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Multi-cloud services grow increasingly important for MSPs

As organizations expand their multi-cloud environments, they'll look to partners for support and expertise. It's time for the channel to board the multi-cloud train, experts say.

Momentum continues to build for multi-cloud services. Experts say this has created a strong market opportunity for channel firms to focus on.

According to a recent survey by Syntax, a managed cloud provider based in Montreal, 82% of organizations were using a multi-cloud model before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With companies continuing to use the cloud in their efforts to adapt to the current business environment, multi-cloud is bound to become even more prevalent. Multi-cloud benefits include cost savings and the ability to optimize performance and avoid vendor lock-in.

Some cloud partners now believe multi-cloud is the future. If the channel wants to remain relevant to its customers, it must offer multi-cloud services and support for the model.

"If you want access to 100% of your customers' requirements … multi-cloud is where you have to be," said Lisa McLin, global vice president of alliances and channel chief at Rackspace Technology, a managed cloud provider based in Windcrest, Texas.

Multi-cloud services opportunities for partners

The rise of multi-cloud is a good thing for channel partners that can provide skills and expertise to help organizations adopt a multi-cloud strategy, according to industry observers we spoke to.

"Multi-cloud strategies can deliver significant benefit to an end-user organization but will often also result in a skills shortage in some areas,'' said Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at Ensono, a managed IT and cloud services provider based in Downers Grove, Ill. "Maintaining a deep skills base across multiple cloud technologies can be so expensive and complex" that it can wipe out any benefit derived from the multi-cloud strategy, he said.

Simon RatcliffeSimon Ratcliffe

Consequently, organizations are increasingly looking to external providers for some or all of the skills required. "For MSPs with a strong and broad skill base and the knowledge and tools to effectively manage multi-clouds, the opportunity is huge," Ratcliffe said.

Partners can also educate organizations on how they can benefit from using a multi-cloud approach, added Jared Powell, senior cloud solutions architect at Syntax.

Powell said organizations can view any cloud migration "as more of a marathon than a sprint. … It takes a lot of education and sticking to the plan while going through [cloud migrations] -- and persistence. Planning and education of all parties involved is key, and that's where partners -- especially, those with experience in multi-cloud migrations -- can help."

Because the complexity of managing multiple clouds is creating demand for support, any type of MSP can potentially benefit from providing multi-cloud services, McLin said. For example, a customer organization might have in-house skills to manage AWS but not Azure, which creates an opening for MSPs with the right Azure expertise, she said.

Powell agreed, noting that "partners that will benefit the most are ones who can definitely support customers across multi-clouds," he said.

Many MSPs have built a business model that relies on revenue derived from the underlying infrastructure they support, Ratcliffe noted. "In many cases, this means their advice and guidance can be influenced by where they perceive their most profitable revenue source to be." However, the multi-cloud opportunity is greatest for MSPs that have built their business model on supporting services rather than technology, he said.

"MSPs who can provide a service irrespective of the platform will benefit most," Ratcliffe said. That's because these MSPs' business models do not rely on profit from a single vendor and, as a result, can "give honest and open advice to their clients about the best execution venue for applications and services."

Many organizations are already using multiple clouds, often without realizing it, Ratcliffe added. Hybrid cloud models that blend private and public clouds are common, but most organizations have a mixture of private, public and SaaS, he maintained.

Additionally, many organizations are now moving away from a previously held belief that it was best and easiest to select one public cloud toward a more nuanced approach where they will select an offering based on its value to them rather than the cloud upon which it sits, Ratcliffe noted.

Multi-cloud in the SMB market

Industry observers noted multi-cloud services opportunities are widespread within the small and medium-sized business market.

The SMB space is frequently more agile in terms of technology than larger enterprises, Ratcliffe said. "Many SMBs are already seeing the advantage of adopting specific solutions from different vendors. With, typically, less data moving around, SMBs can avoid many of the punitive data egress charges that can affect larger organizations."

Challenges of the multi-cloud trend

To take advantage of the multi-cloud opportunity, channel partners need enough flexibility to handle whichever options customers are looking for, especially in the public cloud. For example, if an MSP focuses on Google Cloud services and a customer wants to migrate to AWS, they could find themselves at a disadvantage, Powell said.

Jared PowellJared Powell

"Not every partner will have the breadth and depth of expertise, so covering the main bases is a key point, and then they can address any gaps," he said. To close skills gaps, a partner can opt to partner with a peer. However, if customers increasingly express interest for AWS over Google or Azure, Powell said partners may decide it's strategic to acquire in-house AWS expertise.

MSPs that focus on only one cloud will clearly be at a disadvantage if customers want to adopt a multi-cloud approach, Ratcliffe said. "Any MSP that has made a bet and staked their future on one vendor … is likely to suffer, especially if they have also built the vendor's management tools into their services."

Multi-cloud management demands the ability to connect into all clouds and abstract them into a single view, he added, but "building truly functional, agnostic cross-cloud management platforms is not a simple nor a cheap exercise.

"This will always be the biggest barrier to most MSPs," according to Ratcliffe.

Lisa McLinLisa McLin

In terms of investing in multi-cloud services, McLin advised partners to invest in "the right partners to take them to multi-cloud," and ensure whoever they select shares the same business values. MSPs should also make sure they invest in the areas in which they want to become experts, such as security or data analytics.

"Pick your major and then your minor, and use really good partners for that,'' she said.

The biggest investment required for an MSP to become a multi-cloud MSP is developing "a clear vision," as well as a willingness to make necessary organizational and operational changes, Ratcliffe said. "As with all investments within a new market, MSPs must look at their people, their organization, their processes and, ultimately, their technology," he said. "Business models will also need to shift as the ability to make profits from the underlying cloud fabric declines and the major profit lines become the management process itself."

The good news, Ratcliffe said, is that "finally, the MSP sector may get judged for what it should be doing: managing the service."

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