Guest Post

MSP resistance to Windows 11 exposes business problem

Microsoft's Windows 11 release received relatively little fanfare in the MSP industry. The lack of enthusiasm points to a problem among IT services firms.

Dave Sobel is host of the podcast The Business of Tech and co-host of the podcast Killing IT. In addition, he wrote Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business.

In this video, Sobel examines the reaction to Windows 11 within the MSP community. The general response was telling: Many firms haven't embraced the upgrade. However, if MSPs choose to resist change and new technologies, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant to their customers, Sobel said.

Transcript follows below. Minor edits have been made for brevity and clarity.

Dave Sobel: Let me tell you a story.

Obviously, I do a daily news and commentary podcast. Please like and subscribe. I had to say that. It earns my YouTube merit badge.

To produce the show, I consume a lot of news. Behind the scenes is a collection of newsletters and RSS feeds that pull together tons of sources to boil things down to things IT service providers should care about. Far more stories get read than ever make it on the show.

When iOS 15 came out, I noted a couple of press releases touting support for the OS as a day-zero launch. I made a note to myself to keep that one in the file but, more importantly, to check on Tuesday, Oct. 5, when Windows 11 came out, for the press releases of support. Giving you some insight into my thinking, I actually expected nothing to come of it from a story perspective. I expected to be greeted by a flurry of 'we support Windows 11' press releases and for it be a nonstory for me.

So, when Tuesday, Oct. 5, hit and my inbox was not covered in a flurry of press releases, I was actually surprised. I figured it had to be me missing it, just totally missing the story. I mean, I'm just one guy, so I assumed it was me.

I went to Google. Turns out, it wasn't just me missing it. I really couldn't find the press releases I was looking for. I found an announcement from VMware and one from ManageEngine and a couple of others, but I was actually expecting ones from companies like the MSP big four -- Datto, N-able, Kaseya, ConnectWise -- and the other providers -- Syncro, Ninja, Atera -- you know, the companies who do infrastructure management.

Now, remember when iOS 15 came out, I saw announcements from the support companies as just a matter of course. Yeah, yeah, I'm hearing you scream, 'It's MDM [mobile device management], not RMM [remote monitoring and management]!' Don't miss the forest for the trees on this one.

With active and passive searching failing me, I decided to do what most MSPs would do. I asked a community -- the MSPGeek one, to be specific.

How the MSP world reacted to Windows 11

The product people from Datto had a simple answer, and it was that it's not supported. They were there in the community and answered me.

A community member shared with me N-able's release note statement, and their PR team confirmed I had the right one. So, N-able's information just hadn't shown up in Google.

ConnectWise had product people in the group and CEO Jason Magee, who was nice enough to respond to my tags. But then they had to get their PR people involved. I mean, I get it, but then the story becomes their PR people had to get involved. I'm flattered, though. I set off the PR warning alert. I consider that some high praise, and I want to thank all of you subscribers for that. ConnectWise issued a very formal statement, and I feel a touch obligated to relay it:

ConnectWise is committed to serving our partners' needs, and supporting new operating systems is a key aspect of that. Currently, ConnectWise Command supports Windows 11, and ConnectWise Automate will support Windows 11 with the 2021.11 release, currently slated for November/December. When the 2021.11 release is deployed, partners will have full support, including script variables and functions.

Now, one community member directed me to the sentiment over on Reddit from MSPs themselves:

You totally need to do one of your controversial thought pieces about Luddite MSPs while you're at it. Man, were they losing their minds in Reddit threads this week, with wild proclamations of never supporting Windows 11. Of course, these are probably the same folks who only went to 10 when 7 ended and are being dragged kicking and screaming to cloud-first and WFA.

Well, with a pitch like that, I had to go look at the comments. The comments, well, they were something else, and there were a lot of them.

So, you asked for a thought piece. Well, you're in the middle of it.

I'm actually pretty disheartened to hear a group of technology companies seemingly down on new technology. Now, I get a certain degree of skepticism. That's healthy. But contempt for your own field? That's a lot less productive.

Resistance to change

Now, let me walk through why I think this attitude is actively dangerous.

One of the tenets of delivering managed services is the idea of focusing on uptime and stability. Providers sell the idea that they will monitor, maintain and optimize the computing environment to ensure uptime.

But there's a problem with that. Taken to its logical extreme, providers become much like IT departments in that they're resistant to change. If you're optimizing for uptime, the best way to do that is to not change the environment. If your business model is to automate work, a change to the environment is bad. No wonder providers get grumpy about anything new. It's bad for business.

Now, I actually analyzed this problem back in 2014 when I was with GFI. The company published a white paper called 'The Perpetually Valuable MSP,' and the keynote address from MAX 2014 was around how to address this problem. The idea is that an MSP who's good at building systems should build a system to review new technologies and bring those into their environments. By standardizing the way new technology is reviewed, one can offset the motivation to stay constant. Thus, you become perpetually valuable to your customers as you're always reinventing yourself. That keynote was seven years ago.

Now, I'd link to the white paper, but it seems N-able has taken it down. I'd pull footage from that presentation, but it's gone from YouTube. It's a shame, as I'm particularly proud of that work, and it's clearly as relevant today as when it was then. That resource is needed. Here we are in 2021, and providers are literally pushing back on new technology as their first reaction.

No wonder the vendors aren't pushing to address the new tech.

Look, I was expecting this to be a nonstory. I was expecting to see all the vendors diligently be announcing their support for the new operating system. It would be easy to criticize them for not moving. As one provider who I talked to about this issue said, 'Those that support it on release day were on point.'

Don't hold back your customers

This state of affairs isn't good for customers. I'm not even a Windows user, and I see some benefits in the release. Android apps coming will be a solid addition to the ecosystem for bringing mobile and office environments together. Virtual desktop support, fixing those annoyances -- they're significant in a work-from-home and work-from-anywhere world.

But the bigger picture: If the community of providers who serve small companies take the approach that new technologies are to be mocked, are threats to their profit margin, are annoyances and not opportunity, then ultimately the customer is poorly served.

From some recent data reported on the show, several sets of surveys are indicating that the majority of end customers are now running primarily in the cloud, particularly with SaaS solutions. This should be making the process of being agile at the endpoint a lot easier, and the way to adapt and be agile is something I know I personally worked on and presented seven years ago.

It points to a really scary possibility. What if customers start really deciding their IT provider just holds them back, that a contract for maintenance is really just a boat anchor slowing them down from moving into what's possible? Is the way you present yourself to the world and to your customers the same stodgy, grumpy, unmoving IT department of the past?

Makes you wonder why a vendor might want you out of the way, huh? Protecting the customer, are you? Sounds more like blocking the customer.

For myself, as a small business owner: 'No, thank you.' I want a technology partner who looks for new solutions, for new opportunities, for the things I don't even know are out there -- not the one that says, 'Deny, deny, deny;' who says, 'No planning at all,' and, 'At the last possible minute;' who views progress as undue stress; who digs in come hell or high water.

Maybe take a minute, stop and think about why you got into technology in the first place because this field is all about change, and delivering on that promise is the upside. Not incorporating new technology, new services and new approaches into your business will make you irrelevant. And, just like seven years ago, the goal is to be perpetually valuable. It's worth revisiting.

About the author
Dave Sobel is host of the podcast
The Business of Tech, co-host of the podcast Killing IT and authored the book Virtualization: Defined. Sobel is regarded as a leading expert in the delivery of technology services, with broad experience in both technology and business. He owned and operated an IT solution provider and MSP for more than a decade and has worked for vendors such as Level Platforms, GFI, LOGICnow and SolarWinds, leading community, event, marketing and product strategies, as well as M&A activities. Sobel has received multiple industry recognitions, including CRN Channel Chief, CRN UK A-List, Channel Futures Circle of Excellence winner, Channel Pro's 20/20 Visionaries and MSPmentor 250.

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