The cloud is a transformational technology, one that is changing the way enterprise businesses approach their digital infrastructure and opening new avenues of functionality and efficiency. However, as enterprise businesses continue transitioning aspects of their digital infrastructure to the cloud, many are discovering that the transition isn’t as smooth or as hands-free as they had hoped.
The cloud is indeed an evolutionary step forward, but as an enterprise business migrates more and more of its apps, services, and infrastructure, it encounters additional complexities and new business problems. In short, cloud migration and ongoing cloud services management in a complex enterprise environment requires more attention and specialized focus than most enterprises can handle internally.
There’s a huge need for providers who can bring order to the chaos of disparate, disjointed cloud solutions. Cloud managed services providers seek to meet that challenge.
Who is Cloud Managed Services Providers?
Cloud managed services providers (MSPs) help companies plan, migrate, administrate, troubleshoot, and operate their cloud platform, services, and apps. Cloud MSPs can provide differing levels of management, from partial management of specific cloud solutions to complete control of a client’s entire cloud ecosystem.
To fully understand cloud managed services providers, it helps to understand the non-cloud version first. Managed services providers, or MSPs, have been providing managed IT services to companies of all sizes for decades now. In this model, businesses offload some, most, or even all their IT needs to an MSP. This move frees up the company to focus on what it does well and pushes IT concerns out to a separate entity with more significant resources and hyper-focus on the world of IT.
Most managed services providers can offer some degree of support for the cloud and may even be providers or resellers of specific cloud apps. But they are not, generally speaking, focused on supporting holistic cloud migrations and entire complex cloud infrastructures.
Cloud managed services providers, on the other hand, focus on precisely those things that regular or smaller MSPs don’t. With a hyper-focus on the cloud, cloud MSPs can aid in planning and executing cloud migrations, recommending and building out holistic and complex cloud infrastructures that work in harmony for clients. In addition, cloud MSPs stay current on new and emerging cloud technologies and platforms, always keeping the big picture of their clients’ whole cloud platform in mind when making recommendations for change.
In summary, a cloud managed services provider gives companies as much support and technical expertise as they want or need so that businesses can leverage the power of the cloud without the technical difficulties and complexities that come with it.
Why do companies need managed cloud-services providers?
Hiring a cloud-managed services provider is a financial commitment, so companies need compelling business reasons to do so. Perhaps the primary reason is this: the cloud truly does offer significant advantages over legacy technologies in most cases. These advantages are even more important for a workforce that’s more distributed than ever, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yet, a poorly planned or executed cloud migration (and poor ongoing administration and operations) can hobble a business rather than empower it. Cloud managed services providers ensure that the move to the cloud happens successfully and that continued operations and administration meet business objectives.
Besides this primary reason, numerous other factors might lead a company to consider a cloud managed services provider:
- Companies that see the need to move to the cloud but lack the internal skills and knowledge to make a move themselves
- Companies that have moved to the cloud but are buckling under the complexity of their cloud landscape
- Companies struggling with unrelated cloud services that aren’t interfacing correctly (or at all)
- Companies dissatisfied with how their “vanilla” MSP is handling their cloud platform
- Companies with overworked internal IT teams who need an external cloud management solution that allows in-house resources to focus elsewhere
How Do Cloud Managed Services Providers Work?
Cloud managed services providers start by analyzing an organization’s IT needs and current cloud applications (if any). Then, they work closely with internal stakeholders at the client company to determine what is currently in place and any IT service gaps that need to be filled or met.
Next, a cloud MSP will typically present a cloud migration and management plan to the client company for approval. Then the MSP will assist with or take over entirely the implementation of that plan, to whatever degree the company desires.
The cloud MSP takes responsibility for ongoing maintenance, operations, and upgrades to the client company’s cloud infrastructure — again, to whatever degree the client company wants.
Typically, a master service agreement, or MSA, contains the terms and scope of the work. This document serves as a guide that delineates who does what and at what cost.
In a successful cloud MSP relationship, client companies pay a fixed monthly amount for service and enjoy the stability and increased efficiency of a well-designed cloud platform. In exchange, the cloud provider strategizes, manages, and executes day-to-day operations on that cloud platform.
Nearly every cloud managed services provider supports AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud. In addition, most firms support a handful of other top-line platforms and services as well. If your business is already heavily invested with a particular cloud provider — especially a less popular one — ask any prospective MSP upfront whether they support that provider.
Pros and Cons of Managed Services Providers for the Cloud
All the pros of working with a cloud managed services provider relate to this: cloud MSPs bring order to the chaos. An effective cloud MSP will analyze your organization’s needs and current cloud solutions, crafting a plan that offers the functions you need in a way that works together harmoniously.
Other pros include taking pressure off your in-house IT team, possibly reducing headcount, increased uptime and efficiency across an entire suite of IT functions, and access to a deeper level of cloud expertise than a company has or can hire for internally.
Last, moving from an in-house model to a cloud-managed services provider allows companies to convert spiky, unpredictable cloud IT costs into a stable monthly cost.
There are a few potential cons to be aware of as well. First, your business will not be your cloud MSP’s only client. You may not in every situation get the same kind of immediate attention that you would from an in-house team.
Second, along the same lines, when something does go wrong in your business’s cloud platform, you may not feel the same level of control or autonomy as you would managing everything internally. You’re more or less at the mercy of your cloud MSP to resolve the problem.
Most businesses who choose a cloud MSP find these potential downsides a worthwhile trade-off for the pros listed above. Nevertheless, companies should know about these possible weak points and discuss any related concerns with their cloud MSP before signing a contract.
The last downside is cost: a cloud MSP contract can be expensive. That said, compared to the cost of managing it all internally (as well as the added cost and pressures that come from not being able to resolve a problem quickly without outside help), the price of a cloud MSP can look pretty attractive.
There is a wide range of services offered under the umbrella of managed cloud services, and many MSPs specialize in or niche down into particular industries. While boutique operations that focus on specific industries have their place, most large or enterprise-class businesses prefer to work with top-tier cloud managed services providers that transcend industry.
Below are brief synopses for 10 of the top providers in this space. Most of these providers appear in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Public Cloud Infrastructure Professional and Managed Services, a guide that limits listing to larger, more comprehensive providers. A few additional players round out the list.