You hear all this talk about how the cloud changes everything. Not really. The most important things stay the same. If you want to succeed, you need to have a plan. 

Not just any plan, but your plan. The plan that's custom-made to reach your business goals. The trick is to find the cloud service that will turn your plan into action. The service has to be as open. flexible, scalable, and agile as the cloud itself.

For a growing number of companies of all sizes, the services that are best suited to achieving their cloud goals are those offered by managed service providers. The best MSPs focus on knowing what their customers need: cloud apps accessed by LOB managers via one-stop dashboards and programmable APIs.

For MSPs to succeed as cloud providers, they have to reverse their past emphasis on infrastructure (hardware) sales and focus instead on profitable software and services. A model for this transition is Organised Computer Systems Ltd., an HPE reseller that also partners with Microsoft and other cloud services. OCSL provides a mix of cloud services, managed services, and professional services; the company has increased its service revenue by 30 percent and expects services to represent 70 percent of total revenue in three years.

A 'future' cloud service that's available today

The reason for OCSL's service growth is a decision made three years ago to emphasize cloud service provision through partnerships with diverse vendors: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and emerging cloud technologies such as Azure Stack and Morpheus. In Morpheus's case, what OCSL and other cloud services deliver is a taste of what's in store for tomorrow's cloud-centric IT.

Start with the Morpheus dashboard interface that puts all of the most important information about your company's apps and databases in one place. You can see at a glance your overall system status as well as the status of individual apps. There's no faster way to deploy databases, apps, and app stack components than by using Morpheus's one-click provisioning, which lets you provision on any server or public/private/hybrid cloud in just seconds.

The Morpheus instance catalog serves as a one-stop shop for choosing the items you want to provision, and deciding how those items will be pieced together. Source: Morpheus

Flexibility is key for any cloud app management system. Open REST APIs allow you to integrate Morpheus data seamlessly with heterogeneous systems. You can also use a standards-based command-line interface to manage your apps and databases. Access and role management is just as straightforward: define roles for teams and individuals based on geography, server groups, or individual apps and databases. Morpheus is the purest way to jumpstart your IT operations into the 21st century.

Opportunity for MSPs to extend, expand their customer reach

The biggest mistake MSPs make, according to attendees at the CompTIA Annual Membership Meeting in Chicago in late March 2017, is to think they're selling their customers managed services. MSPMentor's T.C. Doyle reports on the meeting in a March 22, 2017, article.

Passportal President Dan Wensley says customers aren't clamoring for cloud computing, they "only want a solution to a business problem." Rather than selling cloud services as add-on point solutions, MSPs should be integrating cloud tools with their core deliverables. Analysts caution that to capitalize on the opportunities the cloud presents, MSPs have to attract more customers than the 50 to 100 that have been typical of transaction businesses in the past.

MSPs that haven't embraced cloud services are leaving money on the table, according to David Molnar, CEO of Dave's Computers. In a March 23, 2017, article on Business Solutions (registration required), Molnar credits the "exploding" popularity of cloud services as a primary driver of recent growth in the MSP sector. Instead of adopting cloud technology directly, companies are turning to MSPs to manage the transition of their IT operations from mostly in-house to mostly cloud-based.

According to a recent survey by Clutch of enterprise IT managers, the primary reasons for adopting cloud services are increased efficiency, security, data storage, and flexibility. Source: Clutch

Other factors driving the increased demand for MSP services, according to Molnar, are a heightened emphasis on security, speed and efficiency in adopting scalable IT operations, compliance with HIPPA and other government regulations, and more predictable budgeting. Perhaps the greatest benefit to companies partnering with MSPs is the ability to streamline internal IT functions while partnering with services offering expertise in the latest cloud technologies.

Say good-bye to 'one-and-done' MSP services

Just a few years ago, IT was in-house and MSPs generated the bulk of their revenue by installing Microsoft and other third-party software in data centers large and small. Once the system goes live, the MSP's work is done, essentially. The shift to the cloud means MSPs have to maintain on-going relationships with their customers.

Unigma's Kirill Bensonoff writes on MSPMentor that success in offering cloud services "requires ongoing diligence to ensure you find instances, volumes, and other resources that are not being used, and rightsize them at the right times to save your customers money." Bensonoff recommends focusing on specific markets you're knowledgeable about, create service bundles optimized for your specialties, and always starting with a clear understanding of precisely what the customer needs, today and tomorrow.

When it comes to establishing long-term relationships with SMBs in particular, there's no better way for an MSP to win return business than by offering quality end-user training. Neal Bradbury of Intronis MSP Solutions explains on the Business Solutions blog that users are the weakest link of any security plan.

One way to pitch security-awareness training services to SMBs is by presenting user training as a component of the company's business continuity and data protection plan. Once again, it comes back to helping customers devise a rock-solid plan that's easy to adjust as conditions change. After all, the only thing we can be certain of is that conditions will change.