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Compare the pros and cons of container management tools

From the ever-popular to the obscure, evaluate different container management options based on the user interface, documentation, ease of use, available features and integrations.

Container management tools can vary greatly when it comes to getting the platform up and running and seeing a comprehensive view of the infrastructure. Review the specific pros and cons of tools such as Kubernetes, Rancher, Portainer and Kitematic to ensure the platform you choose is best suited to your needs.

Containers are often the go-to mechanism for running applications, because they enable true application portability. You can move a containerized application directly from a development environment to a production environment, without the hassles that are commonly associated with running containers on VMs. Of course, these and other container-related operations require the use of management tools that have been specifically designed for the unique demands of containerized environments.

Container management tools vary widely in scope, but there are a few capabilities that are more or less universal among them. This includes the ability to create, launch and replicate containers. Container management tools also commonly include orchestration capabilities, such as the ability to execute a container on a scheduled basis. There are dozens of container management tools available today, ranging from well-known tools, such as Kubernetes, to some tools that are far more obscure. Each of these tools has its advantages and disadvantages.

Kubernetes documentation is plentiful

Kubernetes is arguably the most popular of all the container management tools in use in 2019. Kubernetes got its start with Google's Borg project and has evolved into a capable tool for container orchestration. Kubernetes helps with tasks such as load balancing, resource throttling and making containerized workloads highly available across a cluster.

Because Kubernetes is so widely used, it has one big thing going for it that some of the competing tools don't. Kubernetes documentation is plentiful. All you have to do is perform a quick web search, and you're likely to find a plethora of articles and YouTube videos demonstrating whatever it is you're trying to do.

In spite of the vast quantity of documentation available, the single biggest disadvantage to using Kubernetes is that it has a somewhat steep learning curve, especially for those who are new to containers. Just getting Kubernetes up and running is a challenging task.

Rancher eases Kubernetes management

Being that Kubernetes is the standard container management tool for so many organizations, it's hardly surprising that there are tools designed to help with Kubernetes management. Rancher is such a tool. Kubernetes is based around a cluster architecture. Each node within a Kubernetes cluster hosts one or more containers.

Rancher's best feature might be its UI, which provides a nice view of all of the managed Kubernetes clusters, regardless of whether those clusters reside on premises or in the cloud.

While this basic architecture is simple enough, many organizations find themselves having to manage multiple Kubernetes clusters. This is where Rancher comes into play. Rancher is specifically designed to help you cope with the operational and security challenges of managing multiple Kubernetes clusters.

Rancher's best feature might be its UI, which provides a nice view of all of the managed Kubernetes clusters, regardless of whether those clusters reside on premises or in the cloud. It's difficult to find a disadvantage to using Rancher, but some administrators have found that performance slows down as the organization grows, due to long running queries. However, I've never experienced this.

Portainer minimizes Docker learning curve

Portainer is a UI for Docker. You can use this interface to manage containers, images and networks. Portainer enables you to manage the entire Docker infrastructure through a single interface.

There are two main things that make Portainer a noteworthy container management tool. First, Portainer greatly reduces the learning curve associated with Docker containers by providing an environment that is far more intuitive than the native Docker interface. The other nice thing about Portainer is that it can act as a common management interface for both Windows and Linux containers.

The biggest disadvantage to Portainer is that it might not be the best fit if you're a seasoned container admin. While Portainer has the basics covered, the interface doesn't provide comprehensive access to every Docker option. However, Portainer continues to evolve and is becoming more feature-rich.

Kitematic brings container management to Mac

Like Portainer, Kitematic is a container UI tool. What makes Kitematic unique is that it's specifically designed for macOS.

By far the best thing about Kitematic is that it's easy to use. Want to deploy Docker on your Mac? Kitematic lets you do it with one click. The tool also enables you to seamlessly switch between the GUI and the command line, which is handy.

Kitematic's biggest disadvantage is probably the simple fact that it only works on macOS and can't be used on Windows or Linux machines.

This was last published in February 2019

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