Container Wars: Benchmark Test Pits Docker's Swarm Platform Against Kubernetes

Benchmark tests show Docker's Swarm container orchestration platform beats Kubernetes in managing cloud cluster environments at scale.

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

March 11, 2016

2 Min Read
Docker vs Kubernetes who comes out the winner in the container wars
Docker vs. Kubernetes: who comes out the winner in the container wars?

Cloud admins have not yet reached consensus on which container orchestration platform is best. But Docker has started pushing Swarm hard by promoting new benchmark tests that show major performance advantages vis-à-vis Google’s competing Kubernetes cluster management solution.

Swarm and Kubernetes are part of the burgeoning ecosystem of container orchestration platforms that have arisen in recent years to help admins manage container-based cloud environments. Other popular solutions in the same niche include Amazon ECS, Apache Mesos and Openshift, among others.

As Docker noted in a recent blog post, market share is currently split relatively evenly between Swarm and Kubernetes. A survey showed that they are the most popular container orchestration platforms, with Swarm enjoying only a slight lead. (Amazon ECS comes in a close third.)

Swarm vs. Kubernetes

But Docker also suggested that those results are surprising. According to the company, Swarm, its home-grown cluster management solution, clearly beats out the competition.

To make that point, Docker commissioned benchmark testing by a third-party consultant, Jeff Nickoloff. The tests compared Swarm and Kubernetes performance and response time at different levels of scale.

The full results are detailed in Docker’s blog post. But the major finding was that Swarm delivers performance that is about five times faster overall. Under circumstances — namely, when the cluster workload reached 100 percent — Swarm was as much as 98 times faster than Kuberetes. (Yes, that’s 98 times faster, or 9800 percent.)

Docker chalked the differences up to what it describes as a simpler, more streamlined design for Swarm. In contrast, it said, Kubernetes is “overly complex and [needs] teams of cloud engineers to implement and manage it day to day.”

To be sure, the fact that the benchmark tests were commissioned by Docker raises some questions about how neutral they were. In addition, the scale of the environment that Nicoloff used for testing — 30,000 containers running on 1,000 nodes — may be different from what many organizations would consider a large-scale cluster. That means it’s unclear whether Swarm would outpace Kubernetes in all real-world situations as well as it did in the benchmark tests.

Still, the message Docker wants to send is clear. The company is pushing organizations to adopt its cluster management solution rather than going with a third-party tool. That is notable because Kubernetes can manage Docker containers just as well as Swarm can. Kubernetes is not a threat to Docker’s main product, which is containers. But Docker hopes enterprises will adopt more than Docker containers. It wants them to use Docker products at all levels of the cloud stack.

Expect this to remain an important part of Docker’s strategy as the company’s software and business model continue to mature.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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