5 Networking Challenges Facing MSPs

From IoT security to Wi-Fi 6 standards, here's what MSPs need to know to advise their customers.

March 11, 2019

7 Min Read
Network Mesh

By John Tippett


John Tippett

In the past few years, new technologies have put more and more pressure on the IT infrastructure of small to medium-sized businesses and thus, the managed service providers that serve them.

Consider the growth of “connected things” — those devices that connect to networks via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or cellular carriers. Reports show that Amazon and Google have sold more than 45 million Alexa and Google Home devices, and that’s only a fraction of the total number of connected things on the market. Combine that with the growth of commercial solutions including merchandise tracking, occupancy sensors and location tracking devices and it’s easy to see how the connected world is rapidly expanding. With the number of connected devices growing exponentially, more pressure is put on the network, and that pressure is being felt by MSPs.

Here’s a closer look at five networking challenges MSPs should be prepared for in the coming year.

Wi-Fi 6 is coming: Like a fine wine, Wi-Fi gets better with age. Think back to your first time connecting with 802.11b. It was cool but likely wasn’t a fun experience. But as Wi-Fi matures, we get new innovations and technologies that have now become so pervasive we can no longer live without them.

The newest iteration of this technology represents Wi-Fi’s sixth “birthday,” and it’s a natural progression for connectivity. Wi-Fi 6 (also known as 802.11ax) delivers the fastest throughput ever, combined with the density to handle even more devices in a connected workplace. Wi-Fi 6 delivers performance boosts over previous Wi-Fi specs and will quickly become the standard for wireless connectivity.

MSPs must prepare their SMB customers who find themselves having to comply with yet another standard. Remember when 802.11ac was introduced? Most cell phones and laptops didn’t support the new “standard” and SMBs found themselves wondering if upgrading was a good idea. These same companies will be uncertain about Wi-Fi 6 and what disruptions that might bring to their business. Therefore, it’s crucial that MSPs work with their clients to develop a strategic plan for migration and to ensure each client is ready for what’s coming.

Expansion of 3.5-GHz spectrum and LTE capabilities: The new 3.5-GHz CBRS spectrum will accelerate the growth and advancement of LTE services, expanding last-mile solutions between carriers and small businesses. CBRS, or Citizens Broadband Radio Service, also shows promise in enabling more effective service delivery inside commercial buildings and campuses, a development that will surely create competition with Wi-Fi services over local area networks. As with the emergence of Wi-Fi 6, this change in bandwidth frequency will require time for businesses to adopt and deploy.

But be warned: The authorization of use of the 3.5-GHz spectrum simply enables new options that are not well-defined today. You should expect carriers and hardware manufacturers to move quickly to define standards within that frequency. There will certainly be innovation, and with it, complexity and confusion in the process. As with Wi-Fi 6, be cautious and learn all that you can. Pay attention to …

… carriers and other IT providers as they move toward wider adoption. This will give you the knowledge and insight your clients need as you work through the details of where and how to effectively utilize this technology.

Increased use of machine learning and AI: MSPs once relied on simple security protocols such as antivirus programs to protect SMBs, but that’s no longer enough. Companies now need to proactively employ artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to quickly and accurately identify threats and react in real time.

It’s important to note that many cybercriminals aren’t focused on individual enterprises. Their success depends on volume, so they develop attacks that can be deployed en masse. Because of this approach, they are indiscriminate in the size of the business they ultimately compromise; they’ll hit any target from a mom-and-pop shop to a Fortune 500 company, and the most vulnerable point of entry is often the human user.

In 2019 we’ll see new advancements in how security solutions protect businesses. Prior techniques, based largely on signature-based detection, will no longer be sufficient as hackers become more and more creative in bypassing these defenses. AI and machine learning already are in use in large enterprises to enable faster threat management by quickly identifying any deviation in “normal” user and machine behavior. In 2019, we will see lower price points for AI-based security, enabling the technology to become more pervasive at the SMB market. And MSPs will usher in this evolution as the IT security experts SMBs need to interpret and implement these new solutions.

Acceleration of the Internet of Things (IoT): According to one study, there are more than 7 billion IoT-connected devices, a number that will increase in 2019 and beyond as appliances utilize the greater throughput offered by expanded LTE networks. Users no longer need to connect to a network on premises or even on land. IoT has moved beyond simply allowing users to download Kindle books or adjust the air conditioning remotely. Businesses are now benefiting from IoT tech as well, including environmental sensors that detect temperature and moisture, vehicle or inventory tracking devices, or mobile card readers for processing credit cards.

That’s convenient for consumers and corporate end users, but it will introduce new management and security challenges for IT providers as users increasingly demand access to IoT in business environments. MSPs will need to guide SMBs through the balancing act of weighing convenience against security and must be ready to manage and support a higher concentration of shadow IoT devices to stay competitive.

More regulation (for better or worse): As data and information become increasingly digital and technology users become more security conscious, we all will have to reckon with more rules around what information can be used. In fact, some lawmakers are already lobbying to create an American GDPR to protect consumers from data breaches.

That presents a problem since many government and regulatory bodies often don’t understand the nuances behind how technology works. Governments typically respond to pressure from …

… their constituents to manage and control technologies, and they deploy regulations without an understanding of how those underlying technologies can be managed to meet the imposed requirements. This creates chaos, confusion and even unintended consequences at the onset of new regulations and can lead to new opportunities for MSPs who stay informed on how to help their clients navigate these new rules. The MSP that studies and learns from the market will be able to successfully develop and implement technical processes to help their clients properly comply with the regulations.

The technology landscape (networking technologies, IoT devices, Wi-Fi, LTE, etc.) is constantly evolving. This year will be no exception, with significant enhancements in wireless technology on the horizon. Those advances will usher in new connected devices and new challenges for MSPs. The new year will see increases in security and management challenges. Machine learning and AI will expand and adapt to meet these challenges, and regulators will introduce new laws, rules and policies to protect and govern the changing landscape. At the center of it all is the MSP, the IT expert for the SMB. There are great challenges ahead, and with that, great opportunity. It will surely be an exciting dynamic to watch in 2019.

John Tippett is vice president of networking at Datto Networking. He has more than 15 years in the technology industry, ranging from operating managed IT services firms to leading channel development of companies aspiring to grow in the IT industry. Follow John on LinkedIn or @datto and @jhtippett on Twitter.

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