What Does Managed Kubernetes Mean, Anyway?

As Kubernetes has come to dominate the container world, managed Kubernetes has become an important strategy for companies seeking to monetize Kubernetes. But what does “managed Kubernetes” actually mean? That depends on whom you ask.

Kubernetes is an open source orchestration tool for containers. It doesn’t cost any money to download, set up and run yourself.

It makes sense, then, for cloud hosting providers, MSPs and others to offer managed offerings. It is a way to capitalize on the open source Kubernetes platform by adding value through managed services.

Organizations that want to use Kubernetes benefit, too. With managed Kubernetes, they get easy access to a Kubernetes cluster without having to set up and maintain it themselves.

The Many Versions of Managed Kubernetes

If you look closely at the managed Kubernetes services that are currently available, however, you’ll notice that the amount of management required on the part of users can vary considerably.

Consider the following offerings from vendors:

  • Canonical, which will operate the whole Kubernetes cluster for you. This is a truly fully managed Kubernetes solution.
  • Giant Swarm, which provides access to dedicated Kubernetes support. This solution may not include complete operations, but it is close to a fully managed service.
  • Platform9, which provides Kubernetes hosting, along with a relatively sophisticated preconfigured Kubernetes environment.
  • AWS EKS. On AWS, managed Kubernetes mostly provides just the hosting infrastructure and a basic preconfigured Kubernetes environment. This solution is pretty far from being fully managed. (EKS is currently in preview.)

These are just some examples. They’re not a complete list of offerings.

They are, however, representative of the ecosystem. The degree to which these Kubernetes offerings are “managed”—in the sense that you get operational support as well as hosting infrastructure—varies considerably.

This type of variability is not limited to the managed Kubernetes market, of course. Any type of software-as-a-service offering might vary somewhat in the degree to which it is fully managed.

As the market grows, however, the variability is especially striking. What one vendor calls managed Kubernetes might just be basic container hosting, with Kubernetes preinstalled in another.

The bottom line: The meaning varies quite a bit depending on the context. When evaluating options, users should be aware that they’re not at all comparing apples to apples.

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.

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