Where should managed services providers (MSPs) focus their cloud computing and cloud services initiatives? Mike Cullen, VP of sales at N-able Technologies, has a concise answer: Focus on Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and private cloud services, where opportunities like BDR (backup and disaster recovery) and virtualization are growing fast. You'll notice Cullen didn't mention Software as a Service (SaaS) -- at least not as a top immediate cloud priority or profit priority for MSPs. Here's why.
First, a little background on Cullen: He's constantly in the field, crisscrossing the world to educate existing MSPs and onboard new MSPs. N-able's software, N-central, allows MSPs to remotely monitor and manage customer networks -- including hybrid cloud environments where some customer IT assets are shifting into the cloud. Available both on-premises and as a hosted service, N-able's software also features extensions to various security and storage platforms.
Forming Cloud OpinionsCullen shaped his views on cloud computing during extended road trips across North America, Europe, the Middle East, Australia and more. Yes, Cullen realizes many MSPs will need to re-sell SaaS applications -- hosted email, for instance -- simply as a way to keep cloud rivals out of the account. In those cases, Cullen offers familiar advice to MSPs: Make sure you control end-customer billing and the customer relationship, so that cloud services providers (CSPs) can't wrestle account control away from you.
Cullen says the far bigger cloud opportunity for MSPs involves IaaS -- especially private cloud infrastructure (delivered as a service). When moving into IaaS for private clouds, Cullen recommends partners focus on managing:
- security and integration
- server hardware
- security and integration
- the rest of the IaaS public cloud stack is managed by the IaaS provider, he notes.
Keep It SimpleCullen also recommends that MSPs steer clear of complicated cloud discussions. While some of the industry noise has grown increasingly complex, the cloud is merely a distribution pipeline for delivering IT services. Stick with that simple statement, and your customers will begin to understand that they will always need IT services -- the big question is how they will consume those IT services?
For MSPs that have yet to get started with cloud computing and IaaS, Cullen recommends:
- building out or sourcing a managed data center. (In most cases, he realizes, small MSPs will partner up to get into the managed data center game.)
- Developing a services portfolio that includes physical (on-premises) offerings and cloud offerings, and describe the pros/cons of each approach to customers.
- Stay relevant in the SaaS conversation -- to make sure you don't lose account control.
- Maintain a local, personal touch that big public cloud providers can never match.
More Than One Way to SucceedCullen shared his cloud views with me last week. The one area I think he overlooked is cloud consulting. A growing number of cloud integrators seem to be making boatloads of money promoting cloud migration services for Google Apps and Office 365.
Still, Cullen made a key point: Cloud migration services frequently involve project revenues and lump-sum customer engagements. Most of N-able's customers, in stark contrast, are MSPs that generate the bulk of their revenues from predictable recurring services. IaaS therefore fits the MSP model extremely well, he noted.