Buy or build a Kubernetes-based container platform

Kubernetes is only one part of a much more complicated infrastructure puzzle

Integrating additional software to create an internal Kubernetes-based developer platform. Kubernetes itself is easy to outsource by embracing a managed Kubernetes service, but this only solves a small part of the equation. You’re still left with the difficulty of choosing, integrating, operating, and updating all of the other pieces of the container platform like monitoring, logging, security, CI/CD, developer self-service, multi-tenancy, SSO, et cetera.

So what is a Kubernetes-based container platform?

A Kubernetes-based container platform is a software solution that allows you to manage containerized applications on Kubernetes and provides capabilities like automation, orchestration, governance, security, customization, and enterprise support for container-based micro services architectures.

There are still a lot of companies who are trying to build a custom Kubernetes-based container platform with considerable development effort (and ongoing maintenance) for something that is not really part of their core strength and thus providing a competitive advantage. What criteria does your organization use in deciding when to build vs. buy.

We see many examples from companies developing their own container platform solution. In nearly every case, a significant percentage of the engineering team (and engineering cost) go into a solution that:

  • Does not offer long term competitive differentiation
  • Costs more than purchasing an existing product
  • Steals focus away from the engineering team
  • Is not aligned with the skills or business level outcomes of the team

 

Here Are 3 Questions To Help You With The Build Versus Buy Decision

1. Does Building A Kubernetes-Based Container Platform Create Strategic Differentiation For Your Business?

Shiny object distraction is a very real thing we observe regularly. Companies start – innocently enough – building a custom container platform solution in a pinch to get them by, but never go back and reassess the decision. Over time the solution snowballs and consumes more and more resources that should be focused on innovating strategic differentiation.
If building instead of buying is going to distract from focusing efforts on the next “big thing” – then 99% of the time you should just stop here and attempt to find a packaged product, open-source solution, or outsourcing vendor to build what you need. If after reviewing these points, if the answer is “Yes, it will provide a strategic differentiation,” then proceed to question 2.

2. Are You The Best Company To Build It Yourself?

This question helps inform whether you can effectively build it and achieve the value you need. This is a “core v. context” question; it asks both whether your business model supports building a container platform in question and also if you have the appropriate skills to build it better than anyone else.

Go to question 3 if you can answer “Yes” to this question and stop here and find an outside solution if the answer is “No”.

And please, don’t fool yourself – if you answer “Yes” because you believe you have the smartest people in the world (and you may), do you really need to dilute their efforts by focusing on more than just the things that will guarantee your success?

3. Can You Build It Cost-Effectively?

Is it cheaper to build than buy when considering the total lifecycle (implementation through end-of-life) of a container platform solution? Many companies use cost as a justification, but all too often they miss the key points of how much it costs to maintain a proprietary solution.

If your business REALLY grows and is extremely successful, do you want to be continuing to support internally-developed solutions through the life of your product? Don’t fool yourself into answering this affirmatively just because you want to work on something “neat.” Your job is to create value – not work on “neat things” – unless your “neat thing” creates value.

There are many more complex questions that can be asked and may justify the building rather than purchasing your container platform solution, but we feel these three questions are sufficient for most cases

A “build” decision is indicated when the answers to all 3 questions are “Yes.”

Conclusion

While startups and small companies roll their own tools early on to get products out the door, as they grow, the timeline of planning (and related costs) needs to increase from the next sprint to a longer-term annual and multi-year strategy. That, plus growth, tips the scale to buy instead of build. The more internal products produced and supported, the more technical debt is required and distracts medium-to-large organizations from competing against the next startup.

While building a custom container platform solution seems to make sense in the immediate term, looking at the long-term strategy and desired outcome of your organization needs to be fully weighted in the decision process. Distraction from focus is the number one harm to fall behind the competition and burn sprint cycles on maintaining products that don’t move the needle with your customers. The crippling cost of distractions is what causes successful companies from losing their competitive advantage as well as slipping into oblivion.

We suggest seriously considering buying or outsourcing anytime you answer “No” to any of the but or build questions. We would be happy to help you.

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