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AKS vs EKS vs GKE: Managed Kubernetes services compared

Alexander Potasnick
Alexander Potasnick

Which cloud provider’s managed Kubernetes service is king of the cloud? In this post, we’ll dig into the pros and cons of the three main contenders. It’s AKS vs EKS vs GKE in a battle royale for your k8s cluster.

Kubernetes has come out on top as the preferred container orchestrator for enterprises. One major advantage of running containerized applications is portability. You can run the same application both on-premises as well as in the cloud.

To support those efforts, three of the top cloud service providers — Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud — now offer managed Kubernetes services. But what are the differences between them?

Some features are universal between the three providers. 

  • All three providers give you easy integration with their other services. This will not only ease operations but also help with availability. 
  • In terms of the Kubernetes service itself, they all deploy and maintain the control plane for you, so you only have to worry about the nodes. This way, you can focus more on your applications. 

But while the core functionality of Kubernetes is generally the same, the features that each cloud provider offers can be very different. So how do we choose where to run our Kubernetes cluster? Read on as we compare AKS, EKS, and GKE to see which might be best for you.


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What is a managed Kubernetes service?

First up, a quick primer. With a managed Kubernetes service, a third-party does all or some of the heavy lifting needed to set up and run Kubernetes.

Here are three main contenders from AWS, Azure, and GCP:

  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) — Originally, Azure had a service called Azure Container Service. This supported not only Kubernetes but also Apache Mesos and Docker Swarm. With Kubernetes seeing its popularity outgrow the competition by a significant margin, Azure replaced its Azure Container Service with Azure Kubernetes Service in June 2018.
  • Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) — It should come as no surprise that Google was the first cloud provider to release its Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). After all, Kubernetes was originally developed at Google for their internal applications. GKE was released in 2015. 

Which cloud provider’s managed Kubernetes service is best?

TL;DR? If you’re already invested in one of the three major cloud providers, it makes sense to continue to use that service. All three are strong contenders. 

But there are unique benefits and features in all of the managed Kubernetes services covered below. Which cloud provider’s managed Kubernetes service you use really depends on the situation. 

  • Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) is the most widely used managed Kubernetes service.
  • If you’re not committed to a cloud provider, you may consider looking at Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). GKE has the most features and automated capabilities
  • Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) may be the most cost-effective option and integrates well with all things Microsoft.

Let’s dig a bit deeper into the pros and cons and differences in features between each provider. Keep in mind that since the cloud evolves so quickly, some of the details in the comparison below may have changed by the time you read this.

Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) pros and cons

If you’re already in the Microsoft and Azure world, it makes sense to use AKS. It integrates well with the other Microsoft Azure features, such as Azure Active Directory. And it might be the most cost-effective service as you do not have to pay for the Control Plane. 

AKS strengthsAKS weaknesses
AKS has been the fastest to provide the newer Kubernetes versions as well as minor patches.1As opposed to GKE, which is fully automatic, AKS has a semi-manual process to upgrade Cluster components to newer versions.12 However, a fully automatic solution is in development.13
AKS provides automatic node health repair.2The network policies need to be enabled when creating the cluster and cannot be enabled on an existing cluster.14
The Control Plane is free; you are only charged per node.3 Azure will only match the EKS 99.95% SLA if you use Availability Zones, which started to incur charges in February 2021.15
AKS has integration with Azure Policy.4
Azure Monitor5 and Application Insights6 are available for monitoring and logging.
Azure Network Policies and Calico Network Policies can be set up automatically when a cluster is created.7
There is seamless integration with Azure Active Directory.8
AKS has availability in Azure Government.9
There is a good developer environment. You can use the Kubernetes extension in Visual Studio Code to deploy to AKS.10 Or you can use the Bridge to Kubernetes service. This gives you the ability to run and debug code on a development machine as if it was a part of your cluster. This way, you don’t need to replicate all of the dependencies to your development machine.11

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS) pros and cons

EKS is the most widely used managed Kubernetes services, according to a survey from the CCNF. But EKS has the least amount of pre-configured solutions, so it will require more manual configuration. While this may mean that you have more control over your cluster, it also requires more time focused on operations.

EKS strengthsEKS weaknesses
Integration with the strong AWS ecosystem.
Out of the three providers, EKS has the most manual steps to upgrade the Cluster components.19
There is a 99.95% Service Level Agreement.16There is no automatic node health repair.20
EKS makes it very easy to apply a Pod Security Policy, which applies cluster-wide.17Logging and monitoring can be configured in Amazon CloudWatch Container Insights 21, but the service is not intuitive.
AWS GovCloud is a supported region.18Price is more expensive than AKS at $0.10 per cluster per hour.22
You have to install upgrades for the VPC CNI yourself.23
You have to install Calico CNI yourself.24
There is no IDE extension for developing EKS code.

Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) pros and cons

If you don’t have any investment in cloud infrastructure or are working in a multi-cloud environment, it might make sense to look at GKE. It has the most features out of the box and offers the most automated capabilities. 

GKE strengthsGKE weaknesses
GKE has the most available versions of the three managed services.25
Only one zonal cluster is free.31
There are automatic upgrades for the control plane and nodes.26GKE will only match the EKS 99.95% SLA if you use Regional Clusters, which costs $0.10 per cluster per hour.32
Depending on your needs, you can subscribe to Rapid, Regular, or Stable release channels so you can automatically test new versions.27GKE does not have a government cloud, so there’s no government cloud support.34
GKE provides automatic node health repair.28 
You can use a Container-Optimized OS for the nodes, which are maintained by Google to provide better security and stability.29
There is an intuitive Integrated dashboard with monitoring and logging of all components using Google Cloud operations suite.30
For a developer environment, you can utilize the Cloud Code extension for Visual Studio Code and IntelliJ.31

How to get started with EKS, AKS, and GKE

Whether you’re wondering which Kubernetes certification path is right for you or are looking to learn more about the basics of GKE, AKS, or EKS, A Cloud Guru has you covered.

Kick your Kubernetes skills up a notch with these related resources from ACG:


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