June 25, 2017

Kubernetes, Docker Swarm and Mesos Marathon are well-known container orchestrators. But they’re not the only ones. Here’s a look at container orchestration tools and frameworks you might have overlooked.

I like to think of Kubernetes, Swarm and Marathon as the Big Three of container orchestrators. They were the first to see widespread adoption for managing Docker environments, and it’s a safe bet that they are the most popular. (On that note, I’m unaware of any sources with data about container orchestrator market share, though that would be interesting to see.)

Other Container Orchestrator Options

But the container ecosystem—like the ecosystems surrounding most open source technologies—is big and diverse. Container orchestration tools beyond the Big Three include:

  • Cattle. This orchestrator was created by Rancher and is part of the Rancher platform. Although Rancher currently supports the Big Three orchestrators in addition to Cattle, Cattle was the first orchestrator built into Rancher. Cattle is in most respects not as sophisticated as modern versions of Kubernetes or Swarm, but if you need a simple, mature orchestrator—and if you use Rancher—Cattle could be right for you.
  • Serf, an orchestrator for services developed by HashiCorp. Its use cases are a bit different from those of traditional container orchestrators because Serf focuses on managing services. But it’s a candidate for certain orchestration needs.
  • Nomad. This is another HashiCorp orchestrator and is designed for all-around container cluster management.
  • EC2 Container Service. The EC2 Container Service on the AWS cloud comes with a built-in orchestrator, which is a bit unusual because most other hosted container services allow you to use an external orchestrator.
  • Kontena. Kontena is more than an orchestrator; Kontena is a complete container management platform that also comes with its own orchestrator built-in. Kontena’s pitch is that it is the “developer-friendly” solution for running Docker containers.

The list could go on. After all, “orchestrator” is an ambiguous term, and a lot of different tools could potentially be fit into this category.

No matter what you call an orchestrator, however, one thing should be clear: Kubernetes, Swarm and Marathon are by no means the only options out there for container orchestration. They’re just the most popular ones, probably because they are all associated with big-name projects or companies (namely Google, Docker and Mesos).

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.