Imagine that, if someone in your company needed to fly somewhere, they had to take the company jet, flown by the salaried company pilot. Now imagine that your company only has 30 people, which means it likely does not own a jet. What would you do then? You’d probably spend a lot of time in the car driving where necessary, or foregoing critical efforts that need to be done in person. This would put a stranglehold on your company in both direct and indirect ways, and competing with other companies—especially larger ones—is all but impossible.
Now imagine that you were able to pay for flights as you needed them, and that since the aircraft was specialized to handle many clients, and even had its own pilot, costs would be shared by many people. What would your company do then? Probably save a lot of time on driving cars, and maybe consider new business opportunities previously unavailable.
This is exactly how cloud computing—and in particular, cloud managed services—work. Let’s dive into what cloud management services are, what the different levels of service are, some of the key benefits, and what to look for in a managed cloud service provider.
Cloud Managed Service Providers (MSPs): A Quick Overview
To fully understand cloud MSPs, it’s important to clarify a few items. A “cloud” is a general term that describes remote access to a network, usually with shared computing resources for many users. Clouds don’t have to be third-party managed. Some companies have their own remote servers with storage and software applications that are used by several different locations.
When clouds are managed by a service provider, companies pay for their use through subscription models that vary depending on the depth of service, the level of usage, applications used, number of authorized users, and many other potential metrics. In return, the cloud MSPs offer service according to thresholds and KPIs agreed to with the company. The service should have specific expectations of speed, bandwidth, uptime, accessibility, and security. A cloud service might be offered as a public cloud: your data is secure but you share computing resources with other customers (think flying commercial), a private cloud (think renting a jet), and a hybrid model (think flying commercial most of the time, but renting a jet for specific reasons). Regardless of type, the high quality providers will have impeccable safety/security records, using their expertise to protect your data and keep it safe. This need will only grow, as cybercrime is trending to reach a global cost of $10.5 trillion annually by 2025.
In terms of the cloud services themselves, providers offer three different depths.
- The first is “Platform as a Service” (PaaS), where the MSP has built and will maintain the hardware and provide instances of applications. This allows the freedom (and responsibility) for adding their own operating systems, virtual machines (VMs), and any applications they want to deploy.
- The second is “Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which includes PaaS but also includes an operating system, configurations of the network, and core software needed to connect/deploy applications to users.
- The third is “Software as a Service”, which includes both Paas, Iaas, and the various software apps needed by the customer. Clients can focus on key software without worrying about the hardware or the infrastructure managing the maintenance and servicing of user needs.
Benefits of Cloud MSPs
Regardless of the depth of service provided, cloud MSPs offer clear benefits. From a cloud perspective, the services offer a redundancy to systems and data difficult for most companies to achieve, protecting companies from the risk of damage to physical locations through things like natural disasters, fire, theft, etc. With data driven practices critically important regardless of the industry, it is shocking to learn that 21% of SME’s don’t even have a backup or disaster recovery plan. It also offers a company ways to better store data from many different locations, deploy software efficiently, and ensure strong practices like timely software patches/updates.
In working with a provider for cloud management services, it is helpful to gain guidance from experts. This is especially important since the right type of IT skills are growing harder and harder to find, according to a 2021 CIO survey. For smaller companies, where the “IT Department” is just one person, there is little chance they will have expertise on all the necessary areas you need. The best providers can offer insight that is optimum for your business, walking through different options and asking the right questions to better understand your needs. The recent complexity of hybrid workplaces has become a major topic of concern that companies have to get right. This can be much more manageable with a guide to give pros, cons, and recommendations.
Providers can help to ensure the economic impact and return is maximized and managed. They do this through various cost models that provide service at given KPIs and requirements, allowing this service and its pricing to be predictable and offers remedies if a KPI is missed. The metrics indicating the quality of service are what companies care about most. With this type of agreement companies do not have to worry about aging/broken equipment, upgrades, and on-site service technicians. This type of X-as-a-service approach is much easier for operational costs as well, being able to dedicate a steady subscription cost each month regardless of the capital expenses of the cloud MSP. With 65% of IT budgets going to keeping the “lights on”, there is a lot of waste in the IT DIY model. With cloud MSPs, customers pay for the service to work, and it does.
Perhaps the most intriguing benefit of a cloud MSP is gaining an experience vision of the “possible”. While companies looking for cloud services have been limited in what they can do, cloud MSPs are able to use their experience to better understand a company’s goals, then lay out new opportunities possible with the use of cloud services. Company strategies can expand, potentially creating new markets, products, and services.
What to Look for In a Cloud Managed Service Provider
The fact is, more and more companies are abandoning the DIY model for IT. An impressive 93% of organizations are considering or have already moved to a cloud MSP. There are many questions to ask when finding the right choice, but here are five of the most important items to research:
- Will the cloud MSP create an improvement to your existing IT and cloud infrastructure? How will this happen, and how soon before you can see the benefits? This is critical for obvious reasons, but setting a target for breakeven and profitability, even in the form of time savings, or uptime percentage, is necessary to justify the switching costs.
- How will the provider migrate your data, then monitor and manage it on the cloud? This goes beyond slick presentations and is where the team should be familiar with your systems and needs, showing you how they will take each piece of data and ensure it will match your use cases and needs once on the cloud.
- How does the provider handle protection: security, stability, and recovery? Ensure there are no single points of failure, that their systems are verified on a regular basis, and that they are keeping ahead of emerging threats.
- For you as an organization, will this service fit your needs while staying within your budget? It’s important to clearly communicate your service requirements in detail, and to confidently know where your budget limits are.
- Last but not least: What is the provider’s reputation? Do they have case studies they can share? Are they willing to refer you to current clients? This can say a lot, and provide a much more accurate picture of who the provider really is and what types of clients they serve best. For example, is the provider more of a traditional provider, serving large organizations with a familiar structure of solutions? Or are they more flexible, such as Visionet, who specializes in role-based business dashboards, runs an Agile development model, and focuses on SecOps?
The Future is Bright
Given all this, it’s safe to say that Cloud MSPs are here to stay. The applications are countless, and unless you already have a massive IT organization equipped for cloud operations management, this is the far superior choice. For small to medium sized companies, managed cloud services can be a force multiplier that opens the door to advanced technology at a pay-for-what-you-use business model.