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The Managed Container Opportunity – Cloud Transformation for MSPs

Tony CaiPartner Sales Executive
Windows Virtual Desktop
May 15, 2019Articles

As focus turns to the public cloud, many traditional Managed Service Providers (MSPs) will struggle with their cloud transformation. To become a next-generation MSP is to rid oneself completely of the break-fix model and transition to delivering and managing cloud services to your customers.

IT professionals tend to focus on infrastructure, but there’s a whole other cloud discussion going on right now, and that’s in the dev-ops, webapps development world; i.e. containers.

As MSPs become more familiar with IaaS in the cloud, next-generation MSPs who are already fluent in cloud fundamentals will look at how to offer more. Providing managed services around containers could be an opportunity for those who are willing to invest in a new business unit. However, MSPs who have not yet grasped IaaS shouldn’t venture into containers quite yet, as the fundamentals of containerization are DevOps and IaaS.

What are containers and is there really an opportunity? 

Containers are like VM’s on ESXi or Hyper-V, however each container does not include an operating system like a Guest VM does. Containers are used when deploying webapps in mainly mid-to-enterprise-sized companies.

The advantages of not having an OS in a container is not having 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. To manage and scale webapps in Docker, a container orchestration solution is required to facilitate scaling the app.  This is where Kubernetes comes in.

Kubernetes is not the same thing as Docker and should not be compared. Docker is the container technology, whereas Kubernetes is the open source software that was originally developed by Google and orchestrates Docker.

What problems do containers solve? 

Containers rose in popularity to solve a common issue between developers and DevOps folks. Developers would write code, then give instructions to the DevOps folks on how to deploy them in VMs. However, DevOps would often run into issues when the developers updated their code, causing APIs to break.

Scaling the web apps both vertically and horizontally was also problematic. Containers arrived to solve these issues by removing the dependencies of the OS from each container, allowing each piece of the app to boot faster, become less dependent on the OS version, and improve compatibility.

Do we need these services? 

Is there a need for managed Kubernetes and Docker services? I would say yes. 

Docker and Kubernetes are still new and over the last four years have seen explosive growth. So much so that IBM’s acquisition of RedHat was based around gaining expertise in those types of workloads. Prior to being acquired by IBM, RedHat acquired CoreOS last year which was another gained them expertise around Kubernetes management. Mid-to-enterprise-sized companies are looking for container experts, but the demand is larger than the supply right now.

Who should take advantage? 

MSPs that service mid-sized companies are in an ideal position to take advantage of this demand, but several challenges exist:

  • MSPs largely do not offer application development services or Linux expertise and lack the skill set needed to start this type of practice with current resources.
  • Kubernetes and Docker are quite complex to understand. Expertise in DevOps and infrastructure as code are required to enter this market.
  • Talent acquisition for DevOps resources is a huge challenge. Salaries are competitive; you’ll be competing for positions with top organizations, as if hiring wasn’t already difficult enough.

What kinds of services could an MSP provide around containers? 

Providing managed services around containers will exist in the areas of logging/analytics, monitoring/alerting, and optimization.

The same idea of removing the business from the technology decisions and the day-to-day mundane support issues was always one of the selling points for an MSP. The same is true regarding offering managed services around containers.

Developer and DevOps teams should consider logging/ analytics/ monitoring/ alerting tasks to be something they can outsource, freeing up their time to focus on application development – just like RMM tools manage, patch, and alert VM’s and desktops.

There are many tools that manage logs collected from the hypervisor level all the way up to webapp generated logs. Legacy MSP services could then be introduced to those clients, further expanding services into this account base.

The focus today should be 

This was just a glimpse into what the future of the MSP world. Right now, the focus should be converting fully to an MRR model with most of the revenue being generated around cloud and value-added services. Honing one’s skills on public cloud fundamentals today should be priority number one.

Microsoft Azure should be the public cloud of choice for managed service providers. Start by moving on-premise services – such as Active Directory/File Servers – to the cloud, and then move closer to providing full IT in the cloud, which includes hosting desktops, all servers, storage, and backup and disaster recovery.

Nerdio for Azure will help you manage IT in the cloud for your customers with ease. Partners are leveraging Nerdio to solidify their position as a next-generation MSP.

It will be quite interesting to see how this landscape changes within the next few years. M&A activity is extensive in the technology space. Who knows what’s next, but managed services are certainly here to stay and so are containers. Why not bring the two together?