Managed Service Providers: Challenges and Considerations
Managed service providers (MSPs) offer remote management of Hybrid IT infrastructure and systems for on-premise environments, as well as private cloud storage. MSPs can help organizations to boost productivity and source more value from IT. However, before choosing an MSP you should carefully evaluate compatibility between your company and the MSP, in aspects such as compliance, service level agreements, and data protection.
In this article you will learn:
- What Is a Managed Service Provider?
- How a Managed Service Provider Can Improve Your IT Operations
- Challenges of Working with Managed Service Providers
- How to Choose a Managed Service Provider
What Is a Managed Service Provider?
A managed service provider (MSP) is a vendor that provides proactive, remote management of your IT infrastructure and systems. A managed service provider business model can be applied to a wide range of environments, including on-prem, cloud, multicloud, and hybrid infrastructure. This is why managed services provider definitions may vary, and change according to the offered service.
Some managed service providers may be referred to as managed cloud service providers, if they offer services for cloud resources. Other MSPs may prefer a more general term, like IT managed service provider, which can include services offered for on-prem as well as cloud environments.
Modern MSPs evolved from application service providers (ASPs), who provided remote application hosting services. These ASPs eventually began offering remote management of IT infrastructure, including remote management and monitoring (RMM) of networks and servers.
Within the MSP market, vendors often specialize in specific areas of IT. For example, managed security services providers (MSSPs), may provide remote firewall administration or incident response services. MSPs can also specialize in individual industries, like financial service, healthcare, or legal services.
Often, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) contract MSPs to help fill gaps in in-house IT. These services can provide work hours and expertise that an SMB is otherwise lacking. However, enterprises can also contract with MSPs to offset budget restrictions or hiring limits. For example, government agencies often outsource to MSPs.
How a Managed Service Provider Can Improve Your IT Operations
There are several advantages you can gain from outsourcing or supplementing your IT operations with managed service providers. Below are some of the most common benefits.
Source more value from your IT team
MSPs can provide the guidance and support needed to optimise your IT efforts and enable in-house IT to focus on higher level tasks. For example, maintaining your infrastructure may take a significant amount of time but doesn’t require specific expertise. MSPs can handle standard updates for you while you focus on custom integrations or configurations.
Managed service providers can often provide greater security expertise and coverage than you can provide in-house. This may include 24/7 monitoring, access to enterprise grade solutions, or development of threat intelligence.
In particular, MSPs can increase security if you are in the process of migrating resources to the cloud or integrating cloud services. These vendors can often provide insight into security configurations and network controls that you may not be aware of.
By taking care of infrastructure management and maintenance, MSPs enable you to focus your efforts on revenue generating opportunities. Additionally, since services are proactive, providers can help you avoid downtime and help you optimize your resources for better performance and availability.
Challenges of Working with Managed Service Providers
In exchange for the benefits of working with MSPs, there are some challenges you need to consider when adopting managed services.
Strong dependency on a third-party organization
When you use an MSP you are reliant on them to uphold service level agreements (SLAs) and trust them to perform duties as expected. If they do not uphold their end of the agreement, you may be left with significant downtime.
Additionally, if managed service providers use proprietary tools to manage and monitor infrastructure, you may not be able to access system information. This restricts your ability to stay informed about the current state of your infrastructure and can make it difficult to change providers or take over maintenance if you want to.
Security and compliance
By nature, adopting an MSP requires allowing outside access to your infrastructure and systems. This can present vulnerabilities to your system since the attack surface is extended to the provider and their operations. To ensure your assets remain protected, you need to verify the MSPs security standards and take responsibility for monitoring access routes used by your vendor.
Additionally, depending on which compliance regulations apply to you, you may need to take special precautions with an MSP. For example, ensuring that they are operating from the same geographic location as you or that their processes are auditable according to compliance standards.
Organizational culture plays a large role in operations and your expectations of any MSP you choose. An MSP should hold the same level of accountability, customer service, and quality expectations as you. If they don’t, you are likely to be disappointed in their services and unlikely to gain a sufficient return on your investment.
How to Choose a Managed Service Provider
When choosing a managed service provider, there are several factors you should consider. Some of the most important factors are covered below.
Service level agreements
SLAs define exactly what service you can expect from an MSP and what recourse is available to you if they fail to meet those expectations. When evaluating an SLA, consider the following elements:
- Warranties—specify the repercussions of failure to meet service expectations. This includes any compensation policies and the ability to negate contracts.
- Client duties—define how responsibilities are distributed between you and the MSP. This also often includes a user code of conduct, holding you accountable for cooperation with the MSP.
- Issue handling procedures—defines how problems are handled including when and how you are alerted, in what capacity an MSP can respond, and how fast response and recovery times are.
- Performance agreement—outlines what metrics are used to quantify and report on service levels, and how those metrics are collected.
- Termination—defines conditions for termination. This includes termination due to breach of contract as well as willful termination on both sides.
Deliver distributed management and support
A good MSP can provide services that meet the needs of all distributed resources, infrastructures, and devices. This includes providing services to different geographic locations as well as to mobile or remote operations. This is especially important for remote workforces which may be accessing infrastructure from a wide range of locations.
Additionally, managed service providers should be able to manage these various devices and resources without needing to expose systems to potential attackers. For example, providing remote maintenance of distributed workstations without temporarily lowering firewalls.
Support for hybrid clouds and cloud migration
Many organizations are using a combination of cloud and on-premises resources. These resources may be connected in a hybrid cloud, used separately, or organizations may be in the process of migration. Managed service providers should be able to provide support for all of these situations, even if you aren’t currently using all.
This means MSPs must support a range of virtual machine deployments, a variety of network connections, and must understand the specifics of working with various cloud service vendors. Generally, this is where managed cloud service providers come in. These providers serve as a combination of MSPs and cloud service vendors and may be better equipped to manage hybrid or primarily cloud deployments.
Managed Service Provider Solutions by Cloudian
MSPs are often required to deliver affordable, scalable capacity availability. In addition to meeting these requirements, MSPs need to provide seamless integration without wasting too many resources on support. To help MSPs meet these demands, Cloludian provides two types of services:
- Storage as a Service—Cloudian offers scalable storage solutions, including simple management, built-in data protection, and interoperable S3-API compatibility. Cloudian supports multi-tenancy with native QoS and billing, as well as white label user interfaces.
- Backup and Archive as a Service—Cloudian HyperStore is an object storage solution you can use as a backup target. You can deploy HyperStore nodes in any location that requires capacity storage, and then scale as needed. Cloudian provides data protection and erasure coding options, which are configurable for up to 14 nines data durability.
Learn more about Cloudian solutions for managed service providers.