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Cloud services may be cheaper, but MSPs have much to weigh before going up

The cost, space and energy savings MSPs might gain by hosting services in the cloud rather than in their own data center are tempered with concerns about network visibility, security and management of multiple applications.

Managed services providers (MSPs) are no strangers to running IT services remotely for their customers, but moving their own assets to the cloud and delivering their services from there will test MSPs' ability to keep all the balls in the air.

"MSPs by their very nature are already offsite from the managing environment," said Jim Frey, a research director at Enterprise Management Associates. "But the MSPs are going to have to do some work – probably some extra work – to establish relationships with cloud providers to have access to whatever sort of health and monitoring interfaces cloud providers are going to make available."

The cost, space and energy savings MSPs might gain by delivering services from the cloud rather than from their own data centers are tempered by concerns about network visibility, security and management of multiple applications.

Three years ago, server management was the top concern among MSPs, according to a survey released by channel vendor PacketTrap, which markets a network monitoring platform to MSPs.

 Managing cloud assets and the network traffic issues between those assets is becoming the No. 1 problem these guys have."
Steve Goodman

This year cloud computing-related headaches pushed server management further down the list of worries for MSPs. Eighty-three percent of 258 respondents identified "lack of visibility into network traffic" as their top concern, followed by "moving assets to the cloud" (41%) and "too many applications to manage" (37%).

"What we've seen is a flip – that managing cloud assets and the network traffic issues between those assets is becoming the No. 1 problem these guys have," said PacketTrap CEO Steve Goodman.

Cloud services providers should share reporting tools with MSPs

In addition to finding the right third-party tools, MSPs that want more control over and visibility into the cloud services they employ will have to persuade cloud providers to share "good reporting, good access and support" for their services, Frey said.

"That's one of the open conversations right now – what information is going to be made available?" he asked, noting that telecom- and Internet-service providers that are "used to" service-level reporting may set the standard.

"You'll see more and more providers doing this," Frey said. "That's going to be a point of competition going forward: How much information will they provide? How accurate can they be? And how secure can they be?"

For Shawn Slater, CEO of IT ESP Inc., an MSP in northern California on the Oregon border, moving a server to a rented space in the cloud is becoming more attractive – especially since is corporate headquarters is in Crescent City, a town of about 4,000 that has one fiber line carrying the Internet.

"Every once in a while, you get a bonehead contractor who takes his backhoe and cuts that line," Slater said. "It makes more sense for us to have a server out there in the cloud …. We're having to move in that direction out of necessity because we live in a rural area."

Yet Slater, a PacketTrap customer, also conceded that there's a trust issue at play – not being able to service the physical infrastructure himself, if needed, and leaving its reliability in the hands of its providers.

Such risks are allayed, he said, by having a reliable network visibility platform. He never would have caught the client who hit 508 websites in one hour had it not been for his monitoring.

"[Trust] is obviously an issue and it's really a case [of] making that decision of cutting your losses," Slater said. "More than anything else, it's more cost effective to have it out in the cloud and obviously having it in proximity to somebody who can go service it."

As consumers, MSPs have an increasingly wider range of options to find the right cloud solution based on their needs. The market has expanded as vendors begin taking cloud computing more seriously and developing solutions, said Tiffani Bova, a research vice president at Gartner.

"Five years ago, there were not many choices of which vendors to align themselves with," Bova said. "Also, the major manufacturers had not embraced the validity of the cloud as a viable option that customers would embrace."

"Only in the past two to three years have you seen Microsoft, Dell, EMC, SAP and Oracle mention [the] cloud as part of their strategy," she added. "The most important business decision for the channel now will be hooking their cart on the right wagon, or wagons, and developing a multi-vendor/service provider cloud solution to meet customer demands."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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