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COVID-19 Fuels MSP Cloud Deployments for Remote Work

Seven cloud-centric MSPs talk challenges, approaches and, in one case, the all-important issue: financials.

Kelly Teal

March 30, 2020

8 Min Read
Gassing Up
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If the experience of one cloud-centric managed service provider can be considered a reflection of its peers, then MSPs throughout the channel are dealing with delays on planned projects while tackling an onslaught of unexpected deloyments, all due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Channel Futures recently spoke with seven MSPs but only one talked with us about how business demand specifically has changed as a result of the novel coronavirus that now has spread throughout the United States. At Maven Wave Partners, a Google Cloud premier partner, some customers have deferred implementations that were in the pipeline while others have accelerated suddenly critical work-at-home deployments.

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Maven Wave’s Jason Foa

“To date, the puts roughly equal the takes, so our business growth has continued consistent with pre-COVID-19 times,” said Jason Foa, managing director of infrastructure at Maven Wave. But, he added, “whether that situation will hold is unknowable.”

It seems safe to say that that sentiment applies throughout the channel (and beyond). And yet, MSPs are charging forward, as they must. COVID-19 is forcing many enterprises to enable remote work access via the cloud, often in as few as 48 hours, or risk shutting down altogether.

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Unitas Global’s Mary Stanhope

“We’re seeing a significant increase in tickets and calls as people set up their remote work environments,” said Mary Stanhope, chief marketing officer at Unitas Global, which partners with all the major hyperscale cloud vendors.

That squares with what Ken Presti, vice president of research and analytics at Avant, a master agency that offers a range of cloud communications platforms, is encountering.

“From what I’m hearing, the channel is receiving an influx of calls around this,” Presti said. “Channel partners’ phones are just about melting as the inquiries come in — and it all comes down to two questions: ‘How fast can you help me?’ and ‘How can we do this as smoothly as possible?'”

Some research firms are scrambling to tally just exactly how much remote work has gone into action as a result of the coronavirus; there are no statistics yet that provide an accurate picture. Global Workplace Analytics and Iometrics launched a benchmark survey on March 27 that, when complete, will shed light on the proliferation.

COVID-19 Work-At-Home Deployments Changing Conversations, the Future

Despite the lack of formal numbers and additional anecdotal MSP input, it is clear that work-from-home deployments are on the rise because of COVID-19. And cloud technology is vital to getting organizations and their employees up and running from wherever they are quarantined as quickly as possible. For SADA, which partners exclusively with Google Cloud, this has meant shifting the company’s focus from how to sell to how to serve, CEO Tony Safoian told Channel Futures.

“That includes changing the way we talk to customers, offering additional support and being super responsive to meet their immediate needs,” Safoian said. “Everyone wants to get back to normal as fast as possible but right now, the best we can do is help each other get through this.”

Once COVID-19 dies down, the businesses throughout the world that abruptly …

… funneled resources into remote work likely will continue to support that strategy.

“For those who were new to remote work until the pandemic, we believe there will be a significant upswing in their adoption,” wrote Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, in a blog. “My best estimate is that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home on a multiple-days-week basis within the next two years.”

Maven Wave’s Foa agreed.

“Once this health threat has passed, we believe that our clients will evaluate how prepared and effective their workforces were during this time,” he said. “And in the end, this situation will accelerate workforce trends like working remotely and flexible work arrangements.”

Eran Gil, CEO at Israel-based AWS premier partner AllCloud, made a similar observation.

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“When we all break through this crisis, we strongly believe that organizations which embrace cloud technology will emerge stronger and ready to lead the recovery,” he said.

Common Deployment Challenges

But given the exponential growth in COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States alone, the prospect of an economic upturn and a return to corporate buildings appears premature. Therefore, MSPs remain in all-hands-on-deck mode as clients initiate and hone their work-from-home capabilities. And the challenges facing cloud partners look much as one might predict — enterprises’ old technology, including hardware; insufficient connectivity; and the need to ensure interoperability and security.

“In some cases, it’s as simple as making sure our customers have the right equipment in their homes,” SADA’s Safoian said. “In other cases, we see customers who are relying on antiquated technology, such as VPNs. These customers are being blindsided by the reality that VPN infrastructure wasn’t designed to handle massive amounts of traffic simultaneously.”

A similar scenario is cropping up for 2nd Watch, an AWS premier partner and a Microsoft Azure gold partner.

“The vast majority of companies are able to get basic applications like email and document sharing remotely,” said Jeff Aden, executive vice president at 2nd Watch. “Where companies may need support is gaining secure access to data or high-intensity applications that may not be in a hybrid or public cloud environment. These applications require large amounts of GPU and CPU to operate properly.”

In terms of ensuring customer security in the cloud, AllCloud is looking to virtual PCs as the answer.

“Employees can access their data and applications as they would if they were on premises, but instead through a remote connection to instances that are on a company’s active directory domain,” said Eric Crump, senior vice president. “The best part is that an organization’s data remains fully isolated and protected, so organizations can ensure their remote workforce never breaches security policies.”

There’s another point to consider, too, when it comes to infrastructure, said Avant’s Presti.

“If you’re going to drop UCaaS into a client’s environment, will it interoperate with their current desk phones, or will they have to go to a softphone or change devices entirely?”

Next, at Unitas Global, staff are discovering many organizations have inadequate bandwidth for supporting disparate employees. Regardless of the measures MSPs take to address …

… that aspect of corporate infrastructure, ServerCentral Turing Group’s Chris Rechsteiner, vice president, said problems will stem from consumer broadband. He said people will experience latency or lag times on their VoIP and video conferencing lines as usage soars.

“Home broadband is one of the largest culprits in degraded … capabilities for real-time communications services,” he said. “Most organizations inherently recognize the impact the change in work environment is having on everyone, yet it is still worth noting that sometimes a little bit of patience will go a long way.”

That advice applies to some in the channel itself, too, where COVID-19 has created another new challenge — the imperative to rethink service delivery methods. Maven Wave, for example, historically sits with its users as technicians deploy G Suite tools. Not so anymore.

“We have reimagined our deployment engagement approach to slim down the in-person consulting and move to a more digital approach,” said Maven Wave’s Foa.

Within other partners, including Unitas Global and AllCloud, most employees already worked remotely or had the tools to shift to 100% virtual quickly, which meant little disruption to processes as COVID-19 has spread. Others, including SADA, are proactively reaching out to clients to show them how to make the most of their remote tools.

Up to the COVID-19 Task, But What’s the Financial Reality for Cloud MSPs?

Overall, cloud MSPs are proving they are more than up to the task of guiding enterprises through unforeseen events. Two of the partners Channel Futures interviewed – 2nd Watch and SADA – even have their own blogs that discuss how to make the most of cloud resources amid the COVID-19 emergency. After that, the question becomes one of individual financial survival.

Again, Chicago-based Maven Wave was the only MSP to directly answer Channel Futures’ questions on this sensitive yet crucial topic. A number of analysts have been citing cloud technology as a key contributor to helping the world’s businesses regain their footing; therefore, it is important to understand the role the channel plays, and will play, in those efforts. Fortunately for Maven Wave, at least, customer payments remain in line with or ahead of pre-COVID-19 times; collections are up, Foa said.

Meanwhile, Avant’s Presti predicts partners may start to receive payments based on their relationships with clients.

“Longstanding customers are bound to be first in line, compared to companies that show up out of nowhere,” he said. “I would anticipate that this same dynamic could impact contract terms, depending on the circumstances.”

In other words, it may be prudent to act as though this will occur, to avoid as much as possible any collateral damage.

Maven Wave also is the sole respondent that reported hiring amid the coronavirus outbreak, which serves as a positive economic indicator. It’s just that, similar to customer deployments, employee onboarding now takes place virtually.

Speaking on a theoretical basis, Avant’s Presti said he would not be surprised if more partners bring on more staff to juggle COVID-19-related demand.

“Those who have an available bench of contractors would be in the best position here,” he said. “In most cases, these contractors might be assigned the less complex engagements, freeing up the core team for engagements that are more complex.”

The changes and challenges brought about, practically overnight, by COVID-19 will continue to materialize and fluctuate. If you are a cloud-focused MSP, VAR, ISV or systems integrator interested in speaking with Channel Futures for poential inclusion in another article addressing the coronavirus’s impact on the channel, contact the reporter, Kelly Teal.

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MSPs

About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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