Changing the calculus of containers in the cloud

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I wrote to you over two years ago about what happens under the hood of Amazon ECS. Last year at re:Invent, we launched AWS Fargate, and today, I want to explore how Fargate fundamentally changes the landscape of container technology.

I spend a lot of time talking to our customers and leaders at Amazon about innovation. One of the things I've noticed is that ideas and technologies which dramatically change the way we do things are rarely new. They're often the combination of an existing concept with an approach, technology, or capability in a particular way that's never been successfully tried before.

The rapid embrace of containers in the past four years is the result of blending old technology (containers) with a new toolchain and workflow (i.e., Docker), and the cloud. In our industry, four years is a long time, but I think we've only just started exploring how this combination of code packaging, well-designed workflows, and the cloud can reshape the ability of developers to quickly build applications and innovate.

Containers solve a fundamental code portability problem and enable new infrastructure patterns on the cloud. Having a consistent, immutable unit of deployment to work with lets you abstract away all the complexities of configuring your servers and deployment pipelines every time you change your code or want to run your app in a different place. But containers also put another layer between your code and where it runs. They are an important, but incremental, step on the journey of being able to write code and have it run in the right place, with the right scale, with the right connections to other bits of code, and the right security and access controls.

Solving these higher order problems of deploying, scheduling, and connecting containers across environments gave us container management tools. Container orchestration has always seemed to me to be very not cloud native. Managing a large server cluster and optimizing the scheduling of containers all backed by a complex distributed state store is counter to the premise of the cloud. Customers choose the cloud to pay as they go, not have to guess capacity, get deep operational control without operational burden, build loosely coupled services with limited blast radii to prevent failures, and self-service for everything they need to run their code.

You should be able to write your code and have it run, without having to worry about configuring complex management tools, open source or not. This is the vision behind AWS Fargate. With Fargate, you don't need to stand up a control plane, choose the right instance type, or configure all the other components of your application stack like networking, scaling, service discovery, load balancing, security groups, permissions, or secrets management. You simply build your container image, define how and where you want it to run, and pay for the resources you need. Fargate has native integrations to Amazon VPC, Auto Scaling, Elastic Load Balancing, IAM roles, and Secrets Management. We've taken the time to make Fargate production ready with a 99.99% uptime SLA and compliance with PCI, SOC, ISO, and HIPAA.

With AWS Fargate, you can provision resources to run your containers at a much finer grain than with an EC2 instance. You can select exactly the CPU and memory your code needs and the amount you pay scales exactly with how many containers you run. You don't have to guess at capacity to handle spikey traffic, and you get the benefit of perfect scale, which lets you offload a ton of operational effort onto the cloud. MiB for MiB, this might mean that cloud native technologies like Fargate look more expensive than more traditional VM infrastructure on paper. But if you look at the full cost of running an app, we believe most applications will be cheaper with Fargate as you only pay what you need. Our customers running Fargate see big savings in the developer hours required to keep their apps running smoothly.

The entire ecosystem of container orchestration solutions arose out of necessity because there was no way to natively procure a container in the cloud. Whether you use Kubernetes, Mesos, Rancher, Nomad, ECS or any other system no longer matters anymore because with Fargate, there is nothing to orchestrate. The only thing that you have to manage is the construction of the applications themselves. AWS Fargate finally makes containers cloud native.

I think the next area of innovation we will see after moving away from thinking about underlying infrastructure is application and service management. How do you interconnect the different containers that run independent services, ensure visibility, manage traffic patterns, and security for multiple services at scale? How do independent services mutually discover one another? How do you define access to common data stores? How do you define and group services into applications? Cloud native is about having as much control as you want and I am very excited to see how the container ecosystem will evolve over the next few years to give you more control with less work. We look forward to working with the community to innovate forward on the cloud native journey on behalf of our customers.

Getting Started

AWS Fargate already seamlessly integrates with Amazon ECS. You just define your application as you do for Amazon ECS. You package your application into task definitions, specify the CPU and memory needed, define the networking and IAM policies that each container needs, and upload everything to Amazon ECS. After everything is setup, AWS Fargate launches and manages your containers for you.

AWS Fargate support for Amazon EKS, the Elastic Kubernetes Service, will be available later in 2018.

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