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The managed services
provider (MSP) model has been around for years and has brought ongoing revenue
streams to a multitude of solution providers that had made the leap into the
hosted services space. Much the same can be said for Software as a Service (SaaS).
And  although many SaaS solutions are
offered via direct channels, there has been some opportunity for solution
providers to benefit from SaaS, thanks to channel friendly software vendors.

The challenges of MSP
and SaaS solutions have left many solution providers wondering if there is
still room for them in that growing market. Still others have been scared away
by the perceived high cost of entry, a myth that still needs debunking.

The truth of the matter
is that the dynamics of becoming an MSP and/or SaaS provider has changed
recently. In the past solution providers embarking on the MSP path would have
to make a significant investment in hardware, software and even data centers to
build an MSP practice. However, evolution of the market has brought many cloud
based hosts into view that will sublet their offerings to solution providers,
eliminating much of that up front investment required previously.

Originally, most of the
cloud based service hosts were looking to bring their offers direct to an end
customer, ignoring the benefits that the channel had to offer. Over time, those
same hosts began to realize the power of the channel to extend their reach into
more markets by leveraging the partner model.

That shift has created
the opportunities for solution providers to become MSP or SaaS providers, even at
this late stage in the game. An added incentive is that many hosts are allowing
partners to self brand or rebrand offerings, giving the solution provider
control over the customer relationship and adding an air of uniqueness to the
solution provider’s offerings.

What’s more, the very
idea of an MSP has evolved from the traditional managing-PCs-and-servers practice
into a vast array of offerings, ranging from unified communications to virtual
desktops. Take for example OS33, a host that is offering
fully hosted IT,
where all of the servers and desktop applications actually run
in the cloud, provisioned by an authorized partner. Solution providers can sign
up with OS33, rebrand the offering and sell their customers hosted desktop
services and offer complete network management under a single umbrella – a
virtual quick path to becoming an MSP and more.

A more specialized
offering comes from Chartec, an organization that is
offering HaaS
(Hardware as a Service) to channel players. The company’s first solution
is an appliance designed for backup and disaster recovery for the SMB market.
Treated as a service, customers pay a monthly fee for the appliance, which is
used to backup their servers and endpoints and then transfer the backed-up data
to an off-site host for additional protection. Chartec’s solution uses
virtualization to recreate servers and services if there is an IT disaster at
the customer’s location. Solution providers can leverage HaaS to build a
managed disaster recovery service and roll it into their MSP customers.

Other examples abound,
including from the big players out there – Both Kaseya and
N-Able offer hosted asset management solutions that can become
part of an MSP offering with very little effort and little upfront costs.

For those solution providers
looking to transform into an MSP, additional opportunities abound, especially
since “the cloud” has started to become an acceptable business term. However,
there are few tricks of the trade that will help to ensure success, and they
all come down to partnering with the correct hosts.

Some simple guidelines
for vetting managed services and software-as-a-service vendor and host partners include:

  • Determine if there is an upfront investment required.
  • Determine what the channel program tiers are and if there are minimum sales goals.
  • Check for exclusivity of the offering, what it takes to become a partner and how territories are protected.
  • Validate the rules around re-branding.
  • Verify customer ownership, make sure you retain control of the customer relationship.
  • Check the provisioning requirements, make sure you can provision services quickly and easily.
  • Verify the host’s viability, make sure they will be around for a whileCheck the service level agreements, make sure downtime is avoidable.
  • Check for service scalability, integration with other services and management capabilities.
  • See if the support policies are adequate for your needs, see who offers first line of support.

Those guidelines will
help you to decide what hosts are good partners and ultimately help you to
decide on a pricing structure and determine if that pricing structure offers a
high enough margin. The keys to becoming a successful MSP lie in two places –
your business sense and the technology you offer. Ideally, you should be able
to offer a customer a unique bandoleer of services that are affordable and
offer demonstrable benefits, as well as cementing a strong customer