ECS vs. EC2: What’s the Difference?

AWS Amazon Web Services

ECS vs. EC2: What’s the Difference?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers multiple cloud computing solutions, such as Amazon EC2 and Amazon ECS. EC2, or Elastic Compute Cloud, is an elastic cloud resource provider with over 500 preconfigured virtual machine instances available on demand. Conversely, ECS stands for Elastic Container Service and administers Docker container applications.

While EC2 deploys isolated virtual machine instances, ECS uses container clusters to enable scaling and failover of applications. EC2 instances are billed per second or hourly, while ECS offers a fully managed container orchestration service.

Businesses can utilize ECS to quickly deploy and manage containerized applications efficiently without worrying about infrastructure management costs. Docker containers are not necessary in EC2, though this flexibility comes at the cost of increased management. AWS Fargate is the serverless version of EC2, while EC2 gives full control over instances and clusters, though at a higher cost.

Let’s break down these two cloud computing solutions to give you the full picture.

ECS vs. EC2: Side-by-Side Comparison

Amazon ECSAmazon EC2
DefinitionElastic Container Service used to manage Docker containersElastic compute cloud service that can access cloud computing resources whenever needed
Managed VM ServiceContainer orchestration service that is fully managed to function in the same way as KubernetesYou can deploy pre-configured VM instances without any management effort
ScalingUse Docker containers to deploy scalable clusters of containers managed by DockerYou can deploy isolated VM instances using auto-scaling
FlexibilityOrchestration service reduces management burden and allows you to deploy containerized applications quicklyAllows for greater flexibility thanks to wide-ranging OS support
Use CasesEmploys a containerization layer that uses Docker instead of KubernetesTo run enterprise applications, select and deploy a Windows Server image or a Linux distro machine

ECS vs. EC2: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to cloud computing on Amazon Web Services (AWS), two of the most popular services are Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS). Though these two may appear similar at first glance, some key distinctions should be considered when choosing between them.

Let’s examine some important differences between them so you can make a more informed decision.

Scaling and Management

The primary difference between Amazon EC2 and ECS is how they scale and manage computing resources. Amazon EC2, for instance, provides a managed virtual machine (VM) service that enables users to deploy preconfigured instances with automatic scaling up or down based on demand. As such, EC2 works best for applications requiring full operating systems and those that do not need containerization.

Amazon ECS makes running and scaling containerized applications with Docker much simpler without the need to manage infrastructure. This is because it provides a fully managed container orchestration service. ECS creates and manages clusters of container instances that can scale horizontally, distributing the workload across multiple instances and improving service availability in case one instance fails; another one will absorb it until remediation takes place. In contrast, EC2 relies on vertical scaling, adding extra computing power to an existing instance or node, increasing available processing power but making applications dependent on one node or cluster group.

EC2 offers users the freedom to customize their hardware configurations and operating systems, while ECS only supports Docker containers. Furthermore, ECS has better resource utilization as it packs multiple container instances per EC2 instance, making the most of underlying computing power. With ECS, running a containerized application is as easy as clicking a few buttons. Plus, the service automatically scales it up or down according to demand.

Use Cases

EC2 is a cloud computing service that lets users deploy Windows Server or Linux distro machine images (MIs) for running enterprise applications. It offers an easily customizable environment or instance type with security, data protection, identity access management (IAM), and networking rules. Furthermore, EC2 enables the creation and deployment of custom applications onto the cloud; users have complete control over the minimum, desired, and maximum capacities as well as resource utilization through auto-scaling groups.

On the other hand, ECS is explicitly designed for managing containerized applications using Docker. It makes perfect sense for applications requiring containerization, such as microservices, and offers a smooth transition path from a monolithic architecture to microservices. ECS also fits perfectly for requirements requiring highly scalable, fault-tolerant infrastructure that’s easy to administer.

Though EC2 and ECS have different purposes, they can work together or independently. For instance, users can run EC2 instances and use ECS to manage containerized applications. Alternatively, they can deploy containers onto EC2 instances running locally or elsewhere using Amazon ECS Anywhere.


Elasticity is another advantage of cloud computing, and both Amazon EC2 and ECS offer high levels of elasticity, though in slightly different ways. Furthermore, pricing for both services may vary based on usage but there are some key distinctions to be aware of.

Amazon EC2 provides elastic scaling of virtual machines with pay-as-you-go pricing that allows businesses to adjust resources as needed. Instances on Amazon EC2 can be launched and terminated within minutes, giving businesses immediate access to additional computing power during times of high demand.

Amazon EC2 also provides auto-scaling, enabling businesses to adjust computing capacity based on demand and guarantee applications remain responsive during periods of high traffic. Auto-scaling permits additional instances to be launched or terminated based on predefined rules, helping businesses optimize resources and reduce costs.

One limitation of EC2’s elastic nature is that it is limited by the computing resources provided by each virtual machine. Businesses can adjust an instance size but cannot add more virtual machines beyond what already exists.

Amazon ECS’ container scaling feature offers elastic computing resources, enabling businesses to adjust computing resources by adding or removing containers. Instead of launching new virtual machines, ECS scales horizontally by distributing workloads across multiple container instances.

ECS also provides auto-scaling, which can adjust the number of containers based on demand, ensuring applications remain responsive during times of high traffic. With its highly granular elastic nature, ECS allows businesses to adjust resources incrementally in order to avoid overprovisioning and reduce costs.


Amazon EC2 and ECS pricing can vary based on several factors, such as instance type, region, and usage.

EC2 instances are billed per second or hourly, so businesses only pay for the resources they consume. Furthermore, EC2 offers reserved instances that provide discounts to businesses committed to using a certain amount of computing capacity over an extended period.

The number of container instances determines ECS pricing, tasks, and data transferred. Businesses pay for both computing resources used by these instances as well as data transferred between them and other AWS services.

One advantage of ECS pricing is its precision; businesses only pay for the resources they use. Unfortunately, this makes managing it more complex, especially for companies with dynamic workloads requiring frequent adjustments to resource allocations.

AWS Amazon Web Services
ECS and EC2 are both great AWS products that can be used independently or together by enterprises.

Resource Allocation

Amazon EC2 and ECS differ when it comes to resource allocation. In Amazon EC2, resources are allocated per instance, meaning each instance has its own set of resources, such as CPU, memory, and storage. Users have the freedom to customize the size of the instance according to their needs while only paying for what they actually use. Conversely, in ECS, resources are allocated per container — each container sharing the resources of its underlying instance.

Resource allocation in ECS offers greater flexibility and efficiency, enabling users to utilize resources more effectively. ECS’s multi-container capabilities enable users to pack multiple containers onto one instance, optimizing resource usage. Additionally, they can set resource limits per container, so each has enough power for optimal operation. All in all, ECS offers greater control and resource optimization over certain workloads due to its resource allocation features.

Management and Maintenance

Another distinguishing feature between Amazon EC2 and ECS is the level of management and maintenance required. In Amazon EC2, users are accountable for overseeing all infrastructure, including its underlying hardware, operating system, applications, as well as ensuring it remains secure, patched, and up-to-date. This level of responsibility necessitates extensive expertise and time, which may challenge certain organizations.

Comparatively, ECS abstracts away much of the infrastructure management and maintenance, leaving users to focus on their applications. With ECS, users only need to manage their containers and underlying services, while Amazon ECS takes care of managing everything else, including operating system updates, security patches, and updates. This approach offers users a significant benefit by reducing time spent managing infrastructure as well as the effort spent maintaining it.

Accessibility and Scalability

Amazon EC2 and ECS differ in terms of availability and scalability. Amazon EC2 offers superior performance through features such as load balancing, auto-scaling, and availability zones. Users can configure their instances to scale automatically based on traffic volume, guaranteeing their applications can handle spikes in demand. Moreover, users may deploy their instances across multiple availability zones for added redundancy and fault tolerance.

Amazon ECS also provides high availability and scalability with some of the same features, like load balancing, auto-scaling, and availability zones. However, ECS adds another level of abstraction through its services, enabling users to deploy their applications across multiple containers for easier scaling and management. Furthermore, ECS permits container deployment across multiple availability zones for increased redundancy and fault tolerance.

ECS vs. EC2: 8 Must-Know Facts

  • EC2 instances are priced per second or hourly, enabling pay-as-you-go (PAYG) pricing and eliminating the need for upfront expenses.
  • Enterprise users can conveniently access EC2 resources without the hassle of managing virtual machine (VM) configuration and infrastructure — Amazon Web Services (AWS) takes care of that for them.
  • Amazon’s Elastic Container Service (ECS) makes managing Docker container applications a breeze.
  • ECS allows companies to quickly and efficiently deploy containerized applications without worrying about infrastructure management.
  • EC2 offers scalable virtual machine instances with auto-scaling support, while ECS creates clusters of managed Docker containers.
  • Organizations can utilize ECS to scale web applications, perform batch processing, and run services in hybrid environments to offer enhanced services to their users.
  • Amazon EC2 provides greater versatility, supporting a wide range of operating systems and hardware configurations without the need for Docker containers.
  • Vertical scaling involves adding computing power to an existing instance or node, while horizontal scaling introduces more complexity but distributes service dependencies across multiple instances.

ECS vs. EC2: Which One is Better for You?

When deciding between Amazon EC2 and Amazon ECS, there are several factors to take into account. Amazon EC2 provides enterprises with on-demand cloud computing resources similar to a managed virtual machine service. On the other hand, Amazon ECS supports Docker container applications, making it a perfect platform for easily deploying containerized applications and orchestrating them.

ECS instances, on the other hand, can be billed per second or hourly with pay-as-you-go pricing. While EC2 instances offer more flexibility with various operating systems and hardware configurations, ECS provides scalable clusters of managed Docker containers.

Scalability in EC2 and ECS differs. Vertical scaling provides more computing power but creates service dependencies across multiple instances, while scaling horizontally increases availability but places all those services under a single node or cluster group.

All in all, enterprises can choose to utilize both services independently or together. Amazon Web Services (EC2) allows enterprises to run enterprise applications in a highly configurable environment with minimum, desired, and maximum capacities.

ECS supports containerized applications using Docker as well as transitioning away from monolithic architecture towards microservices architecture and load balancing between multiple clustered servers. Ultimately, selecting between Amazon EC2 and Amazon ECS comes down to your specific needs, workloads, and requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Amazon EC2?

Amazon EC2, also known as Elastic Compute Cloud, is a cloud computing resource that gives businesses on-demand access to computing power. With over 500 instances available, EC2 offers the latest hardware in processors, storage, operating systems, and networking.

What sets EC2 apart from regular virtual machines?

On Amazon’s EC2 instances, businesses are billed on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis — either hourly or per second — eliminating upfront costs. AWS manages the VM configuration and infrastructure so businesses can directly access compute resources without worrying about maintaining infrastructure.

What is Amazon ECS?

Amazon ECS, or Elastic Container Service, is a managed container orchestration service that businesses can utilize to manage Docker container applications on Amazon EC2. ECS administers Docker containers running within Amazon EC2.

What sets Amazon ECS apart from EC2?

Amazon ECS and EC2 differ in that EC2 offers isolated virtual machine instances with auto-scaling support, while ECS utilizes scalable clusters of managed Docker containers. Conversely, EC2 can run without Docker containers, giving it more versatility and compatibility across a wider range of operating systems and hardware configurations.

What is the difference between scaling vertically and horizontally?

Vertical scaling adds extra computing power to an existing instance or node, while horizontal scaling creates new instances and distributes the workload evenly among them. While horizontal scaling introduces additional complexity into things, it also distributes service dependencies across multiple instances.

What are some possible applications of Amazon EC2?

Amazon EC2 can be used for a variety of tasks, such as running enterprise applications on Windows Server or Linux distro machine images (MIs), moving custom applications to the cloud, creating highly configurable environments with security, data protection, identity access management (IAM), networking rules, and auto-scaling groups to regulate resource utilization.

What are some applications of Amazon ECS?

Amazon ECS can be used for many purposes, such as containerized applications without Kubernetes orchestration layer, transitioning from monolithic to microservices architecture, adding Amazon ECS Anywhere for deployment of containers across multiple clouds environments, and load balancing multiple clustered servers using AWS Elastic Load Balancers (ELBs).

Which Amazon ECS launch type is optimal for DevOps teams?

DevOps teams have two launch types to choose from: EC2 and AWS Fargate. EC2 offers instance cluster deployment and management, while AWS Fargate provides a serverless version of EC2, where Amazon takes care of infrastructure management and configuration so businesses can focus on running their applications and tasks.

Which workloads are ideal for AWS Fargate?

AWS Fargate is ideal for workloads requiring low overhead, such as burst processing or batch processing. Furthermore, AWS Fargate can accommodate larger jobs with high CPU and memory needs due to its automation-driven scaling capabilities.

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