Thanks to cheap Internet bandwidth, regulations dictating more stringent backup and offsite data recovery procedures, and acquisitions of small MSPs by firms like Verizon, BT and IBM, opportunities abound for value-added resellers (VARs) looking to expand into managed services. The managed services business model is attractive to the
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channel because it offers a recurring revenue stream and a large potential customer base. VARs and MSPs that are willing to grow to meet demand can reap the benefits of this popularity.
"There is definitely an upsurge in MSPs lately," says Stan Gibson, an analyst from Framingham, Mass.-based Stan Gibson Communications. "There are now real companies who are providing real services to real customers, and the trend is growing where more IT services are becoming utilities like power -- easy to obtain and just as ubiquitous."
MSPs offer a valuable service to under-resourced small and midsized businesses, as well as enterprises.
"Larger enterprises have IT departments who are overtaxed and underfunded, and they are doing more with MSPs to offload certain segments of IT management such as email management, server management, VPNs and security, log monitoring and auditing," says Charles Weaver, the president of the International Association of Managed Service Providers.
While your managed service business can certainly survive by staying small, you're missing out on potential business if you don't scale to meet demand. The key is to hire competent folks. Here are some guidelines and questions to address as you look around for the right engineering talent to help your organization grow.
Are you a Java or .Net shop, or do you need both kinds of technologies? Many MSPs are either/or and want to stay that way. Others want to specialize. Consider which overall direction works best for your business in terms of what applications you currently support and where you see potential growth opportunities.
Are you a Windows or Linux shop, or both? Again, figure out where you want to place your resources, and whether you want to offer both kinds of servers for all, some or none of your managed applications portfolio. Then look for the best system administrators you can find. Ideally, "you want people who know how to securely configure your servers and systems on either platform, and also be able to optimize them to host the customers' applications," says Bader.
How scalable are your servers and applications? Part of managing growth is being able to build in scalability when you are small, and you might not have the design skills or staff to have specified this from day one.
"We're now into scalability. There are a good number of folks that can do the job in a hand crafted way. Fewer have the experience or interest in building the systems and procedures for a department or company; it's the shift from "my servers" to "our servers" and that's hard," says Bader.
How much deep knowledge do you have about Web applications security? You can't have enough expertise here, as new exploits are happening almost hourly. Consider taking training from the Open Web Application Security Project to get up on learning curve.
How much existing IT background does a candidate have? Many former IT staffers are out on the street with their own consultancies. In many cases, these are ideal candidates for MSPs who want someone who can talk the IT talk and understand both the business and networking issues from a larger-company perspective.
Finally, do candidates have the right personality and people skills to handle relationship-building and not just trying to accumulate billable hours? You want staff that can communicate with your clients, not just talk TCP/IP protocols.
About the author
David Strom is a speaker, podcaster, and freelance writer for TechTarget and was the former editor-in-chief at Tom's Hardware and Network Computing magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.