TCO Comparison: Self-Managed Kubernetes vs. Managed Kubernetes Provider

TCO Comparison: Self-Managed Kubernetes vs. Managed Kubernetes Provider

Calculating the total cost of ownership (TCO) for Kubernetes requires identifying all major expenses, including infrastructure costs, personnel costs, and potential cloud provider fees. With a clear picture of TCO, you can make a more informed decision when choosing between self-managed (self-hosted) Kubernetes and a managed Kubernetes provider. The TCOs of the two approaches are significantly different, and this article will show you exactly how and why.

TCO Comparison Summary

The table below shows the key aspects of the TCO comparison between self-managed Kubernetes and managed Kubernetes providers. It compares infrastructure expenses, including provider fees, and an engineer’s salary.

For this comparison, we’ll assume that a company would need only one DevOps engineer for managed Kubernetes, whereas companies opting for self-hosted Kubernetes would need three. We’ll look at rented cloud VMs for self-hosted, and out-of-the-box K8s clusters for managed Kubernetes—two standard scenarios for a fair comparison. For both scenarios, the infrastructure costs shown in the table are the average when considering AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, and Gcore.

 InfrastructureEngineers’ salaryTotal annual cost
Self-hosted Kubernetes$13,737.64$321,500$335,238
Managed Kubernetes$6,157.8$107,167$113,325

As you can see, the TCO of self-hosted Kubernetes is almost three times higher than that of managed Kubernetes. Let’s explore the reasons for this major cost discrepancy.

Infrastructure Cost Comparison

Kubernetes is a free software. But to run it, you have to rent or buy infrastructure, such as VMs or physical servers. The way you do so differs depending on whether you opt for self-hosted or managed Kubernetes. To understand infrastructure costs, we need to take a closer look at each method in turn and explore the components required.

Self-hosted Kubernetes

If you choose to run K8s independently, you’ll need to rent VMs for the Kubernetes master node (the control plane) and worker nodes. Let’s consider a production-grade cluster consisting of the following:

For simplicity, we choose VMs with a configuration suitable for an average web project: 8 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, and 75 GB SSD.

Here is the pricing* offered by four cloud providers for VMs available in the US:

ProviderVM types and resourcesTotal annual cost of five VMs
AWSc6g.2xlarge—8 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 75 GB SSD$12,273.6
AzureA8 v2 series—8 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD**$17,764.2
Google CloudN1 series—8 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 75 GB SSD$16,721.33
Gcoreg1 standard series—8 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 75 GB SSD$8,191.42
Average$13,737.64
* Prices are for on-demand VMs; no commitment; no VAT; ingress traffic is not included.
** Azure only offers fixed volume sizes for built-in storage.

Managed Kubernetes

With managed K8s, you don’t have to worry about renting separate VMs and setting up the Kubernetes software. You choose the VM configurations for your worker nodes, and a provider prepares them for you. The result is an out-of-the-box Kubernetes cluster.

Sometimes, you also have to consider fees for control plane management (fixed) and egress traffic (consumption-based). Providers like AWS, Google Cloud, and Azure charge for this, while others—like Gcore—don’t.

Here are the prices* offered by four cloud providers for similar cluster configurations in the US:

ProviderControl plane managementCluster of two worker nodesTotal annual cost
ConfigurationAnnual cost
Amazon EKS$8768 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 75 GB SSD$4,909.44$5,785.44
AKS (Azure)$8768 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 64 GB SSD**$7,048.08$7,924.08
GKE (Google)$876X vCPUs, X GB RAM$6,832.08$7,708.08
Gcore Managed Kubernetes08 vCPU, 16 GB RAM, 75 GB SSD$3,213.6$3,213.6
Average$6,157.8
* Prices are for on-demand VMs; no commitment; no VAT; ingress traffic is not included.
** Azure only offers fixed volume sizes for built-in storage.

Engineer Cost Comparison

To maintain a production-grade cluster for an average web project, you need:

  • For a self-hosted K8s cluster—3 DevOps engineers
  • For a managed K8s cluster—1 DevOps engineer

To learn more about the technical reasons behind these calculations, read our article on the difference between managed and self-managed Kubernetes.

According to Glassdoor, the median salary for a DevOps engineer is as follows:

 DevOps salary in the USDevOps salary in GermanyAverage annual salary
Self-hosted Kubernetes (3 engineers)$420,000$222,999$321,500
Managed Kubernetes (1 engineer)$140,000$74,333$107,167

Final Comparison

Here is the final TCO comparison between self-managed Kubernetes and managed Kubernetes providers:

ProvidersInfrastructureEngineers’ salaryTotal annual cost
By providerAverage
Self-hosted Kubernetes
AWS$12,273.6$13,737.64$321,500$335,238
Azure$17,764.2
GCP$16,721.33
Gcore$8,191.42
Managed Kubernetes
Amazon EKS$5,785.44$6,157.8$107,167$113,325
AKS (Azure)$7,924.08
GKE (Google)$7,708.08
Gcore Managed Kubernetes$3,213,6

Summing Up

Please note that these approximate calculation probably aren’t exactly what you’ll experience. The actual numbers will depend on many factors, including:

  • Size and complexity of your project
  • Location where you hire engineers and deploy a K8s cluster
  • Choice of provider
  • How you consume and scale computing resources

However, the difference between the TCO of the two methods is relevant to what we got above: the total cost of ownership of self-managed Kubernetes is about three times higher than that of managed Kubernetes.

The main reason is that Managed Kubernetes means a provider handles many of the most complex operations. This includes managing the underlying infrastructure and control plane, regular and security upgrades, monitoring, scaling the cluster, and, critical to production, high availability guaranteed by an SLA. With self-hosted K8s, you have to do that yourself, which means a larger infrastructure, larger team size, and higher salary costs.

Conclusion

Understanding the TCO difference between self-managed Kubernetes and a managed Kubernetes provider can help you choose a solution that is more suitable for your team and meets your budget. Kubernetes cost analysis can also help you identify areas for optimization, such as right-sizing your infrastructure or optimizing workloads for better resource utilization. However, the TCO isn’t the only aspect of choosing how to run Kubernetes: you should also consider things like the setup and maintenance responsibilities, as well as your project requirements.

If you’re looking for reliable, high-performance, and scalable Kubernetes clusters, try Gcore Managed Kubernetes. We offer free cluster management with a 99.9% SLA, bare metal and GPU support for worker nodes, and free egress traffic.

Explore Gcore Managed Kubernetes

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