Managed service providers (MSPs) cover a diverse set of IT services. Backup, disaster recovery, IT management and support, security, CRM, ERP, compute, networking, financial services, HR services, payroll, accounting, and more.
But unless you are one of the hyperscalers like Microsoft, Google, or Amazon, it is a big mistake to try to be all things to all people. In fact, even the big boys avoid taking on everything. There are always a few areas they steer clear of or leave to partners.
But for regular MSPs, it is important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, your areas of core competencies, and areas to avoid.
Take the case of Equity Methods, a provider of valuation, financial reporting, and human resources advisory services related to equity compensation and other complex securities. The company has a niche skillset related to financial services. Its managed services are aimed at the modeling of relative total shareholder return (rTSR), simulation, and analytics. It has a highly specialized data center that lies at the heart of its operations.
Its IT backbone is designed to cope with the demands of its clients. It is set up to open and update a great many Microsoft Excel files, sometimes hundreds of MB in size. It utilizes data-centric programming languages to automate a number of tasks: The importing of stock-based compensation data from some of the largest companies in the world; the running of monthly, quarterly, and long-term forecasts for stock-based compensation accounting; the creation of large sets of hypothetical data based on assumptions about the future; and running “what if” scenarios to aid in decision making.
“Without top-tier technology, we could not do the things we do for our clients,” said Paul Leisey, CIO at Equity Methods. “Fast processors, disks, and network backbone are all critical components to keep the business running.”
He gave an example of the kind of calculations and data scripting the company does for clients. One recent dataset had 40 million rows and calculations had to run for several hours. And as time goes on, the company has to regularly refresh its technical environment to be able to offer the latest in processing power, memory, networking, and storage.
But Equity Methods doesn’t just invest in technology to keep up with IT trends. Its upgrades are always based on being able to serve its own niche and unique demands. The most recent, for example, addressed a capacity crunch at quarter-end that caused delays – a handful of people began using large amounts of compute resources simultaneously, and performance fell below acceptable limits.
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Equity Methods, then, steadily invests in its own infrastructure in order to offer its clientele services with the very best in performance tailored to their workloads, and to maintain competitive advantage. It doesn’t try to broadly cover the IT landscape. In fact, it largely avoids anything and everything that is not directly related to its financial services.
Yes, its data center is state-of-the-art, specific to the needs of its own customers. It provides redundant power and cooling, uses advanced processors that are tailored to its environment. Unlike traditional multi-thread processors that would be used by most providers, the workloads of Equity Methods do best with a high single-thread speed, supported by the latest NVMe solid-state drives, 100 Gb/sec Mellanox networking gear, and a server and storage infrastructure that can operate hyperconverged virtual server and storage environments and virtual desktop clusters.
“Commodity hardware is nowhere to be found, as the I/O of our environment is so important,” said Leisey. “As most of our work comes in the last week of every month or at the end of a quarter or year, we care about maximum capacity, not average capacity.”
It wouldn’t work for Equity Methods to replace its internal systems with the public cloud. Its unusual performance requirements and high utilization rates would mean paying far too much for public cloud services. So it constructs and maintains a highly customized data center to provide services to its customers, avoiding the potential problems of multi-tenancy, where multiple cloud customers might deprive users of the desired level of speed and responsiveness.
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Equity services certain financial needs for its clients. But it lacks many elements that would be found inside a regular data center or that might be found in a typical MSP. It sharply defines what technologies and systems it operates internally and offloads the rest to another MSP known as adryTech.
“One of the benefits is their ability to pick the right products with the right features for the right price that are easy to implement and maintain,” said Leisey.
He said this partnership is critical to success. Adrytech takes care of routine tasks such as configuration, monitoring, ticketing, and requested changes. It finds the best deals for licensing of Windows, VMware, Barracuda, and other software/services. It offers general infrastructure support and takes most of the IT routine functions, grunt work and troubleshooting away from Equity Methods.
With security being such a problem for most enterprises, Equity Methods decided that it didn’t wish to divert internal resources towards operating and running its own security tools. Similarly, adryTech acknowledges that it is not a security specialist. Therefore, adryTech operates as an advisor to Equity Methods, recommending security and other services it should use from other providers.
For email protection, shielding of content, and Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a Service, adryTech recommended Barracuda MSP. As a professional services firm, Equity Methods relies on email more than the average company.
“Making sure phishing and spear phishing attempts are stopped before they make it into our inboxes is very important, especially as attackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated,” said Leisey. “Our Barracuda products do what they say they do for a reasonable price.”
In addition to saving money, Leisey requires that an MSP act as a partner in technology selection as well as taking care of day-to-day IT minutia. AdryTech fits the bill nicely. The relationship works well, with responsibilities clearly mapped out. The IT manager at Equity Methods is responsible for internal end user support and anything on-premises. The MSP is relied upon for server and network configuration, OS patching, virtualization management, and systems administration.
“Buying these products from a value-added-reseller/MSP like adryTech allows us to tap into their experience of evaluating and managing other competing solutions, so we are not using unproven or difficult-to-manage technologies,” said Leisey.
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Why doesn’t adryTech take over the entire IT infrastructure from Equity Methods?
Adam Rusak, Managing Director of adrytech, explained that the majority of its clients are in regulated industries and have unique business requirements such as extremely fast systems for processing financial data, storage of large amounts of data for extended periods of time, and low latency between their office team and their servers. Thus, its infrastructure is established to serve the broad needs of the bulk of its clientele. It would not be cost-effective for it to set up systems to serve Equity Methods. Most of its other clients would have no need for them.
“It is typically more cost-effective for the client to outsource network or other infrastructure needs to an MSP with resources in-house rather than hire the talent internally,” said Rusak. “Many of our data center clients have strong skills in software development but do not employ infrastructure engineers.”
Having worked for other MSPs before forming his own, Rusak said the level of service provided can vary greatly. Some only provide physical infrastructure support such as racking and unracking servers, cable patching, and tape rotation. Other providers may take a configuration-centric approach to encompass monitoring, software updates, and configuration management. The cost between these services will be very different based on the skill set required.
Leisey has experience with several MSPs over the years, and noted a wide variability in what they deliver, their responsiveness, and their attitude to pricing.
“We needed an MSP that was willing to be a close collaborator and we found that,” said Leisey. “For the cost of one IT generalist, we get the services of a security expert, an OS admin, a virtualization admin, a network admin, project-based work, ad-hoc troubleshooting and day-to-day monitoring from adryTech.”
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