Plotting a Positive Route Forward for the Managed Service Provider
by David Hemingway, Senior Business Development Manager, Tech Data Advanced Solutions
Managed services providers (MSPs) across the UK face a raft of challenges. Demand for services is unpredictable and they therefore must be able to flex capacity up or down. Coupled with this, customers are more demanding and less willing to wait for new services to be developed from scratch. Instead, they often expect a public cloud experience.
MSPs also need to think about how to finance their approach. They still need to buy infrastructure for their software to use to create the services their customers need but being able to quickly find a way of funding it is becoming more important.
With customers ever-more opex-oriented, MSPs will typically buy the capital equipment required for a project upfront but will often only get the investment back in a piecemeal fashion in the form of weekly or monthly revenue streams.
There is also a growing need to provide robust security. Data breach levels are high and cyber-hacking and ransomware attacks are an ever-present concern. Businesses are increasingly outsourcing their IT security function – meaning overall responsibility frequently rests with the MSP. And with GDPR pending, and the prospect of heavy fines for failure to comply with its terms, security is a topic that demands service providers’ urgent attention.
Easing the MSP Journey
So how can MSPs best address the challenges? It’s critical they grasp the new reality where organisations focus on developing the “right mix” of IT, deploying workloads and sourcing applications from the most appropriate delivery platform based on their own requirements. This means they increasingly turn to MSPs capable of delivering consumption-based services within an OPEX model.
To facilitate that, MSPs need to move to a software-defined environment supported by automation and orchestration. By speeding up the provision of the applications they are looking to run and host, MSPs can improve the customer experience while reducing costs and time-to-invoice. That in turn, allows them to monetise and utilise their investment more quickly.
The recent changes we have seen across the IT environment also presents challenges and opportunities for traditional resellers looking to transition from legacy IT service management approaches to cloud-based opex model and ultimately service provider status.
The journey each partner takes will depend both on their own maturity and focus. At Tech Data Advanced Solutions, we can help streamline the process both for existing MSPs and for those organisations looking to transition from reseller to MSP. For both kinds of partner, the solution we would offer would often involve the delivery of solutions from Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).
We would encourage any service provider not currently using our services, or the HPE solutions, to opt for the partner programme route which will allow them to set up as an HPE MSP and make active use of the Tech Data Advanced Solutions technical pre-sales and proof-of-concept capability.
Coupled with this, our Mentori programme involves us analysing the metrics of the MSP business and helping the provider explore new ways of working with customers. This innovative programme is designed to support partners in transforming to solutions, services and cloud-led business models that deliver predictable and profitable growth. In addition, Tech Data Advanced Solutions can introduce them to HPE solutions capable of addressing their challenges. To manage issues with unpredictable demand, HPE has storage solutions capable of facilitating the rapid access and retrieval of data.
The speed of that storage is critical to making the overall platform operate as efficiently as possible. That’s where Flash storage comes in. HPE’s 3PAR all-flash systems, developed specifically for service providers, are good at managing unpredictable workloads. That’s because flash can handle far more demand, and especially spiky demand, than traditional spinning-drive systems. And flash storage is no longer unduly expensive. Indeed, even petabytes of flash can be bought for a commercially viable amount today and held by an MSP.
We have also seen the recent launch of a new 3PAR feature, 3PAR InfoSight, a machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) platform, free to all 3PAR customers who have a current support contract. It evaluates what is going on in the disk array on the storage system and uses machine learning to identify faults and performance issues. It can self-correct these and give back detailed analysis to help operators understand what is happening in their environment, saving time and freeing resource.
MSPs are also aware of the recent raft of security breaches that have put many organisations’ data at risk. To address this, HPE have introduced security-based hardware in their new Gen 10 servers (the latest line of HPE’s server brand, ProLiant). All the hard drives that go into these servers are now digitally signed by the manufacturer.
HPE also has absolute control over its supply chain. While many competitors buy their componentry from spot markets, HPE buys components in directly and ensures end-to-end firmware on its cards. The ability to ensure the provenance of each card helps HPE to ensure that suspicious firmware has not been inserted during the manufacturing process. For MSPs, being able to rely on the provenance of the componentry that goes into each server takes away many of the security headaches they face.
Addressing the automation and orchestration issue, HPE has a composable infrastructure solution called Synergy. The concept is that services can be templated and stood up quickly by assembling them within the platform the MSP is running. This whole approach is powered at the back end by Helion Cloud System Enterprise software from HPE. This is a tool that offers MSPs the opportunity to provision advanced infrastructure and application services for multi-tier architecture in minutes. The overall approach, facilitated in part by modular capability of Synergy, also enables a billing process to be run against each service and the customer to be billed accordingly.
As we have seen managed service providers face a host of challenges from unpredictable customer demand to issues with financing and from the need to embrace the cloud to concerns over systems security. To address these, MSPs are focused on the delivery of consumption-based services within an OPEX model. That, in turn, increasingly means that they are transitioning to a software-defined environment, supported by automation and orchestration. Tech Data Advanced Solutions has the expertise to help streamline this process through our technical pre-sales and proof of concept capability, our Mentori programme and through a raft of high-quality HPE technology solutions.