MSPs Reveal How They’re Helping SMB Customers Start Their Cloud Journey

Despite all the hype around moving to the cloud that has been going on for years, the reality is that there is still a wide swath of SMBs that have yet to get much beyond the basics of even cloud backups or Microsoft Office and are turning to their local MSPs for help. Here’s what several MSPs tell CRN about the opportunities they are seeing.

Bumps On The Journey To The Cloud

Moving applications and workloads to the cloud are supposed to bring a wide range of benefits, especially flexibility in operations and sometimes, but not always, lower costs. Plus there’s the perceived notion that if a business doesn’t move to the cloud, it will be in a poor competitive position with those that do.

However, when it comes to the actual environment in which many small and midsize businesses operate, the reality is that there is still a lot to do just to get them to take the most basic steps to the cloud.

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CRN talked with several MSPs during the XChange NexGen 2023 conference, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company, about what they are seeing as some of the main workloads their customers are looking to take to the cloud, and for many it was as basic as getting them ready for data backups and disaster recovery.

For others, there was a bit more advanced workloads, including SaaS applications, security, virtual desktop and even DevOps. However, a lot of the MSPs’ efforts are still focused on helping their customers, primarily small and midsize businesses, take their first or second steps on their journey to the cloud.

Of course, any time businesses need help with IT, those become opportunities for MSPs, whose executives told CRN that they find success with customers at different stages in the journey.

“I’m on the East Coast where everything that happened in the world happens about five years later,” J. Alejandro Rosado, CEO of Lancaster, Pa.-based MSP 12:34 Microtechnologies, told CRN. “And so a lot of the workloads that we’re doing now, things that have been done for a while, include QuickBooks in the cloud, SQL apps, you know, normal everyday applications.”

Here is how a number of MSPs are finding opportunities with their customers.

Microsoft Apps To The Cloud

Don Monistere, President, CEO, Baton Rouge, La.-based General Informatics

I would say, for those who took their time on the [Microsoft] Office 365 migration, that’s by far the one that in the last two years has been the general ask, like, ‘Hey, let’s move to Office 365. Let’s make sure we’re not on our own Exchange Server or other hosted platforms.’ So Office 365 is getting a lot of attention.

I’d say next to the cloud would be very specific line-of-business applications. We have a number of SMB clients that still have on-prem client/server-type applications that they either want to rewrite and put in the cloud, which we’ll help them with, or they’re getting a third-party application that may already have a cloud offering or a third-party application they want to put in our private cloud data center as opposed to putting it in a public cloud. Those are usually the two scenarios that we see the most.

Third is a hybrid mix where they’re wanting to have more cloud services that they’ve had on-prem for some time. And so we will build a kind of hybrid model so they can still have certain applications in their local area network with the rest in public and private clouds. So we’ll put Active Directory in Azure, and then maybe with an AD server on-prem for various reasons, but that’s probably what I see the most.

Most people have done Office 365, but that’s definitely still hot. Specific line-of-business applications have been put into the public cloud, whether it be in an Azure scenario or in our private cloud or with a third-party application provider. And then it’s just more reconfiguring of their on-prem environment so they can utilize cloud services a whole lot more, whether that be Azure or AWS, etc.

Customers Just Getting Started

J. Alejandro Rosado, CEO, Lancaster, Pa.-based 12:34 Microtechnologies

I haven’t seen really anything new lately. I’m on the East Coast where everything that happened in the world happens about five years later. And so a lot of the workloads that we’re doing now, things that have been done for a while, include QuickBooks in the cloud, SQL apps, you know, normal everyday applications.

We’re in the SMB space, and I mean the ‘S’ in SMB. Our target customers are 50 users and under, with no IT at all. And so we still are doing a ton of just infrastructure. We’re finally moving that Exchange Server from on-prem and into the cloud, things like that.

It’s amazing to me how in our industry people forget a lot about the small customers. There’s a lot of things you can do on your own and still have a successful business. And as those companies start to grow and get competitive in their own right, they see the need for the MSP, and so we rarely run into another MSP when we’re working with customers. We’re getting them when they’ve never worked with anyone. We’re not working with customers that are mature and that have been in the cloud for a while. They’re just now moving out of their infancy with technology.

Cloud For Efficiency

Si Tran, EVP, Houston-based I.T. Matters

I think COVID will allow that conversation, especially for us here in Houston. We’re based in Houston. A lot of our customers were very tied to the on-prem side. We were always trying to move them towards the cloud, and they would say, ‘Oh, it’s impossible because our infrastructure is too specific.’ So, that conversation got eased up post-COVID.

I think they’re seeing the traditional structure is changing, so they’re more open to cloud solutions in general. When we work with oil and gas companies, they were like, ‘We’ve got to have everything on-prem.’ Like their dependence on their accounting software: They [feel] like there’s no way to transition it or [are concerned about] the cost of transitioning it. A lot of those conversations have opened up because there’s more efficient ways of doing that. I think them not always working in the office was a catalyst for that conversation. It is kind of like a blessing in [disguise], and it was a challenge for us because we had to navigate that and get it right as clients were completely starting to re-evaluate projects.

Customers Still On The Cloud Journey

Jim Buttjer, Sr. SAP Solution Executive, Chief Technologist, Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based American Digital

Our client base is largely enterprise and small and medium enterprise. That said, the question is not usually, ‘I just have one workload to move.’ It’s ‘Should we go to cloud? Whether it’s SAP or for everything, the whole entire data center?’ Then the question is, ‘OK, well, if you’re evaluating cloud, why? Is it because someone said, “Cloud! Cloud! Cloud!” at a conference?’

And sometimes, even though the technology is there, the culture has to change. Maybe the client tried to implement [private] cloud because people were afraid to lose their jobs and so forth, but it was a combination of not just people, culture, training and technical investment, but also a change in how they do business. Even how they account for hours and budget and so forth. Once they fail at trying to implement private cloud, they say, ‘This is actually hard stuff. We’re not ready for that. We need to instead go to public cloud and do it over a period of time.’

So we put together what I call a ‘journey’ and eventually migrate with some milestones along the way and logical groupings, and they learn that the journey is not just ‘lift and shift.’ It’s lift, adjust, maybe modernize. [Let’s] think about strategy and planning and road map. What are your silver bullets and lily pads? Lily pads are, ‘I’m here. This is where I can jump to get to the next one [and] the next one.’ Silver bullets are, ‘Well, if I have this problem or this opportunity, or both, can I shoot once and take out both of them? So instead of having two projects that might take six months or nine months each, I can do it in one project.’ You can if you think about and plan for it ahead of time and work with people like us who think this way. If every [project] is separate, it might never get approved.

Desktops To The Cloud

Paul Vedder, Co-Founder, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.-based Vxit

With the history of the desktop workload, we’re having more conversations where we used to shy away from those in the past year. I think there was an influx of cloud workloads with the desktops that died off for a little while, and I think with Azure, that conversation is being picked back up again.

From Email Into SaaS

Atul Bhagat, President, CEO Vienna, Vas-based Base Solutions

I think the common use case we’re seeing is everyone did their email and everything, that was the first step. And now we’re seeing expansion into other SaaS products. In addition, now our clients that had on-prem work are now moving or shifting into the cloud as well.

Looking For Price, Scalability, Security, Flexibility

Sandra Antoun, Director, Sales, Marketing, Austin, Texas-based Vintage IT Services

There’s always been and continues to be a need for data storage and backup, VDI, web application hosting, disaster recovery, and security and compliance. The main reasons being price, scalability, security and flexibility.

Post-COVID, business owners are not only adapting to a more remote, hybrid workforce, but also thinking about the future.

Distributed Workforce, Security

Mark Wiener, CEO, Raleigh, N.C.-based BizCom Global

The main two reasons [to move workloads to the cloud] are having a distributed workforce and having the need for secure IT infrastructure that has variable compute and storage needs.

The easiest workloads other than email and general productivity suites to move to the cloud are virtual desktops and DevOps.