The 10 Biggest Managed Services Trends Of 2015 (So Far)

From Public Cloud To Robotic Automation

Much of the recent innovation in managed services has taken place around the public cloud, with MSPs and solution providers looking for ways to differentiate their Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure offerings.

Some MSPs have focused on streamlining the customer transition to cloud and digital technologies, while others have rolled out robotic automation platforms and analytics around unified communications.

Vendors and distributors also have gotten into the game with robust portals and updates to their professional services automation and remote monitoring and management platforms. Read on to learn about the coolest managed services trends so far in 2015.

Storage Array Options Multiply

Direct-attached storage and private cloud are burgeoning markets for MSPs, since digital storage needs are growing exponentially and the equipment requires specialized knowledge to configure, optimize and maintain.

The Transporter 75 from Connected Data automatically replicates file storage and sharing and provides a simple way to share large files over the Internet. It can be deployed on the racks of an MSP, with administrators having full access to create users, monitor performance and undertake maintenance.

Hewlett-Packard recently added thin provisioning, storage tiering and other performance features to the MSA 2040, with integration with serial-attached SAS drives cutting cost per GB by as much as 90 percent.

RMM Powerhouses Update Flagship Platforms

The top remote monitoring and management (RMM) providers introduced new or updated offerings with better integration, automation, mobile and cloud compatibility.

Solar Winds N-Able launched a new RMM platform in May that features an entirely new user interface, new help desk support tools, support for drag-and-drop automation and an overview page that provides detailed information for each client device in a single dashboard.

And Kaseya rolled out an update to its RMM platform in February that adds mobile device management to help with on-boarding, device deployment and management. The underlying cloud infrastructure also was improved through investments in flash memory, Fusion-io cards, redundancy and security features.

Portals Galore

Vendors and distributors have unveiled portals in recent months intended to simplify and streamline how MSPs oversee customer IT operations.

Specialty distributor Global Convergence launched a managed services program in March that allows partners to aggregate hardware, software and vendor-maintenance components into a single package.

Continuum released a fully managed backup platform in March that allows its MSP partners to manage all clients' backups from a single pane of glass with remote access to appliances, protected machines and the cloud.

And file-sharing and collaboration vendor Soonr rolled out new partner portal capabilities in February that allow MSPs to deliver the Soonr service with multiple customers from a single location.

Emerging PSA Vendors Challenging Status Quo

Watch out Autotask and ConnectWise -- other professional services automation (PSA) vendors are nipping at your feet.

Vorex has moved from a pure-play direct sales model to a channel-friendly model that embraces solution providers. The company in February unveiled a technical, marketing and sales-driven alliance with global RMM company Naverisk.

And Tigerpaw Software launched the newest version of its PSA platform in June, which includes a business intelligence Matrix tool, centralized billing, the ability to assign the same contract to multiple accounts and improvements to serialized inventory tracking. Version 15R1 also offers enhanced performance reports and assigns maximum and minimum inventory quantities to specific locations.

RapidFire Tools PCI Compliance Module

RapidFire Tools launched a module in June that generates the reports needed by any retailer that accepts credit and debit card payments.

The vendor's software tool automatically analyzes, organizes and forms the data necessary to produce Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance reports, with some of the information collected by specialized data-scanning tools and the rest by MSPs themselves.

With the tool, MSPs can now evaluate merchants' compliance according to PCI security requirements, remediate PCI-related security vulnerabilities and generate documents that demonstrate compliance with PCI data security statutes. Services can be offered on a project basis or through a long-term service agreement where assessments are conducted on a recurring basis.

Carousel Partners, Extends Managed Services To Skype

Shortly after Microsoft unveiled Skype for Business, Carousel Industries, No. 64 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500, launched a complete managed services package for the unified communications ecosystem.

The solution was unveiled in March and helps clients identity incorrect network settings and utilization, access Skype voice and video analytics, and view multitenant performance trends and reports. It covers every aspect of the communications environment, including instant messaging, voice, video and Web conferencing.

One month earlier, Carousel partnered with Level 3 Communications to procure more managed services around unified communications offerings such as voice, data and video. Level 3 also can offer around-the-clock monitoring through its Network Operations Center.

Transforming Business Models

Solution providers are putting together practices and offerings to make it easier for customers to adopt cloud and digital technologies.

Mphasis launched a multivendor package that offers customers faster response times and an optimized vendor mix to reduce operation costs. The Customer Experience Management platform is intended to make it easier for customers to adopt digital technology.

And GreenPages Technology Solutions, No. 159 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500, launched a new business practice designed to help accelerate customers' transition to cloud-based platforms and innovative technology. The company is hiring five to 10 dedicated sales and technical staff to handle initial demand and will ramp up as growth accelerates.

Automation And Analytics

Solution providers were busy in early 2015 leveraging automation and analytics to help businesses reduce costs and downtime and get more insight into their operations.

Syntel, No. 40 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500, rolled out a robotic automation platform in February that can lower business operations costs for end users by 30 percent and downtime by roughly 70 percent by eliminating repetitive manual processes. The SyntBots platform can be applied to everything from application uploads to unit testing to end-to-end monitoring.

Similarly, MSP Unified Office unveiled in February an analytics add-on to its hybrid cloud-based VoIP and unified communications offerings, providing real-time visuals, performance indicators and intelligence for SMB voice communications.

Azure Managed Services, Backup, Disaster Recovery, Automation

Several solution providers stepped up their managed services game around Microsoft Azure in early 2015.

CDW, No. 6 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500, in May said it added a suite of Azure-related managed services around SQL databases installed on a virtual machine, managed storage on guest operating systems and backup and restore.

Cosentry, No. 409 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500, extended its managed cloud services to Azure in April, focused on utilizing Azure for SQL Server testing and development, backup and disaster recovery. And Unisys, No. 19 on the 2015 CRN Solution Provider 500, released an application in April that allows users of the ServiceNow platform to automate the provisioning of IT services on Azure.

Next-Gen AWS Partners Support Cloud, Apps, Software

To be the best, though, MSPs need to make cloud, Software-as-a-Service and DevOps key components of their business models.

Amazon Web Services' six flagship partners -- 2nd Watch, Cascadeo, Datapipe, Day1 Solutions, RightBrain Networks and Smartronix -- provide support throughout the stack, extending well beyond the server or operating system to support applications. The next-gen partners were selected for the new AWS program in March after demonstrating operational and security mastery to a third-party auditor.

2ndWatch went so far as to develop its own software, automation and management tools for higher-performance computing, company founder Jeff Aden told CRN in April.