3 reasons why a public cloud-focused MSP makes sense

The high tech industry raves about how “the cloud” will save the world, give us completely automated IT infrastructure, and obviate the need for talented system administrators.  However, I would make a contrarian claim that this move to IaaS public clouds (e.g. EC2) will generate more demand for system administrators within the organizations using these clouds, and maybe even spawn a new breed of MSP that solely focuses on management of public cloud infrastructure on behalf of end customers.  Here’s my reasoning:

  • If we need 3rd party software to manage it…it ain’t there yet – I have no idea what kind of revenue companies like Rightscale generate, but the fact that they and other companies like them have filled a market need for an additional monitoring management layer on top of public clouds suggests that this cloud stuff is actually harder to operate than the hype would make one believe.
  • People still make decisions, not computers – Monitoring and management tools rely on user-defined thresholds in order to execute pre-determined actions.  CPU of a server goes over 70%?  Spin up another instance.  CPU of a server goes below 30%, spin it down.  No amount of additional monitoring data or additional monitoring tools will change that core limitation.  You still need a person to define those thresholds and a person to define those actions.  And that person needs to be able to troubleshoot when those thresholds and actions don’t produce the desired result.  There is still no substitute for a smart sysadmin who knows their sh*t.
  • IaaS is still new, and there is a significant knowledge gap – Let’s face it…these cloud platforms are still in the initial phases of adoption.  This means there is going to be a big skills gap for many years ahead (look at virtualization – a good VMware admin can demand top dollar because there are still relatively few of them – and ESX has been around for at least 7 years) and that gap means that companies will need to look outside for help. I also regularly see posts for developers as well as sysadmins who have EC2 experience.

Would you work with an MSP to help manage your EC2 deployment?  Are there any well-known companies with large EC2 deployments who have farmed out at sysadmin duties to MSPs?



  1. This is definitely true today but, as with most things, the devil is in the detail.

    The thing that all this hinges around is the ability of the app stack on the IaaS to behave in a more or less autonomic fashion. If new apps are written to gracefully scale their resources based on demand or fault status, then the need for tooling is reduced.

    I only say reduced because there is still the need to deploy and, as you rightly say, there has to be some human interaction – not just to tweak the parameters of operation but, at the outset, to say to the system what it has to be. There’s also the minutiae of general operations. For example, no cloud actually lets you have access to infinite resources not least to protect their own business from nefarious use or rogue implementations. At some point humans are needed to deal with requests, billing and a hundred other things. The difference will be the number of systems being managed per head which is likely to follow the trend of physical to virtual exponential growth.

    Of course the IaaS itself can help with this and the richness of the API in particular is going to make all the difference. In this regard, it’s hard not to see EC2 as the Gold Standard.

    I don’t want to go wildly off topic but there is also the fact that not all of an enterprises’ systems can transfer to the cloud at the same pace and how cloudy their end destination will be depends on many factors. The result will be a spread of systems on a continuum from private dedicated to public multi-tenant.

    So, I completely agree with the premise of your post. This will be a rapidly evolving space. The MSP that can connect the dots for cross systems hosting and permit frictionless migration to the cloud will be well placed. As they will naturally manage a greater number of systems per head, those leading the charge will naturally end up with a greater share of the market.

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