After 10 years in the industry, we’ve seen a lot of competing definitions and descriptions for the terms “managed” and “hosted.” Notably, we’ve seen some, er, thought-provoking uses of these terms, and we’ve seen the words used utterly interchangeably, with no distinction whatsoever.
We’d like to offer concrete definitions for each of these terms as it relates to our industry, and outline what customers should expect from firms, particularly Bonsai, that offer these services. And while we may not sway an entire industry as to our position on the concepts, we believe having solid illustrations of both will help customers understand what they can expect from us.
After much consideration, internal debate and thorough research, we propose these definitions:
- A hosted service provides space and resources to meet the needs of a customer at their direction and discretion.
- A managed service skillfully wields resources, actively directed toward the customer’s goals.
If “hosted” is about providing space and resources and tools, without opinion or judgment, then “managed” is all about how that space and those resources and tools are used toward specific goals and outcomes.
The intersection of these, the center of the Venn diagram, of course, is a host that also manages a common offering.
Shortly, we’ll look more closely at hosted and managed services, and what each entail, specifically.
But First: Getting from A to B
Before we outline the services, let’s have a quick look at the value chain, as it pertains to the major components provided by a host, whether managed or not.
When an end user runs a search on a company’s web or mobile application, a query is constructed, and results are presented via an API interface with a search engine.
In order to interact with that API, the app needs to discover it with DNS. It negotiates a path across networks and connects securely to the service’s TLS-encrypted endpoint. That connection is then directed by a load balancer to a proxy that begins to identify the request, making decisions about its authority to continue, and the best resources to satisfy it. It then reaches Elasticsearch, which directs the request to the appropriate index data. That index is fetched from fast local storage, cached within memory, and the query is formulated and processed with compute and more memory resources.
Object storage for periodic archival of data further supports the search service. This process has some behaviors that may be configured and tuned according to the customer’s needs. Configurations and other instructions for the installation must be considered, as must configuration of the service itself, as well as tooling to deploy new releases or to roll back a flawed one.
The ongoing operation of the service emits log messages and other diagnostics for telemetry. Observability and alerting tools consume these signals and allow the operator to configure behaviors and actions to take when certain detected criteria are met.
As you see, numerous mission-critical bits must be carefully orchestrated, whether by the customer or by the manager.
Digging Deeper: Hosting
A host’s job is to make space and to provide resources but no more. Rather than being accountable to the customer’s goal, a host takes a step back and allows the customer autonomy and freedom to pursue their needs. A host does not make itself accountable to the customer’s goals. A host provides the space, but does not take steps to ensure that the customer’s use of it is successful.
Specifically, here are the resources offered by a hosted provider:
Fully configured servers. Fully configured software service. Configuration and management of multiple hosts in a cluster. General operating system telemetry and configuration management. Proxy service(s) for authentication, failover, load management and QoS.
Diagnostic tools to inspect log messages and metrics. General network service configuration management, including redundancy.
Those resources, in tum, create affordances, which are actions that can be taken:
- Design, create and manage a cluster that is configured to run an instance of the desired release of the desired service.
- Manage the release of the service. Deploy a version upgrade, or roll back a bad release.
- Configure network quality of service with connection management and load balancing rules.
- Configure authorization and access control settings.
- Configure service behaviors.
- Service diagnostics and troubleshooting.
- Collect and inspect log messages, telemetry; build visualizations, or inspect what is provided.
Digging Deeper: Managed Service
In contrast with a host, a manager, i.e. Bonsai, takes ownership of and accountability for thoroughly understanding the customer’s goals and directs resources to meet those goals.
Specifically, as a managed hosting provider, these are among the services Bonsai offers:
- Alignment with your goals for search. We choose not to specialize in time-series indexing, and other general-purpose storage use cases that Elasticsearch can support. That means high availability and high-performance reads.
- Cluster composition design and capacity planning.
- Scaling advice and execution, designed to accommodate your growth. Zero-downtime deployments. When it’s time to transition from one composition to another, we manage a zero-downtime cutover.
- Upgrade planning. We’ll help understand and analyze which new features and fixes are useful to your workload.
- Relevant advice on relevancy. Security iss a comprehensive and seamless experience.
What affordances does this provide? What can customers do with all of this?
- Spend more energy on product development and company growth goals.
- Dig deeper where business objectives overlap with relevancy tuning. Discover a whole world of relevancy and information retrieval and natural-language processing.
- Make stronger promises to customers about data custody.
- Brag to the Board about how much faster search results are, and how that’s improving conversion rates.
- Quit worrying about outages and focus on other aspects of the business, like growth!
Pure hosted service is a fine alternative for many firms, and we are happy to offer that. However, if you think your business could benefit from a managed service that not only alleviates the headaches inherent in managing search, but also serves as a partner in ensuring your success, reach out to learn more about how Bonsai can help.
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