As the public cloud becomes more ubiquitous, there are still many traditional MSPs struggling with making their full transition to a cloud practice. To become a NextGen MSP, IT practices must move away from a break-fix mentality and transition to delivering and managing a variety of cloud services for customers. Enter container technology.
IT professionals tend to focus on infrastructure but there’s a whole other cloud discussion going on today in the Dev-ops area/web apps development world. That focus is on containers. As MSPs get more familiarized with IaaS in the cloud, NextGen MSPs who are already fluent in cloud will look at how to pivot their business to offer more.
Why Container Technology is Trending
Offering managed services around containers could be an opportunity for those who are willing to invest in a new business unit.
Containers help MSPs standardize how code is deployed. This makes it easy to build workflows for applications that run between on-premises and cloud IT environments. Containers speed up application migration to the cloud.
MSPs using the technology then have life a whole lot easier, Technologists can package entire applications and move them to the cloud without needing to make any code changes.
Containers Create Business Opportunity
Containers are like VMs on ESXi or Hyper-V. However, one key difference is that a container does not include an operating system whereas a guest VM does. Containers are used to deploy web apps in mainly mid-to-enterprise-sized companies.
The advantage of not having an OS in a container is a secure ease-of-use. MSPs don’t have to worry about patching and library compatibility if the developer decides to upgrade to a new version of a specific library or use a new API for their app.
The most popular container solution is Docker. In order to manage and scale web apps in Docker, a container orchestration solution is required to facilitate scaling the app. This is where Kubernetes comes in. Kubernetes is not the same as Docker. Where Docker is the container technology, Kubernetes is the open source software originally developed by Google that orchestrates Docker.
Containers Solve Problems
Containers rose to popularity to solve very common issues between developers and Dev-ops folks. Developers write code, give instructions to Dev-ops on how to deploy the code in VMs. Often, Dev-ops would run into issues when the developers update their code or APIs would break. Scaling the web apps both vertically and horizontally was also an issue.
Containers came to solve those issues by removing the dependencies of the OS from each container. By removing the OS, the technology allows each piece of the app to boot faster, become less dependent on the OS version, and improve compatibility.
MSPs Can Fill a Market Void
Is there a need for managed Kubernetes and Docker services? I would say yes. Docker and Kubernetes technologies are still considered new, and over the last four years have seen explosive growth. So much growth that IBM’s acquisition of RedHat was based around gaining expertise in those types of workloads.
RedHat (prior to IBM) also acquired CoreOS last year, which was another expertise grab on their technology around Kubernetes management. Larger-sized companies are looking for container experts, but the demand is larger than the supply right now.
Address the Challenges to Gain Success
MSPs with groups that service mid-size companies are in an ideal position to take advantage of this demand, but several challenges exist. For example:
- Most MSPs don’t offer application development services or Linux expertise and lack the skillset needed to start this type of practice with current resources.
- Kubernetes and Docker are quite complex technologies to master. Expertise in Dev-ops and Infrastructure as Code is required to enter this market.
- Talent acquisition for Dev-ops resources in this area is a huge challenge because there are few engineers with the needed expertise, and their talent comes a huge salary premium.
How MSPs Get into Container Work
Opportunities to provide managed services around containers will be specifically in the areas of logging/analytics, monitoring/alerting, and optimization. The key ideas of streamlining technology decisions and the removing day-to-day mundane support issues from over-burdened IT staff are always selling points of an MSP.
The same is true about offering managed services around containers. Developers and Dev-ops teams consider logging/analytics/monitoring/alerting tasks to be something they can outsource in order to free them up to focus on application development.
There are many tools that manage logs collected from the hypervisor level, all the way up to web apps generated logs. Legacy MSP services could then be introduced into those clients further expanding services into this account base.
Get Started Today
This was just a glimpse into what the future of the MSP IT practice could become. Right now, the focus should be converting fully into an MRR model with most of the revenue being generated around cloud services and value-added services.
Honing the skills on public cloud today should be a top priority as it’s the foundations of the future. Microsoft Azure should be the public cloud of choice for MSPs. Start by moving on-premises services such as Active Directory/File Server to the cloud and move closer to containers by providing full IT in the cloud, This includes hosting desktops, all servers, storage, backup and disaster recovery.
Nerdio for Azure is a suite of tools written by our team of software developers and tech nerds to help you hone and manage IT in the cloud for your customers with ease. Partners are leveraging Nerdio to solidify their position as a NextGen MSP.
It will be quite interesting to see how this landscape changes in the next few years. M&A activity is rampant in the technology space. Who knows what’s next but managed services providers are certainly here to stay and so is container technology. Why not bring the two together?