Amazon ECS vs AWS Fargate: 5 Most Important Differences Explained

AWS offers multiple services for container management, and choosing the right one can have big implications when you decide to scale up your business. Therefore it’s good to get a quick understanding of two of the biggest container orchestration services that AWS has to offer: AWS Fargate and Amazon ECS. 

Next up, we’re going to break down the differences between Amazon ECS and AWS Fargate and if it’s a good fit for your use case.

Trust me, by the end of this, you’ll know exactly which one to go for.

What is Amazon ECS?

Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) is like your personal butler for Docker containers. Imagine you’ve got a bunch of these containers, each doing its own thing. ECS helps you manage them, making sure they’re all running smoothly.

Key Features and Benefits

  • Customization: You can tweak the underlying EC2 instances to your heart’s content.
  • Pricing: You have to ability to purchase reserved EC2 instances for a longer period of time and save hosting costs. You can also purchase spot instances for container tasks that don’t run indefinitely.
  • Scalability: You have control on how you scale containers on the EC2 instances.

Typical Use-Cases

ECS is great when you need a lot of control. For example, if you’re running a complex microservices architecture, ECS lets you fine-tune the details.

What is AWS Fargate?

Think of AWS Fargate as the “easy button” for running containers. You don’t have to worry about the servers or clusters; Fargate handles it all. It’s like ordering a pizza and having it delivered, instead of making it from scratch.

Key Features and Benefits

  • Serverless: You don’t manage any underlying instances.
  • Simplicity: Just define your container specs, and Fargate does the rest.
  • Security: Each task or pod gets its own isolation boundary.

When should you use it?

Fargate is your go-to when you don’t want to deal with the underlying infrastructure. It’s perfect for small to medium-sized projects or for devs who just want to deploy and forget.

The biggest differences between ECS vs Fargate

The biggest difference between ECS and Fargate lies in the level of control and management they offer over the infrastructure. With ECS, you have to manage and configure the underlying EC2 instances, giving you more control but also more responsibility, while Fargate abstracts away the infrastructure, allowing you to run containers directly without managing the underlying EC2 instances, offering a simpler, more hands-off experience.

Comparison table

Here’s a table that provides a quick glance at how the two services compare, helping you decide which one aligns better with your needs and preferences.

FeatureAmazon ECSAWS Fargate
Level of ControlHigh: You manage the EC2 instances, networking, and clusters.Low: AWS manages the infrastructure; you only specify container requirements.
Pricing ModelPay for the EC2 instances and optionally the EBS volumes you use.Pay for the vCPU and memory that your containerized apps consume.
ComplexityHigher learning curve with more flexibility and control over configurations.Simplified experience; less control over configurations but easier to use.
Ease of UseRequires understanding of tasks, services, and clusters.Launch containers without deep knowledge of underlying services.
ScalabilityConfigure auto-scaling policies and set thresholds manually.Auto-scaling managed by AWS, more hands-off.
SecurityResponsible for the security of EC2 instances.Streamlined security with AWS handling task isolation.
Infrastructure ManagementManual: You manage the underlying infrastructure.Automatic: No need to manage the underlying infrastructure.
Comparison table between ECS and Fargate

Alright, now that we’ve gone through the quick comparison. Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: what sets ECS and Fargate apart? We’re talking control, pricing, complexity, scalability, and security. Let’s break it down.

Level of Control

ECS: You’re in the driver’s seat. You manage EC2 instances, set up networking, and configure clusters. If you’re someone who likes to fine-tune every knob and dial, ECS is your playground.

Fargate: It’s more like autopilot. You specify the container requirements, and Fargate handles the rest—no messing around with instances.

Pricing Model

ECS: ECS can be more cost-effective for long-running tasks. You pay for the EC2 instances and optionally the EBS volumes. If you’ve got a steady workload, this could be a more economical choice.

Fargate: You’re billed for the vCPU and memory that your containerized apps consume. Think of it as a utility bill; you pay for what you use, making it ideal for fluctuating workloads.

Complexity and Ease of Use

ECS: There’s a bit of a learning curve with ECS. You’ll need to understand clusters, tasks, and services. But hey, if you’re up for the challenge, the sky’s the limit.

Fargate: If you’re new to the container world, Fargate is a smoother entry point. You can launch a container without even knowing what an EC2 instance is. Trust me, it’s that simple.


ECS: Auto-scaling is on you to configure. You decide the scaling policies and set the thresholds.

Fargate: Auto-scaling is more hands-off. AWS manages it behind the scenes, so you can focus on your app, not the infrastructure.


ECS: With ECS, it’s a lot more complex as you’re responsible for the security of your EC2 instances including the security of the containers that run on the EC2 instances.

Fargate: Fargate offers a more simplified security model. You only have to worry about task security groups and the task and execution roles.

Use-Case Scenarios

Which use-case would fit the right AWS Service? There are two common use-cases that can be correlated to either ECS or Fargate.

These are the startups that have small teams at their disposal and the enterprises that work with dozens of teams on a bigger platform and need to stay compliant and secure.

Let’s go over both use-case scenarios and pick the right container orchestration service.

Scenario 1: The Startup

TLDR; You’re a startup with a small dev team. You don’t have time to manage servers. Go with Fargate.


Imagine you’re a startup with a small but mighty dev team. You’re focused on rapid development and deployment. You’ve got a killer app idea, but you don’t have the time or resources to manage servers, let alone worry about scaling and security.

With Fargate, you can deploy these containers as individual tasks and let AWS handle the rest. You focus on writing code, while Fargate takes care of the heavy lifting.

Scenario 2: The Enterprise

TLDR; You’re an enterprise with specific compliance and control needs. ECS is your friend here.


Now, let’s say you’re an enterprise-level organization. You’ve got specific compliance requirements, maybe you’re in healthcare or finance. You need granular control over your environment for security audits, and you have a dedicated team to manage your infrastructure.

ECS is your go-to here because it offers the level of control and customisation that enterprises often require. You can choose your own EC2 instance types, configure your own networking, and set up complex orchestration policies.


Alright, let’s wrap this up. If you want more control and are willing to manage the complexities, ECS is your jam. If you want to get your containers up and running without the hassle, Fargate is the way to go.

Either way, both are solid choices for running containers on AWS. It all boils down to what you need and how much control you want to have.

Additional Resources

For those of you who want to dive deeper, here are some useful links:

And there you have it! Hope this clears up any confusion and helps you make an informed decision.

Danny Steenman

A Senior AWS Cloud Engineer with over 9 years of experience migrating workloads from on-premises to AWS Cloud.

I have helped companies of all sizes shape their cloud adoption strategies, optimizing operational efficiency, reducing costs, and improving organizational agility.

Connect with me today to discuss your cloud aspirations, and let’s work together to transform your business by leveraging the power of AWS Cloud.

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