How to improve MSPs’ agility while reducing costs: A guide

Agility is one of the key characteristics that distinguishes a successful managed service provider from the rest of the pack. Being agile means being able to respond quickly to onboard new customers, and fulfill new service requests. Unfortunately, this is often in direct conflict with another important MSP goal: minimizing the number of staff required to deliver those services.

One of the smartest ways to resolve that conflict is to implement your own cloud infrastructure, with customer self-service and automation. With the right approach to cloud, you can ease the burden on your technicians, accelerate onboarding, bring services to customers more quickly, and shrink your time to revenue.

What stops you being agile?

Most MSPs are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to onboarding new customers or provisioning new services.  Traditionally, your infrastructure exists in silos where compute, storage and networking are managed as separate functions. To provision a new customer, you first assess the customer’s needs, and then build the necessary infrastructure from scratch – racking specific servers, firewalls and other systems; buying various software licenses; and layering them to deliver the service.

The customer gets a bespoke solution – eventually – but this traditional siloed approach is not conducive to efficient, sustainable and most importantly repeatable growth for you as an MSP. There are three key reasons why:

Complexity delays revenue: Onboarding new customers or spinning up new resources, in this type of environment, involves careful coordination across infrastructure silos, teams, vendors and technologies. It's time-consuming to design, configure and test services that depend on multiple platforms, multiple UIs, and multiple networking and storage technologies.  Provisioning can take several weeks, delaying time-to-revenue.  

Worse still, it's a process you have to repeat for each customer – and it's difficult to manage when customer needs change. The servers provisioned at the beginning of the year may not be adequate at the end of the year.

People cost money: These problems are compounded by the need to adjust staff levels to minimize salary expenses. Most MSPs size their teams for service maintenance rather than service provisioning, and don’t typically have dedicated teams for bringing up new customers. Technicians must fit that into an already busy work schedule, adding even more time between a customer's order and service delivery.

You have too much or too little hardware: In many cases, IT resources are either under- or over-provisioned. No MSP wants to see equipment sitting idle, but when the alternative is waiting days for new kit to arrive – creating further delays for the client – having a stock of unused hardware may be the lesser of two evils.  

The benefits of a cloud management platform

Building your own cloud infrastructure lets you tackle these issues head on. As well as giving you a platform for private and public cloud service delivery, cloud infrastructure brings much greater agility and efficiency to your operations as an MSP.

Provisioning efficiency: Because cloud provisioning is software-driven, it requires minimal amounts of staff to perform the operation. Rather than racking new devices for new customers, an MSP can carve out a section from existing infrastructure and provision resources on the fly.  To offer public and/or private cloud services, you need a cloud platform with the ability to orchestrate across a range of hypervisors – and to achieve peak efficiency, you also need to be able to manage these services centrally.  By being able to see all physical servers, firewalls, storage and Virtual Servers in one place, it’s easier to react to customer needs and issues as they arise.

Administration efficiency:  A cloud management platform should minimize manual effort at every point in the customer lifecycle. With the right cloud management platform, properly-trained personnel, and some consulting from the cloud infrastructure vendor, one or two technicians should be able to provision a new private cloud in hours rather than weeks.

Vital to this is the need to be able to create permission-based user roles and user groups so that, once the cloud is in production, clients can self-serve resources within a secure framework, minimizing the need to interact with your teams. The cloud management platform should also leverage customer profile templates. Once a template is created for one customer, it can be easily modified to onboard a second customer, and so on. Having a central template repository makes provisioning easier and faster for IT administrators and also reduces provisioning errors.

Billing efficiency: Leveraging a solution that also intricately calculates resources for billing by customer is another element that will save hours of manual work, and improve margins quickly.

Resource efficiency: with the ability to treat the entire compute, network, and storage infrastructure as a flexible pool of resources, MSPs can easily assign specific resources to specific clients and bill for them accordingly. The process becomes a software-based provisioning activity that requires fewer technicians and eliminates custom racking and stacking for individual clients. What’s more, the MSP can replicate one customer’s setup for the next customer, and simply tweak the resource allocations or service mix to suit the new customer.

What the cloud translates to for the MSP is: more efficient use of resources, faster time to revenue for new customers, higher revenue from private cloud services and more fluid resource planning for future needs. Moving to a cloud-based infrastructure not only enables new services, it also simplifies and streamlines provisioning to improve service agility while reducing costs.