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Amazon EC2 Container Service (ECS) – Quick Review

Ting Hsuan Lin | September 26, 2016

What is ECS?

Amazon EC2 Container Service (ECS) is highly scalable, high performance container management services that supports Docker containers and allows you to easily run applications on a managed cluster of Amazon EC2 instances.

  • Your containers will run on ECS instances.
  • There is no additional cost: you pay only for the EC2 resources.
  • The service is currently in preview; general availability will come in the next few months.
  • For now, you can try in console dashboards, CLI and API.
  • For now, you can only start containers from public images hosted on the Docker Registry, but that’s expected to change when the service goes out of preview.


    Container instance

    A “container instance” can be any EC2 instance running any Linux distro (Ubuntu, Centos…). It just needs two extra software components:

    • The Docker daemon
    • The AWS ECS agent

    The ECS agent is open source (Apache license).



    That’s a pool of resources. A cluster starts being empty, and you can dynamically scale up/down by adding and removing instances. It’s a regional object that can span multiple AZs.

    Task definition

    It’s an app definition in JSON.


    A task in an instanciation of a task definition. In other words, that will be a group of related, running containers.

    Example to run an PHP application on ECS

    Note: I use CLI for this example. You could use console dashboard or API instead.

    Step 1: launch an EC2 instance with Amazon ECS AMI

    Using normal process to launch an EC2. Remember:

    • Use Amazon ECS-optimized AMI in community AMIs
    • Launch EC2 with IAM role in ECS full

    Step 2: List container instance

    Step 3: Register a task definition

    You could use this sample JSON

    It defines a Docker container with configurations below:

    • Memory: 256 MB
    • CPU: 0.5 CPU core.
    • Name: php-app
    • Image: tuna/php5 (I uploaded it to Docker Registry)
    • Essential = true: the failure of that container stops the task
    • Family = ecs-poc: versioning purpose.
    • Port mapping: 80, 22

    Register this task definition:

    $ aws ecs register-task-definition –cli-input-json file://$HOME/tasks/php.json

    Step 4: Run task

    $ aws ecs run-task –cluster default –task-definition ecs-poc:1 –count 1


    From Docker point of view

    I would love if:

    • Container instances and clusters could be managed with Docker Machine
    • Task definitions and tasks could be managed with Docker Compose as the frontend
    • Docker Swarm could be used as a custom scheduler

      From AWS point of view

      I would love if:

      • ECS could be integrated with Cloud Formation
      • Images could be pushed to S3-backed registry– TuNA7 – 

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