MSPs improvise to overcome lackluster cloud support in RMM software

MSPs are clamoring for the next generation of remote monitoring and management (RMM) software to support hybrid cloud customers or those mixing public cloud with legacy IT.

It will be a long time before customers fully abandon traditional IT delivery models for cloud services. Rather, businesses are increasingly looking to their managed service providers (MSPs) to support hybrid cloud deployments or integrate piecemeal public cloud adoption with their legacy IT infrastructure. As a result, MSPs are clamoring for the next generation of remote monitoring and management (RMM) software to remotely support these hybrid environments.

Traditional RMM software vendors have been slow to deliver products built for this new hybrid model, leading many MSPs to compensate for the feature gap by attempting to customize commercial RMM software

"For the MSP, the challenges are about making it easier for the systems to integrate with each other," said Keao Caindec, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of cloud hosting provider OpSource, a Dimension Data company in Santa Clara, Calif. "The other big challenge is: How [do] you do this globally and how [do] you federate public and private cloud environment?"

Cloud providers pick up where RMM software drops off

While RMM software vendors have been slow to keep up with this demand, larger cloud providers have partially picked up the slack. Some cloud providers, such as Amazon, are releasing application programming interfaces (APIs) that make it easier for integrators and MSPs to pull information from cloud infrastructure into existing system management tools and RMM software, said Joe Coyle, chief technology officer for Capgemini North America, a New York-based enterprise integrator.

[Innovation in] this area has been lacking and this is definitely slowing down adoption.
Joe CoyleChief Technology Officer, Capgemini North America

Overall, larger cloud providers seem to grasp the challenges that MSPs face and their need for better management tools to accommodate these hybrid deployments, according to Caindec.

"[MSPs] should be able to go in and develop an offering that brings together these [deployment models]," he said.

Additionally, some mainstream systems management software vendors -- BMC, CA, IBM and HP -- are adapting their products to accommodate hybrid environments that include cloud-delivered and on-premises infrastructure, according to numerous MSPs. Others say they're using software from Compuware and Nimsoft to glean whatever information they can from hybrid environments.

RMM software vendors must innovate further

But until RMM software vendors respond with more robust offerings, MSPs may be limited to rudimentary monitoring capabilities for certain cloud infrastructure, according to Capgemini's Coyle. These are most often in the form of probes that keep tabs on service levels and issue alerts as appropriate.

"[Innovation in] this area has been lacking and this is definitely slowing down adoption," he said.

But many enterprise IT organizations expect the same unified management dashboard into their IT infrastructure, regardless of whether it resides in the cloud or in an on-premises data center. So, with the dearth of options from RMM software vendors, it will be up to MSPs to help make hybrid cloud adoption and integration appear more seamless.

"The complexity really depends on the structure of how the hybrid infrastructure is deployed," said Kevin McDonald, executive vice president of Alvaka Networks, an MSP in Irvine, Calif. "If we cannot functionally get to the underlying infrastructure because a service provider like Google is not going to let us in, we check transactions."

Because of this disconnect, Alvaka cautions its clients to proceed carefully before putting mission-critical applications into the public cloud infrastructure, he said. That's because while his team can monitor certain cloud services, it can't always rectify issues or disruptions.

Monitoring without management leaves MSPs powerless

That distinction between cloud monitoring and management is an important one. MSPs note that while it is possible for them to customize off-the-shelf monitoring tools to identify issues in hybrid environments that mix cloud-based and on-premises IT services, their reach ends there. When it comes to using RMM software to access cloud-based equipment to resolve problems, MSPs say their hands are tied.

"As long as we can load our agents, we can have insight into what is going on," said Rory Sanchez, CEO of managed service provider SL Powers, in West Palm Beach, Fla. "The only difference is that if we detect a problem on a Rackspace server, we are beholden to them to help fix it."

This disconnect requires a tighter degree of trust between cloud service providers and MSPs that are supporting clients with hybrid infrastructure needs.

Cloud providers should be more open to sharing information with MSPs, as they can offer insight into issues within their clients' infrastructure that could trigger a problem within the provider's cloud, according to Mike Alley, director of managed service solutions for Logicalis, a Farmington Hills, Mich.,-based integrator. Likewise, MSPs need assurance that another tenant within a cloud provider's environment isn't going to take down their clients' services.

"Both sides need to see everything that is putting pressure on that cloud," Alley said.

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York area with more than 20 years of experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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It's 2014 and there's still no good RMM for cloud MSPs...