Avant: Agents, MSPs Converge in a Multicloud World

Managing cloud solutions these days is no simple task.

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

March 20, 2018

7 Min Read

Managing cloud solutions these days is no simple task. Between the global marketplace, heavy data regulations coming from every corner and exploding numbers of solutions and providers, business owners and IT generalists don’t know which way is up. They look to their “trusted adviser” for guidance — but even their managed service providers (MSPs) sometimes struggle to keep up.

In an IT ecosystem that’s evolving as rapidly as it is today, how are traditional MSPs supposed to stay educated on the best solutions to offer their customers, and how to manage them?


Avant’s Shane McNamara

At the upcoming Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, April 17-20, a panel of experts will try to get to the bottom of that question. “The MSP’s Guide to a Multicloud World,” part of the cloud conference track, will attempt to help partners equip themselves with the tools and knowledge they need to advise their clients on which workloads to move to which cloud, how to migrate in a way that allows for an exit strategy, how to scale, and how to manage and automate those new cloud environments.

Carmen Sorice III, founder and CEO of Qlarity llc, will moderate the panel. He’ll be joined by Paul Rix, president and CEO of Zanaris, and Shane McNamara, executive vice president at Avant Communications. McNamara and his colleague, Alex Danyluk, chief strategy officer at Avant, sat down with us to give us a sneak peek at what insights this year’s panel might shed light on.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Channel Partners/Channel Futures: Set the stage for us. What’s happening on a high level in the channel that’s causing such dramatic increases in complexity when it comes to multicloud management?

Avant: We’ve seen quite a change over the last several years. We’re seeing convergence in the industry. You see the agent community and the MSP community now converging on each other for several reasons. They want to add more value to customer, and because of the pace of change in technology, it’s too hard for customers to keep up with the latest and greatest technology. There [are] so many providers emerging that they don’t know who is here today and gone tomorrow and who’s here for the long haul … We see agents becoming more like MSPs, and MSPs taking advantage of the traditional agent business models.


Avant’s Alex Danyluk

The pace of change in the market is causing even the agents and MSPs not to rely only upon themselves on delivering all their solutions. The customers can’t keep up with it, that’s for sure. The agents and MSPs are now relying more and more on third parties to augment what they do. Agents have always done that, and MSPs are increasingly doing that. People may call themselves MSPs, which is perfectly fine because they’re delivering managed solutions, but that solution very often …

… comes from third parties. It’s a trend we see from the relentless accelerating pace of change …

CP/CF: What does that mean for the traditional silos between agents and MSPs?

Avant: The distinction between partner types is more and more going away. In the end, the customer is just looking to solve problems. What they’re looking for is to have a trusted adviser deliver them the solution that will meet their needs. Historically, MSPs delivered their own solutions, and they used technology on [the] back end. Well, it’s no longer hardware and software technology on the back end. It’s increasingly cloud services. So what’s the difference between someone offering a cloud service as an agent or offering a cloud service as an MSP? The distinction becomes less and less relevant.

The customers are getting smarter and savvier as well. In the olden days, it used to be saving the customer money on their speeds-and-feeds networking needs was enough value to that customer from the agent. Today, because again of the industry changing so drastically at a high pace, customers are consuming way more information and they know they need more than just to save on speeds and feeds. They need somebody with one throat to choke, and MSPs traditionally would offer only their services in the past. Today, they can’t be everything to everybody, but they don’t want to lose the customer altogether, so they offer their services to a certain point, and if it goes beyond their reseller model, they can go outside in the agency community now and offer the products and services of the partnerships they have.

CP/CF: What do you mean by saying partners can’t be everything to everybody?

Avant: These customers have very specific needs. They [have] highly complex needs, and they’re a lot more difficult to deliver on those needs with one offer. So a lot of times you have to get very creative on how to deliver what the customer is asking for. An MSP will run into, “I can’t be everything to everyone.” So they either have to go very specific into a vertical or a category and just focus on, say, retail or federal and government. That way they can kind of create a SKU if you will so their own business can function. Otherwise they’re going to fail trying to do everything…Amazon had nearly 1,000 new product updates last year. How is any small company supposed to keep up with that? Even large companies struggle with it. A thousand new updates to products and services. Unless there is an MSP out there that’s laser-focused on …

… Amazon, it’s very hard for them to compete. So very often, we’re now seeing MSPs and agents (of course, agents have always done this) leveraging third parties like Rackspace and Hosting to bring them to the table and augment their provider services …

Hosting has a practice area specifically on health care. They understand the requirements and such for helping someone stay compliant within a hosted environment, whether it’s hybrid or single location data — leveraging the expertise that [is] out there. It’s more important these days to be the trusted adviser that isn’t afraid to leverage the ecosystem. The thing I would recommend for MSPs that we work with is, don’t be afraid to let go and reach out in the ecosystem to augment your capabilities. Your customer will thank you that you’re not trying to do something all yourself.

CP/CF: Let’s talk straight technology. What are the top two or three asks that partners have when it comes to cloud environments and solutions?

Avant: The fastest-growing segments we’re seeing by far are cloud solutions. Colocation is surprisingly continuing to have strong double-digit growth. UCaaS is on fire; it’s just unbelievably growing. [There’s] SD-WAN, which is pulling through a refresh of the overall corporate WAN environment. Those key pillars are the areas that are growing, and within each one of them there isn’t a one- or two-size-fits-all. You really do have to listen to the customer’s needs. You have to listen to, are they all domestic, are they international, do they need to reach China, are they looking for redundancy, is this not a mission-critical solution. Depending upon all those questions and many, many, many more, there are going to be different answers.

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About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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