What is the difference between AKS and Azure Service Fabric?

Azure users have a few ways to manage containers on Microsoft's cloud. Learn when and why to pick between two of them -- AKS and Service Fabric.

On the surface, Microsoft's Azure Kubernetes Service and Azure Service Fabric seem incredibly similar. However, there are a few fundamental differences between the two orchestration platforms.

Kubernetes is quite popular in the current IT market, but users need to understand how Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) fits alongside the other Azure orchestration platform. The following explanations should provide a high-level overview of AKS vs. Service Fabric, where each service excels and why you might choose one over the other when architecting your next application.

Azure Kubernetes Service

As the name implies, AKS is Azure's managed Kubernetes offering. Kubernetes is the de facto open source platform for container orchestration, but Kubernetes cluster management requires a lot of overhead. This is where AKS comes into play.

AKS handles critical functionality -- such as managing Kubernetes master nodes -- health monitoring and cluster maintenance. Developers can deploy other third-party Kubernetes services on Azure, but AKS' advantage over those services is its tight integration with other Microsoft cloud services. This includes Azure Active Directory for managing Kubernetes role-based access controls, Azure Monitor for tracking container and agent node health, Azure Container Registry for private Docker container storage and even Azure Dev Spaces for a full-parity development experience.

AKS is a good fit for teams that want to build standard, scalable applications with Docker and Kubernetes. It's well-suited for containerized applications that require full-fledged orchestration and scalability. And because it's powered by Kubernetes, AKS also enables multi-cloud and vendor-agnostic infrastructures.

Azure Service Fabric

When comparing AKS vs. Service Fabric, the biggest difference between the two is that AKS only works with Docker-first applications using Kubernetes. Service Fabric is geared toward microservices and supports a number of different runtime strategies. Service Fabric can deploy Docker and Windows Server containers. It also supports arbitrary executables and direct, code-level integrations as stateful services that can run alongside containerized services.

Service Fabric is a good fit for applications built using Windows Server containers or even ASP.NET IIS applications. Service Fabric provides a great path toward scalable, cloud-based setups within the context of more traditional programming paradigms. It's often used to lift and shift existing Windows-based applications to Azure without having to completely rearchitect them.

However, unless your application relies heavily on the Microsoft technology stack, a cloud-agnostic orchestration service like Kubernetes will be far more appropriate for most containerized apps.

Both Service Fabric and AKS offer tight integrations with other Azure services, but Service Fabric does so much more deeply because it was wholly developed by Microsoft. Users can link with Azure Pipelines, DevOps Services, Monitor and Key Vault all within the scope of a Service Fabric application.

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