Clearly, companies struggle with their cloud costs. With cloud a now essential foundation for company's tech infrastructure, cloud bills seem to be rising steadily – if not rapidly. Making the problem even more challenging: companies are now adopting a multicloud strategy, so the cost structure can be downright byzantine.
Is a managed service provider the answer for your cloud? More to the point, what exactly will an MSP do for your cloud deployment – what tasks, what benefits, and at what costs?
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What Exactly Does an MSP Do?
Smith: Really a managed service provider should be a partner that comes alongside your organization and understands the problems that you're facing because we have experienced those problems with multiple customers.
And so a managed service provider comes alongside you, works with you to really understand what the industry trends are, what the industry is doing, whether that's connectivity problems, whether that's system infrastructure, application problems, even down to your end user problems and issues.
A managed service provider comes alongside you, understands what issues you're facing, and then how to build solutions and architect solutions that we're either managing end-to-end or we're managing a piece of.
But the key part and what we do is really partnering with you and not just doing something for you, you're not just a customer, but it's a partnership. And that's what managed service providers, in theory, should be doing.
So what kind of companies typically hire MSPs? Is it smaller companies, larger companies? Who typically hires MSPs to work with their cloud?
Smith: “So we have some businesses that are small, but maybe they have a large infrastructure because they have an application that's important to them and important to their customers, but they're not in the infrastructure support business. They're not in the connectivity business.
“And so they come to us, even though they have a smaller employee footprint, they want someone to be able to manage their infrastructure, manage their connectivity into that infrastructure so that they can focus on the applications. We also have customers that come to us that are very, very large, and have thousands and thousands of users all across the globe, that we support.
“And they really want somebody to come alongside them and manage a piece of their business, whether that's connectivity as a service, as I've said, or if it's a specific piece of their infrastructure, maybe that's coming alongside them because they've heard this thing called the public cloud and they wanna move to a public cloud environment, but they don't have the resources or the talent on their team to get them there.
“And so they come to a managed service provider to be able to help understand how their environment is working today, and how to build that hybrid cloud or public cloud environment for them and then support that for them. So we get companies of all sizes coming to us from a managed services standpoint.
I guess it's testament to the fact that cloud computing is not simple, people really do need a helping hand.
Smith: “I would totally agree with that. So the cloud business, take Microsoft Azure, for example. Microsoft Azure has made so many changes, there's so many things that are in public preview that haven't gone to the general public yet. And understanding all of those competencies and trying to make sure that you not only understand the competency but how do I use that for the business going into cloud optimization, understanding how I not just take my infrastructure and put that into public cloud, but how do I use the software as a service features within the public cloud, whether that's AWS or Azure or Google, for the benefit of my organization.
Staying on top of all of those new features that are coming out is quite difficult. And it's quite difficult for managed service providers to do, let alone for you as your enterprise trying to really focus on your business and how do you drive revenue to your core business, let alone all of these new services that are out there to help you do your business.
How can an MSP Help a Company Contain its Cloud Costs?
Smith: “So managed service providers can come in and do what we call an assessment of your infrastructure. What we saw years ago and we're still seeing today is companies want to move to the public cloud and they've even tried to do it on their own and then they lift and shift their environment and put it into public cloud. And they don't really understand why they're not saving any money.
"Well, the reason they're not saving any money is because when you just do a lift and shift and you put that infrastructure into public cloud, no longer are you utilizing the other services that come along with public cloud environments.
"And so, for example, I've seen this time and time again... You paid all this money for this physical environment that's out there and it's got a lot of CPU and a lot of memory and a lot of storage. And so you build a SQL server. Every DBA in the world will tell you that their SQL server needs to have as much CPU and as much memory as you can throw at it.
"The problem with that translating into cloud is now you're paying for all of that CPU and all of that memory and all of that storage but when we look at those environments, what we see is that the CPU is maybe only utilized five to 20% for most of the month and maybe for two or three days of that month. It bumps it up to 40 or 50%.
“Well, if you take that environment and you lift and shift and put it into public cloud, you're paying for that say 32 virtual CPUs when you're only using five to 10% of that for the entire month. So without the optimization of that environment, you're gonna continue to overpay because it's now for a pay as you use.
“And so that's what managed service providers do is we come in and we look at the environment, we assess what's going on with that environment and we optimize it. And it's the same on the network. For example, we have services where we'll come in and we'll look at your network and we'll understand, ‘Hey, we bought this one gig service on MPLS and we're paying a lot of money for it.’
“And what we'd do is we come in and we really look and understand what's going across that network. How is your bandwidth utilization? What is that really being measured at? And then we optimize that going into cloud or going into our connectivity as a service, for example, and rightsize that cost. And so that's where you get a lot of the cloud spend waste is because companies don't have time to understand how do we optimize this infrastructure? How do we optimize this connectivity?
Is part of that optimization using serverless?
Smith: “It won't do it by itself, but it absolutely can address that. For example, a web server. You may have 50 web servers hosting in a cluster hosting a website and you don't necessarily need 50 web servers to do that.
“Maybe you do in a private cloud environment, but in a public cloud environment you can use serverless computing or running a line of code when you need that line of code. Running that costs you a quarter every time you run that line of code, it takes a lot of quarters to get to the cost of running a full server for an entire month.
How Can a Customer Select the Right MSP for their Needs?
Smith: “So prior to working for Unitas where I work now, I was actually in their shoes. I was in the enterprise management shoes. I had 20 some odd sites that I manage as an IT manager across the US and so I've had to face these very questions on how do I choose the best service provider for what we're looking to do.
"And the answer is simple. Number one, you look at their partnership with you. How are they gonna work with you? Who are the experts that they're bringing to the table that can talk through these problems that can talk through these solutions with you? It's not just I've got a really good sales guy that's gonna cut me a good deal, right?
"It's about the technical aptitude and the technical prowess that these managed service providers can bring to your organization to help you find the best solution.
“A lot of times I walk into organizations and they're like, "Chris, we've worked with organization, or we worked with managed service providers, but they typically wanna put us in a box, in a one size fits all type box. Or maybe they have three flavors of that one size fits all. It's important to understand that not all organizations fit within a one size fits all box.
“And if your organization is one of those organizations that don't, then it's important for you to find a managed service provider that won't try to force you into one of those boxes, but that will help build a solution that meets your needs.
“Well I think when you sit down with a managed service provider, and you really start understanding and listening to their solution architects, or listening to their sales team, it's gonna be very clear to you how they're going to be able to work with you.
“If they're not just selling you on some sales material that their marketing department came up with, but they're truly bringing, you know, years of experience and that expertise to the table, if they're really listening and hearing what you're saying, and then being able to repeat that back to you and then solve your problems based on the problems that you brought to the table, then you're going to know.
“I mean, let's be honest, most IT managers, most C level executives can see through the bowl, and then they understand, and can see the person that's sitting across from them and why they should be working with that individual or that company.
What Do you See for the Future of the MSP Market, in Terms of Helping Customers with Cloud Costs, or Other Key Function?
Smith: “So I think that the MSP world in and of itself is going to continue to grow. And it's gonna grow because of how versatile we can be, how the managed service providers can be in making sure that we have the talent that continues to learn and grow as the market grows.
“And so therefore, companies and enterprises are gonna continue to rely on their internal talent, but also the managed service provider to be able to bring that level of expertise. And it's important to understand that it's not just around, ‘We're bringing them in to do a professional service and then, you know, and a consultant to get out of the way,’ but it's that long term relationship to where I know that when I brought Unitas to the table this time they've delivered, they've continued to deliver to the life of our contract, and they're gonna continue to deliver on the next project, right?
“And so we're going to see that as public cloud becomes more complex, they offer more services or applications as a service as connectivity becomes cheaper but yet more complex because how do I know that just because I'm paying for a cheap connectivity service that it's the right connectivity service?
“How do I get connectivity to my SAS providers, and to the public cloud providers and the internet providers? It's gonna be very important for managed service providers and that opportunity for the managed service providers, they're gonna continue to grow as that gets more complex for the enterprise because the enterprise wants to focus on their business in that realm.
What about machine learning and artificial intelligence and the cloud? Is it realistic to think that a company would hire an MSP to help you get those services?
Smith: “It is, and so, Unitas itself we don't have an artificial intelligence team, but we have partners that we have partnered with. So when a customer comes in and says, ‘This is what we're looking to do, we need some help to get this off the ground, then they'll come to us and say, "Can you help us with that?’
“And the answer is yes we have a partner that we can bring in, or several partners that we can bring in to help them determine how to take, you know what they're trying to do from an artificial intelligence standpoint, maybe it's a manufacturer that's trying to get more data to be able to pull that data so that their quality control checks are more automated right?"
“And that's an example of where we've brought in…another partner to be able to help us determine how to do that. That's definitely something where you would bring in a managed service provider to help you. And the reason is because, how long is it going to take you to find an expert out there to be able to do that one thing that you're looking for if you're gonna hire that in-house or if you're gonna hire a contractor, a consultant?
“That could take months or years, whereas bringing in a managed service provider we've got experience in doing that, we've got partners that can do that. We can make that come to fruition a lot quicker.