The market for managed service providers (MSPs) and managed infrastructure is evolving, driven in large part by remote work and other pandemic-related disruptions.

As MSPs look to navigate out of the peak pandemic phase, cybersecurity and business resilience are key focuses of panel participants at the recent infra/STRUCTURE presented by Structure Research in downtown Toronto.

“COVID was kind of the inflection point for cloud in that it was the only thing that kept everything going,” said Opus Interactive CEO Shannon Hulbert. “Everybody migrated into cloud.”

But as the dust settles, many organizations realize that a hybrid approach is best. As a cloud MSP and colocation provider, Opus has seen many customers move to the public cloud from on-premises and colocation, but expects within the next two years that activity will level back out into a hybrid model, she said.

In the meantime, Hulbert said MSPs must be ready to collaborate with customers who are grappling with higher interest rates, changing weather patterns, and meeting sustainability goals — all of which are driving a desire for power conservation. It’s a must-have, and innovation is necessary to drive efficiency. In the meantime, Opus’ customers are now “multi-cloud, hybrid cloud, work from home,” with many storage devices. She said that the MSP needs to focus on making sure they have as consolidated a view as possible.

Otava, an MSP with operations mainly in the U.S. but also a small footprint in Europe, has seen the same migration patterns, said President and General Manager Tom Wilten. Even with all the continuing remote work, the customers’ biggest demand is business resiliency products. “For us, that means DR (disaster recovery) and backup — specifically security products,” he said.

Otava has intentionally focused on these services because of this customer demand, which has required investment in new skillsets and automation. “The increasing complexity of managing across multiple different product lines and multiple clouds is forcing us to invest in our tool set to make it easier and more efficient,” Wilten said.

MSP Ntirety has also opted to focus on cybersecurity, having already decided to build out as a managed security service provider (MSSP) before COVID, which “pushed the gas pedal all the way,” said CEO Emil Sayegh. Security needed to be everywhere, not just for the average employee working from home, but also IT staff working remotely. “People were trying to figure out how to extend that security perimeter into their home,” he said.

Compliance Becomes a Priority

Compliance is no longer an afterthought,  as fines for data breaches in some jurisdictions, such as California, are getting steeper, according to Sayegh. As a result, Ntirety has structured its managed service portfolio around security, disaster recovery, and assurance.

Wilten said Otava’s customers are also looking to do more than just tick a box on compliance. “They are actually looking for validation that they have a secure, compliant environment.”

Geopolitical Strife Increases the Popularity of Air Gapping

The events in Ukraine have heightened security concerns for customers and emphasized the need for air gapping — a security measure to ensure that a computer network is physically isolated from unsecured networks such as the public internet and local area networks, according to Michael Levy, product director for Rackspace. It’s not enough to have disaggregated storage.

“They want to have duplicative and tertiary environments of the same data because the cyber landscape is so severe out there,” Levy said. Beyond security, customer requirements are different depending on where they are in their digital transformation journey, he added.

But security dominates the road ahead, especially for Otava, said Wilten. Its small and medium-size customers are still relatively early in their adoption phases and lack their own internal security expertise. They also value the human touch.

Sayegh said there are two types of customers when it comes to security. There’s the customer that’s fallen prey to ransomware and “their hair is on fire,” and those that haven’t had a disaster yet, but as SMBs there’s a 60 percent chance that they will get hacked. Like Levy, he sees geopolitical instability as adding to the odds.

Levy said customers ultimately want to recover instantly from any incident and not lose revenue. Hulbert agreed, saying that security is also top-of-mind for Opus customers because it’s not about if something will happen, it’s a matter of when.

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