Cloud Consulting

By John Hazard

"Managed Service Providers will be obsolete in the next five to ten years."

Those blunt words come from Saeer Butts, a senior software architect at one of those MSPs, Zaphyr Technologies, in Parsippany, N.J.

The cloud will put MSPs out of business, Butts said. As customers move more of their infrastructure to hosted environments, monitoring and managing assets on location -- the cornerstone of the MSP model -- will become less necessary, said Butts and other MSPs. There is still a role for remote monitoring and management, but anyone who is doing that as the center-piece of their business will be out of business, said Heinan Landa, CEO of Optimal Networks, an IT services provider in Northern Virginia and the Metro Washington, D.C. Area.

"MSPs are very low on the bottom of the IT stack right now; it’s a complete commodity," Landa said. "If that’s what you’re offering, you have to open your eyes. You need to look at your capabilities and analyze what else you might bring to the table that makes your IT service more valuable to the customer."

MSPs hoping to avoid the junk-pile of IT services can take advantage of two trends, both of which Optimal and Zaphyr are already practicing:

  • Hybrid cloud environments, where some but not all of a customer’s applications are hosted
  • Cloud consulting, which should be a no brainer for VARs that have long practiced the "trusted advisor" role, Landa said.

Hybrid Cloud

Few businesses are ready to embrace the cloud completely and fewer still should want to, said Butts.

"There is a misconception about the cloud that says the Cloud is cheaper [than traditional IT]," he said. "The cloud is really about shifting risk. Instead of taking the risk of hosting and managing infrastructure, you move it from your own organization to that of the service provider. Anytime you hand over risk and responsibilities to someone else, you’re usually paying more money for it." There are instances where cloud services might be cheaper, but those are few, and when most customers discover this they often take a step back from their cloud frenzy. They often decide to pick and choose the pieces that go in the cloud, and those that stay on-premise.

Add to the fact that cloud offerings might not be viable for every application or piece of the business, and you end up w/ hybrid cloud environments that will exist for years, Butts said.

"Very often we come back to them and say what part of your business do you want in the cloud and they often respond 'what do I have?'" Butts said.

"Some one might say I want to get my Exchange Server hosted and out of here. There are inexpensive Exchange offerings from Microsoft and without the maintenance and licensing costs, so let’s put Exchange in the sky. We’ll administer the software and be the helpdesk and provide the Internet and desktop support. We’ll do the things we can do remotely and onsite, but we’re no longer the MSP service for that Exchange server."

Additionally, they might have decided to put their CRM on Salesforce.com but other functions, like a database or their VOIP might stay inhouse.

MSPs will play a role in managing and monitoring the mixed environment and ensuring the two work together.

Cloud Consulting

The current rush to the Cloud is built largely on marketing hype, Landa said.

"We have prospects come to us on a weekly basis and say 'I want to go to cloud.’ and I want to know why [they want to go to the cloud]?" he asked. "Do you have real business drivers that will benefit by hosting some of your business applications in the could? Or did you just hear some marketing hype about the cloud?"

For a firm playing the role of trusted advisor, there’s going to be tremendous opportunity for the next few years in guiding clients through the process of taking to the cloud. Or not.

"If we go into client and we're talking to them about compliance, HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, and they want to get into the cloud, we’ll probably caution them against the public cloud where they’re sharing same data-center space with other companies," he said. "For them, we might recommend they avoid the cloud for right now, or, if they desire the benefits of the cloud, we would recommend a private cloud. You still own the infrastructure, but it is virtualized, it’s in a data center, it might be in a back-up data center.

Optimal puts its clients through a battery of questions and a review to help them determine if the cloud is even the right choice for them, and, if so, what part of their business line.

"The Cloud is really just another platform and another option," he said. "Once you understand that, your role is to present it to them along with their other options as part of an integrated solution stack. That’s where the value is. Monitoring and managing their infrastructure is a tiny part of it."

Cloud managers

Once the advisory role is complete and integration accomplished, there’s still room for management, said Butts, relying on another old channel line -- "one throat to choke."

"Right now biggest issue customers have is you can not get all the services from any one provider," he said. "Someone still has to go out there, get server hosting from Google, host database with Microsoft, and get the email from somebody else. What our role becomes is still managing the environment. It’s just in the cloud now."

In this role he described service providers and cloud managers.

"Our role will not end," he said. "We still have to monitor the environment in the cloud. Any time they have problems, we will still get the call -- I cannot find the icon, things like that. That part still stands. They still want a single throat to choke."


This article was originally published on 2011-05-02