Cloud Computing: An Impending RMM Challenge for MSPs

By Chris Talbot  |  Print this article Print

Many MSPs have grown accustomed to managing customers' physical IT assets in a single location using remote monitoring and management tools. But here comes the cloud, complicating the process with virtual machines in multiple locations hosted by multiple entities. How will MSPs cope?

Everything in IT continues to get more complicated, and with the proliferation of public and private cloud environments and services, the complexity is only increasing. These complications are even finding their way into the basics of managed services provided by MSPs. Remote monitoring and management (RMM) is increasing in complexity for MSPs because of the nature of cloud services.

Prior to the cloud taking off in such a big way, RMM tools had to provide MSPs with the ability to monitor and manage physical environments, whether they were on customer premises or in a data center, but new applications delivery models have made it more challenging for many MSPs. Now, it’s not only the physical environment that must  be monitored and managed, but also environments that the MSP may have little to no control over such as cloud services on Amazon, Rackspace, or even Salesforce.com.

"The way I think that changes things is from a PacketTrap MSP perspective, it used to be we gave them a product, they would install it at their locations, and they’d see all the [hardware] installed at one location or at one data center, and now what we find is that the channel partner not only has to manage not just that one location but 10 other locations," said Steve Goodman, vice president and general manager of network division of Quest Software, which makes the PacketTrap MSP RMM tool. "It makes their job more challenging, because they don’t have complete control over those 10 locations."

It would be simpler, say, if every cloud application was hosted in one, easily accessible and manageable point, but although that might be the dream, it’s rarely the reality, Goodman said. A customer may have on-premise hardware and applications, a private cloud, virtualized IT, and cloud applications spread across the various providers.

To manage various physical and cloud sites remotely effectively, MSPs require a high level of accessibility to each of those sites. In many cases, that’s just not possible, though. For instance, MSPs don’t have that kind of manageability access with Salesforce.com, which manages its own servers. If a customer is having a problem accessing Salesforce applications, how is an MSP to know if it’s a customer networking problem, a Salesforce.com problem or something in between?

MSPs are used to putting a piece of software in an environment to enable its remote monitoring, but that’s not always possible now, said Jeff Keyes, product marketing manager at Kaseya.

"They more attack remote management and monitoring from a perspective of 'let me take care of the physical box’ without worrying about the quality of service or how does it work kind of thing," Keyes said. With the cloud, forget about that method.

In some cases, cloud providers offer RMM capabilities, but at an increased cost, Keyes explained. It becomes expensive.

When there are problems, even if it’s a cloud provider’s fault, it’s the MSP that has that proverbial one throat to choke, Keyes said. No matter where the fault lies, the MSP is left dealing with customer complaints and fallout.

"They’re trying to figure this out," Keyes said.

Both Kaseya and Quest Software have worked towards solving the problem so that MSPs can remotely monitor and manage everything, but it’s still a challenge for the MSP – although not for all MSPs.

Wolf Consulting, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based MSP uses Kaseya for its RMM services, but it’s still mostly focused on managing physical servers.

"I can’t say that I’ve seen or that I foresee any measurable changes with regard to cloud servers because to us it’s just another server. We’re taking care of thousands of desktops and hundreds of servers for clients all around the greater Pittsburgh area," said Lloyd Wolf, president and CEO of Wolf Consulting.

Most of Wolf Consulting’s clients are headquartered in the Pittsburgh area, but they may have remote facilities elsewhere in the country. The MSP places Kaseya’s agents on each machine to monitor them. And that works like a charm for Wolf Consulting and its clients, but Wolf noted that there could be challenges when dealing with third-party cloud providers that don’t allow easy access to monitoring and management capabilities.

However, as Wolf pointed out, if those third-party services start experiencing downtime, they have much greater concerns than MSPs’ RMM capabilities. They’ll have thousands of unhappy customers (or MSPs representing those customers) filling up their technical support lines.