By Gerry Miller, Cloudticity
According to recent analysis by Synergy Research Group, the cloud infrastructure market surged to $129 billion in 2020. As one enterprise tech reporter noted, “I’ve heard from every founder under the sun for the last 9 months that the pandemic was accelerating digital transformation, and that a big part of that was an expedited shift to the cloud. These numbers would seem to bear that out.”
While the usual suspects (AWS, Microsoft, Google) continue to dominate cloud infrastructure globally, there’s also an enormous — and expanding — cloud service management market. This cloud-managed service provider (MSP) ecosystem is swelling with helpful vendors serving as “Sherpas” for digitalization. Cloud MSPs supply a variety of adoption, transition, and enhanced utilization services for leveraging cloud power, ranging from general-purpose enterprise IT modernization to vertical-specific solutions customized to specific industries and/or regulatory compliance, availability, and security requirements.
As an active player in this cloud MSP milieu, I can attest that the rules of the game have changed significantly in recent times. Even before the pandemic-inspired surge in cloud adoption, we were entering an age of relentless innovation in the realm — making cloud mastery a moving target.
Today, there are four pillars to achieving and maintaining cloud MSP excellence:
Recognize that absolutely everything operational that’s done in the cloud can be done through automation. With a physical data center, you have physical assets that require physical effort. You must unbox servers, screw them into racks, run cables, fix broken hard drives, and manage power supplies. You’ve got to deal with hardware problems and cooling problems and power problems and secure access problems — none of which exists in the cloud.
Old-school managed services in data center deployments require armies of people and are very headcount oriented and bound — that’s not the case if you’re cloud-first. Everything that you do with physical assets in a data center, you can (and should!) do with code in the cloud. What was once a people problem, we deal with as a software problem.
Laser-focus on automation is the first key to excellence in the cloud. Make sure you’re never doing anything manually and that everything that can be is done with code.
To automate effectively, you must make significant investments in innovation because cloud compute capabilities literally expand daily.
At my company, we’ve built an innovation engine to direct investment. If you were to look at our P&L and our balance sheets, you’d see that a lot of money that most organizations would spend on headcount to deliver service, we spend on innovation. We must prioritize continuous development. We add somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 lines of code to our codebase every single month to stay ahead.
This isn’t just because we want to out-innovate our direct competitors (even though we do!). It’s also because cloud MSPs have to out-innovate Azure and AWS. They’re development juggernauts that continue to dream up new ways to add features that MSPs used to provide.
This makes innovation investment essential to maintaining value as a cloud MSP — R&D budgets should be big.
Forget about Alec Baldwin’s rant in Glengarry Glen Ross. The third key to MSP excellence is ABL — Always Be Learning. To deliver service effectively, you must be awesome technically.
My company is focused exclusively on the healthcare sector, which is rife with legacy infrastructure. When our clients first hire us, they may not be cloud savvy. So we can look like absolute magicians in their eyes. I can remember being on call with a new client who said, “I need to allocate another terabyte of storage, how many weeks is that going to take?” And I was able to just say, “Presto! I did it while you were asking.”
But over time, the clients get savvier. What was once magic becomes commonplace. If we’re going to continue to add value as our clients gain sophistication, cloud MSPs must maintain a technical edge. We aggressively pursue knowledge to sharpen that edge.
One way we prove technical excellence is through certifications. If you’re in a technical position at our company, you’re not even eligible for your quarterly bonus if you haven’t earned at least one new technical certification that quarter. Across the board, we have people on our team with nearly three dozen certifications across AWS and Azure, as well as external certifications around security or Linux or Kubernetes, and so on.
You must keep learning to keep the magic alive as a cloud MSP
The final pillar of cloud MSP excellence is to stay engaged with the industry. While it is always great to specialize, you can’t be solely focused inward.
To stay on the cutting edge, you must get out into the mix. Read up on service developments in other industries. Participate in forums and panels and conferences. Engage with analysts like Gartner and Forrester and IDC. Coauthor papers or case studies with your infrastructure partners at AWS or Azure or Google. Contribute to working groups designing new industry frameworks and cooperate with security and standards bodies.
To be an excellent cloud MSP, you must do your part to make the cloud excellent.
About The Author
Gerry Miller is CEO at Cloudticity.