Should Managed Service Providers Use the Cloud? It Depends – ITPro Today

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| Nov 11, 2021
For managed service providers, or MSPs, the cloud is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because MSPs can use the cloud as the foundation for a whole new selection of managed service offerings that, in the past, were not practical to offer. It’s a curse because businesses that used to pay MSPs for managed services may instead choose to obtain them directly from cloud providers themselves, cutting out the MSP. Should MSPs offer managed services that are based on public cloud platforms? Or should they stay away from anything based in the cloud in order to minimize the risk that customers will fire them and move to a platform like AWS instead? This article offers perspective by discussing the pros and cons of using the cloud as an MSP.
MSPs specialize in providing IT services to businesses on an outsourced basis. Companies may hire MSPs to do everything from managing employee workstations, to setting up and monitoring networks, to backing up data and far beyond.
Historically, MSPs provided these services using their own hardware and software environments. If an MSP provided data backup, for example, the MSP would typically have to maintain a set of servers and storage media on which the backups were stored. Or, an MSP who managed workstations would have to set up and maintain the PCs and software that powered those workstations.
But with the cloud, it has become possible for MSPs essentially to outsource some of their infrastructure–and, in certain cases, software–requirements to cloud providers. Today, instead of managing physical infrastructure for storing backups, an MSP could simply store data backups in a public cloud service like AWS S3. Likewise, an MSP who manages workstations could use a cloud desktop service to deliver much of the software required for the workstations. (The MSP may still need to manage physical PCs, but cloud desktop services can greatly simplify the deployment and management of the operating system and applications running on each PC.)
Thus, the cloud presents opportunities for MSPs to simplify their operations while offering an expanded set of managed services to customers. In some cases, they can even offer services that simply wouldn’t be practical to deliver without the cloud. A small MSP might not want to maintain a data center to store data backups, for instance, but that ceases to become an issue when the MSP can use a public cloud instead.
To elaborate on the above, there are several reasons why MSPs might choose to use the cloud:
Given advantages like these, it’s not surprising to see a growing set of observers who encourage MSPs to use the cloud.
Like most IT trends, however, the cloud is not the right solution for every MSP out there. Before shifting to a cloud-centric MSP business model, it’s important to weigh the disadvantages of the cloud from an MSP’s perspective:
To avoid these pitfalls, MSPs should focus on offering cloud-based managed services that allow them to add meaningful value, rather than just reselling what cloud providers offer on their own. The harder it is for customers to deploy a cloud service themselves, the more MSPs can charge, and the lower the risk that clients will attempt to deploy the service on their own.
So, strategies like reselling SaaS applications, which customers can typically deploy on their own easily enough, may not be as wise as using cloud IaaS services to build custom managed service offerings.
There’s no simple answer as to whether MSPs should or should not use the cloud. For many MSPs, leveraging public cloud services to create their own managed service offerings makes good sense. But it’s crucial to weigh the cost and complexity challenges associated with the cloud, as well as to consider how likely clients are to use the cloud without the help of MSPs.
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