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Do I Need a Kubernetes Managed Service or Professional Service?

Over the last five years we have iterated as a company and moved significantly from "Kubernetes Professional Services" to the other side of the spectrum "Kubernetes Managed Services" for our service offerings (not to be confused with our software offerings). I thought it would make sense to address the difference in the two to help those adopting Kubernetes.

Professional Services

Professional services (often called "consulting") refers to hiring an expert to solve a problem. And the problem can be almost any kind of problem. Need help with your taxes? You can hire a professional service to do that for you. Need help racking and stacking a whole bunch of servers? There are people out there who have done a lot of it. The goal is for (hopefully) a better-than-average person to help you get it done faster or better than you would be able to do it yourself.

In fact, for a lot of the larger professional service firms, the conversation is often started with the firm saying, "The answer is yes, just tell us what the question is." And then they hear your problem and go find the person they deem most qualified in the organization to address the problem.

There are advantages to professional services. With enough money you can micromanage what gets done, or ask for changes until you’re satisfied with it. And the sky is the limit for what you can find to be done. And when you succeed at finding a good person for it, it can save you pain and heartache in the process—because it isn’t their first time doing it.

But there are also common problems with professional services. Often professional services are paid for by the hour, meaning some outfits will drag out the work as long possible or make it overly complicated so they can get paid for more work.

It's also not uncommon for someone to come in and build you something that looks amazing and is cutting edge. But when they leave, the whole thing falls over. A person in a professional service capacity is incentivized to work exactly as long as it takes to complete the project and get paid. They are usually not on the hook for the long term implications of what they've built.

For an example, let’s say you hire someone to help you renovate a bathroom in your house—this is a professional service. They may lay the fanciest tile, and put in a skylight, upgrade the shower to include steam, and have the fanciest vanity ever. But, unless you're experienced yourself, you may not know if they used the right water-proofing underneath... and you may find out a few years later that the floor has rotted out under your shower. It's hard to verify the quality of the work that was done, and the person who initially did it is usually long gone by the time there are problems.

So how is this different from managed services?

Managed Services

Managed services are similar to professional services in that there is often some up-front work done by an expert. Although most managed service companies tend to be more focused in their offerings. So rather than, "the answer is yes, what's the question?" The conversation becomes much more, "This is what we offer, does that a fit for your needs?”

Another big variation is in the responsibility for that work in the long run. To carry on the previous bathroom example, you can think of a managed service as the company that builds your bathroom, but is also responsible for it’s future. The service will repair any leaks, drainage, breakages or even light-bulbs. Rather than build and walk away, the managed service builds AND takes ownership over the outcomes for the long term.

In many ways this helps align the incentives of both the entity needing the managed service, and the managed service provider themselves. Both desire that whatever is built is built quickly and ALSO can last for a long time with minimal maintenance needs.

This incentive alignment however, will often come with some trade offs. For example if the client really wants to use a drain that is well known for clogging, the managed service provider will probably push back, or refuse to support that drain.

At Fairwinds, we offer Kubernetes managed services for a few reasons:

  1. We have more experience than most in what it takes to actually run Kubernetes for a long time.
  2. As a result we believe we can help our customers get to production faster than most other solutions and succeed for the long term when we help take ownership of the ongoing outcomes.
  3. In doing professional services over the years we were often asked to put things in place we knew to be bad decisions in the long run, and we wanted to avoid building things that had a high likelihood of breaking in the future.
  4. We care about service at its most fundamental level of a human helping other humans.

There are many firms out there that can build you just about anything you want, no matter how good or bad it is. Kubernetes managed service firms will build you something you can count on, because they too want it to last.

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