the demand for infrastructure designed to run containerized workloads; this was an opportunity Docker, Inc seemed perfectly positioned to take advantage of.

Fast forward to 2018, however, and it seems that Docker, Inc’s future as an orchestration provider is questionable, seeing that Docker Swarm’s market share is overshadowed by that of the Google originated Kubernetes.

In a 2017 announcement, Docker, Inc announced that they will now be offering support for both Kubernetes and Docker Swarm. Many interpreted this as foretelling a future in which Kubernetes is the dominant cloud orchestration provider. However, only time will reveal whether this will come to pass.

Despite the claims that Kubernetes has won the Kubernetes – Docker orchestration war, it is still worth understanding the key differences between Kubernetes and Docker Swarm, as their differing philosophies and technical capabilities highlight key schools of thought and ideas prevalent in the orchestration space today. In this article, we will explore these differences and seek to compare Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm using three separate criteria: the level of community support surrounding each platform, the difficulty in running each platform in a multi-node environment, and the technical capabilities of both Docker Swarm and Kubernetes in key areas of cloud orchestration.

Community Support and Excitement

When comparing Kubernetes and Docker Swarm, it stands to reason that support from the developer community at large is an important metric to consider. This criteria not only gives insight into how each platform’s unique approach is resonating with users, but whether investing in one of the technologies will be accompanied with support at large.

Much of Kubernetes’ success stems from its origin as an open-sourced version of Borg, the workload orchestration platform that supported Google’s infrastructure for over a decade prior to Kubernetes release. This credibility was accompanied by a massive show of interest from the Developer Community, which has made Kubernetes into one of the most popular open-source projects on GitHub. This stamp of approval from the Open-Source Community backed with a number of high profile successful installments of Kubernetes makes it an extremely popular choice today.

Docker Swarm also came into fruition riding of the credibility of an existing piece of software: docker itself. Docker Swarm was first announced in 2014 and expanded upon in subsequent years. Prior to this, Docker had achieved mass popularity with the Docker containers, and sought to provide an orchestration platform that could be operated with an extension of the Docker API. This in of itself, gained Docker early traction and enabled to build an active community around Docker Swarm that has translated to many companies relying upon Docker Swarm for their containerization needs today.

Yet, how does the popularity of each platform stack up to the other? Over the last year, it becomes clear that Kubernetes is currently the more popular platform. Looking at the results of Google Trends, which tracks the popularity of searches for each platform, serves to visualize this assessment.

This popularity brings with it a huge community willing to develop solutions and fix bugs for the Kubernetes platform. The level of collaboration surrounding Kubernetes, including its many Special Interest Group (SIGS) which focus on improving specific features in Kubernetes, have allowed it to dynamically evolve and introduce new features that are well received by users. Furthermore, the Kubernetes community is extremely willing to help through numerous online forums and provides a large number of resources for beginners.

Docker Swarm, being an open source project, also has an active developer community, however one that cannot rival the size of Kubernetes. Much of its support, however, comes from Docker, Inc itself which provides extensive documentation in using both Docker Container Engine and switching to Swarm mode. This tight coupling between Docker and Docker Swarm extends to the Docker forums, which provides a community that be relied upon for comprehensive help.

Therefore while both Docker and Kubernetes have communities associated with them, it can be said that Kubernetes has the backing of large players in the industry, the most notable being Google. Additionally, Kubernetes is a member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, providing it the stability of being backed by an organization that promotes cloud native technologies without vendor lock in. The high number of Google Infrastructure engineers and other top name talent that are associated with Kubernetes provide it credibility that will likely go on to exist and aid in building its community.

Initial Setup and Operation

While it is extremely useful to perform a technical comparison of Docker Swarm and Kubernetes, equally worth considering is the developer and DevOps experience when setting up and operating both of these platforms. Additionally, it is in this category that some of the core differences between Docker Swarm and Kubernetes begin to see daylight.

One key advantage that Docker Swarm seems to have over Kubernetes is the tight integration that it has with the Docker ecosystem as a whole. Docker Swarm, being a afterthought to the core Docker product, introduced its Dockerorchestration that was backwards compatible and integrated with existing Docker tooling, such as docker-compose.

Docker Swarm also advertises itself as easy to use, especially in comparison to other container orchestration offerings. It seeks to accomplish this through a declarative API that is immediately familiar to anyone who is experienced with the Docker API. After a swarm has been initialized on a node, other nodes can be joined to the swarm through a simple “docker swarm join” command. This method lets users quickly begin experimenting with orchestrating containerized workloads on a multi node Docker swarm.

A common complaint about Kubernetes is that it is incredibly difficult to get up and running. This stands in contrast with Docker Swarm, succinctly stated by Gary Duan in his article when he states “Although not without controversies, when compared to Kubernetes, Docker Swarm’s ease-of-use is one of it’s most cited advantages.” Running a multi node Kubernetes that can orchestrate workloads requires installing multiple binaries that run seperate services across each node. This has led to a demand in software that abstracts components of Kubernetes, making it possible to enjoy the power of Kubernetes while being shielded from its inherent complexity. Nirmata, in our opinion, is the best offering within this category. To learn more about how Nirmata makes it easy for enterprises to deliver a Kubernetes powered container management platform click here.

Despite the difficulty of setting up Kubernetes without additional software solutions such as Nirmata, many consider this tradeoff in exchange for Kubernetes extreme reliability and fault-tolerance to be a fair bargain. It is these areas, that Kubernetes origins from Google’s battle tested Infrastructure platform becomes apparent. For example, one component is Kubernetes’ Autoscaling capabilities, which is widely regarded as one of its most impressive features. This idea is mentioned in Mic Product Blog, where Autoscaling was highly regarded after one year of experience with Kubernetes.

Therefore, when it comes to initial setup, it seems that Docker Swarm is the easier platform to begin orchestration workloads across multiple nodes with. However, this advantage, becomes increasingly debatable when taking into account the great tooling surrounding Kubernetes and the reliability it provides as a tradeoff to its level of complexity.

Technical Comparisons

Of course, when considering which containerization platform to adopt, utmost importance should be placed on how a solution’s capabilities meet your specific needs. When analyzing, Kubernetes and Docker Swarm there are certainly key differences in the approaches both take. The following table compared the two platforms side by side in five key categories.


When comparing Docker Swarm vs Kubernetes, it becomes apparent that the origins of both platforms have played key roles in shaping their features and communities today.

Docker, realizing the strength of its container technology, decided to build a platform that made it simple for Docker users to begin orchestrating their container workloads across multiple nodes. However, their desire to preserve this tight coupling can be said to have limited the extensibility of the platform.

Kubernetes, on the other hand, took key concepts taken from Google Borg, and, from a high level perspective, decided to make containerization fit into the former platform’s existing workload orchestration model. This resulted in Kubernetes emphasis on reliability, sometimes at the cost of simplicity and performance.

Behind both of these technologies are passionate communities that contribute to each project on Open Source. However, Kubernetes community, in regards to orchestration, can be said to be larger, more active, and mature. Currently Kubernetes enjoys a significant share of the Docker orchestration market. We believe this is due to its reliability as a platform, well implemented solutions in the realm of distributed systems, and thriving open source community that is dedicated to releasing new and relevant features.

If you and your enterprise are currently looking to orchestrate your workloads on Kubernetes, consider using Nirmata. By enabling deployment and management of Kubernetes clusters and applications on any cloud, Nirmata makes it easy for enterprises to deliver a Kubernetes powered container management platform. To learn more about how the Nirmata platform can help you improve your application strategy click here.

Please check-out this infographic on a survey of Kubernetes users. You can download the entire survey report within the infographic also.

See testimonials from satisfied clients using Nirmata’s Kubernetes containerization here. Seeing (or reading) is believing!

Lastly, reach-out to Nirmata with your questions or to get started with managed Kubernetes deployment. We would love to be of assistance!

Title Image obtained and modified from Vasquez Imam

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