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The move to a cloud-based or managed services strategy involves questions that nearly every service provider has grappled with, either now or in the past. But, the concept leads to a series of decision points for channel partners around key issues that involve management platform selections, white labeling choices, partnerships, geographical issues, customer attitudes, and more.
"Cloud and managed services are cut from the same cloth, and it mostly depends on how much cloth you want," said Phil Mogavero, vice president of advanced technology solutions at PCM, a Calabasas, Calif.-based solution provider. "In a managed service, the equipment can live anywhere, and it is specific to that customer, whereas a cloud structure is a shared model in which you don't really know where your services are, or who is managing it. It's just about access to an application."
Mogavero predicts that although cloud has become a focal point of the hype cycle, managed services will continue to be widely used because the cloud is often a viable option for certain customers, but not others. This is based on a variety of issues, including access, data sensitivity and a host of others.
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"So channel partners will likely want to do a little bit of managed services and a little bit of cloud, but I think the managed services piece is much more advantageous," said Mogavero. "Once you go to the cloud, the customer belongs to the cloud service provider, which dilutes the channel play to a certain extent. At the end of the day, channel partners need to be consultative and focus on providing knowledge to their customers, as opposed to providing hardware."
Another underlying aspect involves what one MSP executive describes as "a cultural change around IT, in general."
According to Lochlin Blair, vice president of channel development at End to End Networks, a Markham, Ontario-based MSP, a change in mindset needs to be accomplished in order for the services business model to be truly accepted and successful.
"Technical people typically want to be able to touch and feel their solution," he said. "And when we start to talk about putting all their infrastructure into cloud providers, you don't have access to the low-level hardware in the way that they used to have. So they get a little bit taken aback by the level of abstraction."