Kubernetes vs Docker: a partnership not a competition

Kubernetes and Docker have become the industry standard tools for cloud container applications

DevOpsUPDATED ON January 6, 2022

Kubernetes and Docker are both tools regularly used by software developers working in a cloud-native environment; Kubernetes and Docker are especially integral tools for DevOps Engineers and teams.

The question of Kubernetes vs Docker, which tool is superior, isn’t really valid. There is often confusion on this topic, but Kubernetes and Docker are not competing technologies, but rather support each other in their function.

Kubernetes and Docker have different roles in the architecture of container applications that are compatible with each other and often used together. In combination, Kubernetes and Docker can form a particularly effective solution for creating, managing, scaling and deploying (cloud) container applications.

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Kubernetes and Docker for cloud-native applications

Kubernetes and Docker are technologies that were both developed based on Linux techniques to provide efficient solutions for container applications. Kubernetes and Docker are used in combination in numerous organisations, including IT and software companies of all sizes. For example, in addition to Google, the original developer of Kubernetes, companies such as IBM, Adidas or Huawei are also users of container technologies.

What is Docker?

Docker is a technology originally released by dotCloud (now Docker Inc.) that is used to manage containers in a cloud computing environment. This helps automate the creation, deployment and management of container applications. Docker Inc. continues to promote and develop the technology, which is now open source, and also works with cloud, Linux and Windows vendors such as IBM and Microsoft.

How does Docker work?

Docker allows developers to package applications/apps in containers so that they can be used as standardised executable components of a software system. These work in combination with the libraries of their operating system as well as the dependencies required for environment-specific deployment.

Docker’s standardised container format, simplified in the graphic, facilitates the deployment of shared applications whose content may differ significantly from the example. As more and more companies embrace cloud-native development and hybrid multi-cloud environments, cloud container management is becoming more popular, and so is Docker.

Containers can also be created without Docker. However, Docker simplifies this process considerably and makes containerisation both easier and more secure.

What is Kubernetes?

Kubernetes (also known as K8s) was developed by Google to plan and automate the deployment, scaling and management of container applications. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which was founded under the “Linux Foundation” and received Kubernetes as a donation from Google in 2015, currently supports the now open source technology.

Since Kubernetes became open source, the technology has become the industry standard for the management of container applications. Kubernetes is now the most popular container orchestration platform for DevOps and, like Docker, use of the tool is only expected to grow over coming years.

How does Kubernetes work?

Kubernetes provides an API to help control and manage containers. Many contemporary applications and apps can be extremely large, which can mean sometimes a large number of containers that need to be run in a complex relationship across multiple servers. Kubernetes supports by, among other things, orchestrating virtual machine clusters and controlling or scheduling the execution of containers as needed.

Kubernetes groups containers into so-called pods, as simplified in the graphic, which contain a varying number of containers and can be scaled as desired. These form the basic operating unit for Kubernetes. Kubernetes is able to operate in a resource-oriented manner and automatically perform built-in scaling depending on the workload. In addition, Kubernetes containers can automatically replicate containers, allowing applications to repair themselves.

What’s the relationship between Docker with Kubernetes?

Kubernetes and Docker are both used in connection with containers and were developed specifically to address the needs of development teams building containerised apps. However, they are not designed for the same uses and are different technologies. Kubernetes and Docker are complementary technologies used for the management, creation and scaling of container applications.

Kubernetes is a technology that is primarily used for the orchestration of entire clusters. It is, suitable for the orchestration of multiple Docker clusters and takes the management and scaling of container applications to the next level.

Docker is mainly used in containerisation and creating clusters and Kubernetes in the orchestration of those clusters.

Kubernetes vs Docker Swarm: Commonalities

Kubernetes and Docker are, as already clarified, different technologies and harmonise fantastically with each other. However, Docker has an alternative container orchestration platform called Swarm (or Docker Swarm) as an alternative to Kubernetes.

Docker, despite its in-house orchestration platform, maintains compatibility with both Kubernetes and Docker Swarm and even allows for flexible switching between platforms. However, Kubernetes and Docker Swarm cannot be used together.

Both the structure and the application of the two tools are basically the same. They both serve to manage and increase the efficiency of containers through intelligent scaling and the best possible use of resources.

The advantage of Docker Swarm lies primarily in the installation. Since it is developed in-house by Docker, the integration between Docker and Docker Swarm is particularly easy. Kubernetes’s advantage is its range of functions and its own GUI.

Business considerations

Kubernetes and Docker are particularly helpful for deploying cloud-native software systems and apps. If an app is installed via virtual machines not hardware, Docker and Kubernetes not only separate and coordinate them much better but also make the whole process more flexible. Virtual machines are much easier to manage than bare-metal installations.

The disadvantage of virtual machines is that they have to run on their own operating system all the time. However, with the help of containers, this problem can also be solved. Containers contain the applications, libraries and all other dependencies. These only use the operating system resources of the underlying hosts that they really need.

Software containers can use a form of operating system virtualisation even without their own operating system. This makes the process much leaner than with virtual machines while retaining the advantages over bare-metal installations.

Kubernetes and Docker can be used to automate the provisioning, scaling and management of (container) applications. It doesn’t matter whether the applications are mail/web servers, content management, CRM / ERP systems or databases.

The paper “Survey Report 2020” published by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation shows that 91 % of respondents had worked with Kubernetes in 2020. A similar signal also comes from “Mirantis”, which bought Docker Enterprise in 2019 for around $35 million. It says: “The primary orchestrator going forward is Kubernetes”, signalling Mirantis will now focus more on Docker Enterprise’s other solutions, rather than Docker Swarm.

As the previous section shows, Kubernetes is the leading orchestration platform and, together with Docker, is gaining more and more users (organisations as well as enterprises) and developers. Therefore, for long-term planning, it is logical to work with Kubernetes and Docker technologies and not rely on Docker Swarm or other niche orchestration tools.

Conclusion

Kubernetes vs. Docker – as we’ve seen, the formulation is misleading. We now know that Kubernetes and Docker are teammates and not opponents. Docker Swarm is the only notable aspect of Docker that can be seen as a direct competitor to Kubernetes. However, it is on a downward slope and is far behind Kubernetes in terms of adoption.

Kubernetes and Docker are both rising technologies, which is clearly confirmed by the 5-year trend of the two tools which shows increasing usage of both. For this reason, our DevOps Engineers are particularly focused on their use in the containerisation and orchestration of cloud-native applications.

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