Here's the latest in our business management series from our friends over at MAXfocus.
Does your MSP business offer Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to customers?
Some smaller MSPs shy away from the idea, preferring not to shoulder the risk of taking control of every element of a company’s IT provision. However, those prepared to invest the time and money in building a reliable and resilient datacentre environment can cash in by legitimately laying claim to the lion’s share of their client’s IT budgets.
Wikipedia describe Infrastructure-as-a-Service as a “utility computing” model.
Here’s an example:
When a client’s creaking infrastructure is due for replacement, an IaaS provider suggests an alternative to paying out for new physical servers and software licences. Instead, they offer the client the compelling alternative of avoiding the capital spend by paying for all they need on a per-user, per-month basis.
Then, the provider builds the infrastructure, usually using virtual machines in a datacentre environment.
The client still needs desktop PCs and laptops, but as their entire desktop environment is now service-based and hosted, they really only need them to act as thin-clients. As such, companies can continue to use older PCs with lower specifications, as they essentially become little more than “windows” to the virtual environment.
Of course this is just an example. Exactly how far you go with IaaS depends on your ideas and your client’s requirements. You could, for example, stay closer to the traditional model and use VPN tunnels to connect to the IaaS environment instead of using a thin-client design. Either way, the basic principle is the same.
Anecdotally, some MSPs have been caught out when providers of line-of-business databases have branched out into IaaS and offered a complete hosted desktop environment to customers.
With LOB applications often taking a high proportion of the IT budget, the thought of paying a little more to the same provider can seem compelling to clients. MSPs should, therefore, be on the lookout for previously non-threatening competitors using the cloud to muscle in on business that was previously safely ring-fenced.
With all the above in mind, let’s return to the main subject of the article, which is that IaaS is becoming more flexible for service providers.
An interesting recent development is the launch of a new virtual machine environment from ProfitBricks, an IaaS specialist.
ProfitBricks now allows network admins to have direct BIOS-level access to servers in IaaS environments. Not only does this allow for a greater level of control, it gives apprehensive providers of IaaS more reasons to consider IaaS as a realistic alternative to on-premise systems.
Access to a “pre boot” environment is useful for hardware tweaks and for system recovery operations too.
What ProfitBricks are clearly aiming for is a cloud environment that feels just like the traditional alternative, albeit without the heavy servers up the corner of the office. “What’s not to like?” is the question that instantly occurs.
So, if you’ve not felt confident in providing IaaS before, maybe now is a good time to think again about what you could put together for your customers. If you don’t, competitors might do it first and steal the clients from under your nose.