(Docker Compose + Docker Swarm) or Kubernetes

Recently the docker team release docker swarm 1.0 been production ready, and been my self an enthusiast that loves to test and try new things i gave it a try.

Some time ago i wrote a post about how to use kubernetes as a developer environment and i use php and symfony for the example. In this case i will only talk about the pros and cons of this two container cluster solutions. So:


Developed and supported by Google, recently this year released also with the version 1.0 as production ready; brings its own perspective on what and how a container cluster should work. Between its concepts, Pods, Controllers, Services, Labels; they allow you to orchestrate your apps infrastructure and relationships between they, and deploy this topology to any environment you want, just pointing the kubectl to the right environment. There are some other tutorials that suggest to use labels to differentiate this environments if you only want to manage just one cluster.

The Good:

It brings the experience from google on how to orchestrate and deploy application on containers, and with it a really production ready full of options to easy the work of the DevOps.

Keep Alive:

A really nice feature its that you can configure you Replication Controller to always keep alive the same exact amount of containers for that specific app. That means that if for some reason any container stops, it will create a new container with a fresh copy allowing your system to be up almost 99% of the time in front of this disaster situations; this also means that if for some reason you have more that the expected amount of containers it will tear down the exact amount of extra containers, so you don’t need to worry about expending on extra resources.

Load Balancing:

This is another really great feature, the services will configure a load balancing in front of all your app containers so you will use it as entry point for it, this also help with the previous feature, if some container its created from scratch it will automatically added to the pool of the load balance.

Scale Up/Down:

Scale you app up or down its really easy just specify the amount of new apps you wanna keep alive and it will do it for you. For me its verbose enough since you need to specify through the command if you want to scale up or down, there is no way you can make a mistake, example:

if you have 3 running copies of you app, you can tell to scale up 2 more apps and you will end with 5, or you can tell to scale down 2 apps and end with just 1 running copy of your app.

This is really important for me, since on production you wanna make 0 mistakes.

Rolling Update:

And the feature that i love the most, this is really amazing, you can deliver updates to all your running instances of your app with a single command with 0 down time, and i think that it just enough explanation on this point. You can check it out on this demo video:

The Bad:

API and Configuration:

K8s bring a new whole API and file definition, so if you are use to work with containers before using docker and docker compose for example you will need to learn a new whole set of commands, and file configuration in order to create and orchestrate you cluster and topology. Depending on you topology it will maybe be a little complicated.

Cluster configuration:

K8s has an specific set of configuration for each kind of cloud (google cloud, Amazon EC2, etc), that introduce a complexity level that its really not needed or wanted at first install. Another consequence of this is that you cant, at least easily; configure your k8s cluster with multiple providers, so you will be anchor to the one cloud solution you choose from start.

Docker Compose and Docker Swarm

Directly from the docker team we get Compose and Swarm, tools that following the UNIX paradigm

Write programs that do one thing and do it well

allow us to design ours application topology and deploy it into our cluster.

Docker Compose:

Expose an easy API to design our application topology, creating all our services, configuring them, connecting them and even scale them.

The Good:

Compose follow the same API as Engine and with that gave us the same set of tools that we are used to work directly on the docker cli, it expand it with some other commands. Its really easy to configure on the docker-compose.yml file and you can even extend those files so you can have a set of configurations for each env.

The Bad:


The scale command, this point may be a little controversial since there its not really a reason to put it on the bad section, it does the job as expected; but on my perspective it could be a little more semantically design. The commands take the number of running services you want running, lets say you scale=3 the app services you will end running 3 instances of the app services as expected, but what if you forgot how many instances you have running of some service and you wanna to scale down only 2 instances, if you type scale=2 you will end with 2 instances and not with 1 as expected, the same goes for the scale up idea. Ok you can say that learn the tool then use it, right; but it will be really great if the command explain it self and help the ops, some scale-down=2 will easy your life.

Keep Alive:

Another missing option its a supervisor that keeps track of how many instances of one services suppose to be running all the time, this kind of solution to prevent disaster will really helps the devops lives. Yes you can say that using he restart police this can be accomplish, but what if it was one of your cluster nodes that meltdown? This kind of feature will start or missing instances on a new node keeping our app running as expected.

Rolling Update and Load Balance:

Have a rolling update functionality and of course a load balancing feature will rise the docker tools to the production ready stage we all wanted to be.


The cluster solution from the docker team, it does the job really great and like the other tools it follows the Engine API.

The Good:

To create a swarm use the docker Machine its the recommended way, and its because docker Machine does a great job provisioning host instances with the docker Engine. Machine allow us to deploy docker into almost any host out there, on any physical host or cloud. Swarm then allow us to connect through the masters all the other nodes, and yes it can be multi provider, for me this is great, not been anchor to any cloud provider or been able to spread my apps through multiple providers its a dream.


Maybe is not right to compare this set of tools so each one of them are designed to accomplish one task, but on the devops worlds a set of tools that bring more to us will certainly have more to win.

From my perspective the docker team its doing a marvelous job, theirs tools are just young  but im pretty sure in the near future all of them will converge and stabilize so it will deliver a great set of tools that interact with each other and allow us to create anything we need. But in the mean time i advice to use k8s since its more production ready for all the tests you may encounter in the day by day devops world.



    1. if you look at the time of post creation docker was only on version 1.10 not even 1.11. So best option at the time was docker swarm. Right now even with swarm mode i believe kubernetes has some wining points on his side



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