Benchmark Test Pits Docker's Swarm Against Kubernetes

Third-party consultant finds Swarm is five times faster than Kubernetes overall

Christopher Tozzi, Technology Analyst

March 11, 2016

2 Min Read
Benchmark Test Pits Docker's Swarm Against Kubernetes
A shipping container is moved with a crane before being loaded onto a ship docked at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Cloud admins have not yet reached consensus on which container orchestration platform is best. But Docker has started pushing Swarm hard by promoting new benchmark tests that show major performance advantages vis-à-vis Google's competing Kubernetes cluster management solution.

Swarm and Kubernetes are part of the burgeoning ecosystem of container orchestration platforms that have arisen in recent years to help admins manage container-based cloud environments. Other popular solutions in the same niche include Amazon ECS, Apache Mesos, and Openshift, among others.

As Docker noted in a recent blog post, market share is currently split relatively evenly between Swarm and Kubernetes. A survey showed that they are the most popular container orchestration platforms, with Swarm enjoying only a slight lead. (Amazon ECS comes in a close third.)

Swarm Versus Kubernetes

But Docker also suggested that those results are surprising. According to the company, Swarm, its home-grown cluster management solution, clearly beats out the competition.

To make that point, Docker commissioned benchmark testing by a third-party consultant, Jeff Nickoloff. The tests compared Swarm and Kubernetes performance and response time at different levels of scale.

The full results are detailed in Docker's blog post. But the major finding was that Swarm delivers performance that is about five times faster overall. Under circumstances -- namely, when the cluster workload reached 100 percent -- Swarm was as much as 98 times faster than Kuberetes. (Yes, that's 98 times faster, or 9800 percent.)

Docker chalked the differences up to what it describes as a simpler, more streamlined design for Swarm. In contrast, it said, Kubernetes is "overly complex and [needs] teams of cloud engineers to implement and manage it day to day."

To be sure, the fact that the benchmark tests were commissioned by Docker raises some questions about how neutral they were. In addition, the scale of the environment that Nicoloff used for testing -- 30,000 containers running on 1,000 nodes -- may be different from what many organizations would consider a large-scale cluster. That means it's unclear whether Swarm would outpace Kubernetes in all real-world situations as well as it did in the benchmark tests.

Still, the message Docker wants to send is clear. The company is pushing organizations to adopt its cluster management solution rather than going with a third-party tool. That is notable because Kubernetes can manage Docker containers just as well as Swarm can. Kubernetes is not a threat to Docker's main product, which is containers. But Docker hopes enterprises will adopt more than Docker containers. It wants them to use Docker products at all levels of the cloud stack.

Expect this to remain an important part of Docker's strategy as the company's software and business model continue to mature.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Technology Analyst, Fixate.IO

Christopher Tozzi is a technology analyst with subject matter expertise in cloud computing, application development, open source software, virtualization, containers and more. He also lectures at a major university in the Albany, New York, area. His book, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” was published by MIT Press.

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