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A report published this week by Auvik Networks finds more than three-quarters of managed service providers (MSPs) manage four or more network vendors across their client base. A third of MSPs are managing equipment from six to ten networking and security vendors on behalf of multiple clients.

Based on an analysis of close to 100,000 managed network devices deployed across nearly 17,000 networks under the care and management of about 1,000 MSPs, the report finds that switches make up the lion’s share of the devices being managed (48 percent): followed by access points (33 percent), firewalls (14 percent), and routers (6 percent).

The report finds that MSPs are managing equipment from over 100 different vendors. MSPs are presented with management challenges because not every offering from these vendors shares a common management framework. As a result, each vendor an MSP supports introduces a wide spectrum of ongoing support issues, notes Alex Hoff, vice president of product and sales for Auvik Networks.

“It’s a huge deployment effort,” says Hoff. 

Even in an era where vendors are making it possible to automate the management of devices MSPs finds themselves confronted with frameworks optimized for specific types of equipment. The result is silos of automation across the portfolio of devices an MSP is trying to support, adds Hoff.

Auvik Networks is making a case for employing a remote management and monitoring (RMM) framework it developed to manage a diverse network and security platform. Obviously, Auvik Networks isn’t the only provider of such a framework. But the biggest issue may be the simple fact that so many MSPs attempt to roll their frameworks using a combination of open source and commercial software. There’s a natural inclination to attempt to leverage in-house engineering skills to build a custom management framework versus paying to license commercial software. The cost of maintaining a custom management framework can be considerable over time. Hoff notes that each vendor has a unique implementation of an application programming interface (API) and command line interfaces (CLIs). Every update involves considerable manual effort to maintain when relying on a custom management framework. There are several industry efforts under way to standardize data models. But availability of those technologies is confined to only the latest generation of networking products. Most end customers don’t tend to upgrade network infrastructure very often.

The MSP opportunity

Hoff notes the most successful MSPs embrace standardization with zeal. The more unique the customer environment is the less likely it becomes delivering a managed service for those platforms becomes. The challenge is the level of maturity in terms of standardization across the MSP sector is uneven at best. For fear of losing revenue, too many MSPs are willing to support customers without fully considering the full cost of making that commitment.

The good news is that there’s no shortage of opportunities for MSPs in most major markets. MSPs don’t frequently find themselves competing for the same business simply because the base of customers that are still in the early phases of relying more on managed services is so large, says Hoff. Because of that issue more MSPs have the luxury of staying away from contracts where the customer is demanding the lowest prices possible. Those customers are often more trouble than they are worth to the MSP, notes Hoff.

It’s clearly not easy being an MSP. But for those MSPs that apply a disciplined approach to how they manage their business the opportunities can be rewarding indeed.

Photo:  sdecoret / 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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