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The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another classic example of an ill-wind that ultimately threw a lot of good in the general direction of managed service providers (MSPs). Naturally, the MSP community as a whole wishes it never happened, but like most disasters, no one has any real control. The question that most MSPs are now wrestling with is whether the pandemic is possibly subsiding or simply entering another phase.

The truth is no one is quite sure as more aggressive variants of the virus start to have a wider impact on individuals that for various reasons remain unvaccinated. Most organizations have concluded things might still get worse before they get better. Requiring some level of social distancing at the office remains prudent. Very few people, for example, need to be in the office all the time and the streets of major cities such as New York are not yet overflowing at lunchtime.

In fact, a survey of 1,908 business professionals in the U.S. conducted by Dynata on behalf of Ciena, a provider of optical networking equipment, notes 40 percent of respondents plan to upgrade their residential broadband service to cope with the increased network demands of working from home. Speed was cited as the most important Internet attribute for professionals (81 percent), with the average home network now supporting at least two people working or studying from home every day. A quarter of business professionals share their home Internet with three or more people using it to work or for e-learning.

More than two thirds of respondents (65 percent) also consider the cloud to be important or critical to their job, now that their organization has either deployed applications on a cloud, or embraced multiple software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. More than two-thirds (64 percent) admitted they have concerns about business files being saved in the cloud, with two in five suggesting they would pay more for better security.

MSPs securing remote workforces with cloud resources

From an MSP perspective, all the home office are essentially branch offices that need to be remotely managed and supported. Today, most of those branch offices are making using of virtual private networks (VPN) to access an office through which they then access corporate applications located on-premises or in cloud. A lot of cloud traffic, despite the rise of software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN), is still being backhauled through local data centers.

The cloud application experience for many employees working at home is not surprisingly sub-optimal. Business users naturally focus on the local access point as the source of the problem when in reality it’s just the way their organization’s legacy network is architected. An SD-WAN platform, or secure access service edge (SASE) that routes traffic based on its ultimate destination, would do a lot more to solve application performance issues than any new access point.

The challenge MSPs face is finding a way to have that conversation. Most of them will have to wait until business executives figure out that the new access points they bought with a corporate credit card isn’t really solving the problem. In the meantime, savvy MSPs are positioning themselves as providers of networking services for the age of the cloud.

After all, the best sales strategy is and always will be discovering what the customer pain point really is and then solving it. In the minds of business executives working from home, there are generally few things more painful than a lousy application experience.

Photo: Elena Krivorotova / Shutterstock

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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