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Choosing between managed and unmanaged IaaS

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Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) typically comes in one of two forms: managed or unmanaged. Of course, some providers also offer something in between. Typically, a provider will tend to specialize in one, although some providers can offer both. For example, the IBM Cloud Managed Services IaaS offering specializes in managed servers, but can also offer unmanaged servers as well.

Let’s look at the key differences between the two.

Features that you will commonly find with a managed cloud server:
• Operating system deployment and management
• Monitoring (and action in the event of an incident)
• Patching
• Security
• Backup and restore services
• Disaster recovery and storage services
• Limited access to the operating system, or controlled access
• Operating system-based service level agreements (SLAs)

Features that you will commonly find with an unmanaged cloud server:
• Operating system deployment
• Complete control of the operating system
• Hypervisor or infrastructure-only SLAs

This list is not exhaustive, nor does it accurately describe every cloud provider—cloud providers will generally provide a combination. Some unmanaged cloud providers can also offer access to backup and restore services, or access to local patch and software repositories. Some managed cloud providers will allow full access to the operating system; some will provide a limited subset.

Both solutions have their advantages. The key is to understand what your use cases and requirements are for the service that you wish to consume. Some clients select unmanaged servers, apply a basic security configuration (antivirus and patching) solution of their own and then use the servers for rapidly deploying development and proof of concept environments.

The ability to quickly provision infrastructure for performing a proof of concept is invaluable. While managed infrastructure is suitable here as well, some clients prefer the uncomplicated nature of unmanaged infrastructure—the ability to have full and immediate access to the operating system to perform whatever changes are necessary to establish an application. If a decision is then made to create a production service with that application, then deploying managed infrastructure tends to be a better choice.

Unmanaged servers also give you a greater (if not full) control of your management stack, whereas managed servers often mandate tools and processes. That being said, if you are adding the management stack yourself to an unmanaged image, looking for a cloud provider that will support a custom image or additional automation routine to add your enhancements is also beneficial.

However, if you are hosting a self-contained application in the cloud, using the cloud provider’s managed service can allow you to focus only on the application without needing to create a support structure or organization to keep the operating system healthy.

Both products are equally valid, but like all decisions, they need to be made with a solid understanding of your requirements. What do you see as the benefits of each solution? Leave me a comment below or on Twitter @MikeJMcGuire.

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