What Is an MSP and What Makes It Unique in the IT World?

By SolarWinds on September 30, 2020


MSPs use a variety of powerful IT tools to offer services to their customers and help small businesses compete against larger industry players.

When considering whether a business should outsource its IT department to a managed services provider (MSP), the first step is understanding exactly what an MSP is and what it can do. This guide will explain how MSPs support small businesses, the many benefits of enlisting their services, and why they’re important for economic growth.

What is an MSP?

MSP stands for “managed services provider,” and refers to a business model in which companies outsource certain IT processes and activities to external, specialist enterprises or providers. MSPs usually deliver ongoing monitoring and management services for customer IT infrastructure and applications (such as email, website, and security). An MSP achieves this, in most cases, through remote monitoring, which allows them to monitor the health of their customers’ IT environments. Typically, MSPs are also able to modify and update systems, in addition to troubleshooting any issues.

An MSP is responsible for closely monitoring, maintaining, and supporting a wide range of customer IT solutions. This might include web applications, backup and disaster recovery solutions, security software, desktop and server management software, and storage management tools.

Many small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) outsource their IT department to ensure all their business systems, networks, and operations remain operational, updated, and stable without having to invest the upfront costs of hiring an entire IT team. This allows organizations to focus on other areas of their business, like profitability and customer acquisition.

Good MSPs take a proactive approach to IT, taking preemptive steps to prevent IT issues from occurring, instead of simply responding to issues when they arise (a system referred to as break/fix). This is one of the most notable benefits of enlisting the services of an MSP, because IT-related downtime can have a significant impact on reputation and revenue, especially for smaller businesses.

Why are MSPs important?

Working with an MSP offers several operational advantages and can bring significant cost benefits. Here are just a few of the key benefits associated with partnering with an MSP:

  • Give businesses the opportunity to clearly define the function and scope of IT support in the form of a binding contract
  • Can fill in for in-house staff shortages when necessary
  • Can include data backup management, helping prevent data loss
  • Can help increase scalability and flexibility, allowing organizations to add extra resources temporarily and incrementally

An MSP can replace a company’s IT department entirely or simply provide niche services to supplement in-house expertise. The existence of MSPs also has wider implications, beyond the operational and cost-saving benefits afforded to individual customers. MSPs allow even the smallest companies to gain access to new services and technical solutions at a low price—this means that small businesses can be competitive with larger industry players, which drives economic growth and progress.

What does an MSP do?

In almost all cases, the term MSP applies to outsourced IT services. The following areas of business activity are frequently performed by MSPs:

  • Managing IT infrastructure
  • Managing software inventory
  • Improving cybersecurity to safeguard IT systems
  • Providing technical support to staff members
  • Managing user access accounts on customer systems
  • Providing fully managed hardware outsourcing
  • Providing remote storage solutions
  • Providing remote server solutions

Unlike a standard IT department, MSPs are located remotely and can pool expertise by serving multiple customers. With remote access solutions, MSPs can also assist customers across the globe regardless of location. 

Types of software used by MSPs

MSPs typically use a variety of specialist software platforms to deliver their services, which means an MSP is often only as good as the software it leverages. As this guide has already briefly mentioned, MSPs deliver a wide range of IT services, which means they often depend on multiple tools.

The solutions outlined below are good examples of the type of software used by MSPs, allowing them to provide customers with everything from security and remote support to email continuity and disaster recovery. The following tools are among the most popular on the market, providing a user-friendly, advanced, and scalable solution for small and large businesses alike.

Disaster recovery and backup 

A backup solution helps MSPs protect customers from data loss. Good disaster recovery and backup solution is designed to streamline an MSP’s approach to backups.

Whether your customers use legacy solutions or maintain hardware for a “cloud” product, their backup activities can quickly become complicated and overwhelming. SolarWinds® Backup is a versatile solution that allows MSPs to easily back up customers’ business documents, servers, and workstations, in addition to Microsoft 365 Exchange, OneDrive, and SharePoint.

SolarWinds Backup delivers a single, easy-to-use dashboard, and includes private cloud storage with rapid data transfer capabilities. This tool gives MSPs access to multiple recovery methods and lets technicians choose the data and assets that need to be protected. Management is completely centralized, allowing you to manage all your backups through one interface. A 30-day free trial is available.

Password management and IT documentation management 

Password and IT documentation management play an important role in protecting customers from cyber threats and helping demonstrate compliance. SolarWinds Passportal + IT Documentation Manager is an especially effective tool for MSPs, helping companies manage risk, shorten incident-resolution times, and assist customers with meeting compliance requirements. With this tool, you can control password access to customer devices, applications, and networks.

Passportal allows you to enforce password management best practices among your MSP team, helping ensure all users manage their passwords appropriately. The tool also gives you the option of using an add-on, called Passportal Site, which lets MSPs sell a branded password-management-as-a-service solution to customers. You can access a demo of Passportal here.

Remote control and support 

MSP clients today expect premium customer service. When delivering IT services, giving customers directions to overcome IT issues remotely can be a challenge, which is why remote access and control tools are so important. These tools allow you to directly access customer computers remotely, eliminating the need to walk customers through resolving their own IT issues. By allowing your team to take control, you can save a significant amount of time and resources.

SolarWinds Take Control is built to help IT service providers support more customers via fast, intuitive remote support to nearly any platform. Take Control gives you access to deep diagnostics from a single dashboard and can connect securely to devices in just a matter of seconds. A 14-day free trial is available.

Email security 

Email remains the most commonly used communication applications for businesses, and yet email security is often overlooked. To help improve overall cybersecurity and protect against malicious email-borne threats, many MSPs provide email security, email continuity, and email archiving solutions to their customers.

SolarWinds Mail Assure provides cloud-based email security capabilities designed to help your customers stay in control while protecting both their inbound and outbound email. Mail Assure uses collective threat intelligence, long-term email archiving, and 24/7 email continuity to deliver an advanced and comprehensive email security solution. A 30-day free trial is available.

MSPs can provide better services with all-in-one solutions

A key factor that can determine an MSP’s success or failure is how well coordinated their solutions are. While some small or specialist MSPs might choose to deliver one or two services with any combination of the aforementioned tools, MSPs with a comprehensive offering may be better served by an all-in-one solution like SolarWinds RMM or SolarWinds N-central. Both tools can provide features like endpoint detection and response (EDR), which help MSPs better defend customers against an array of sophisticated threats like zero-day attacks and ransomware, remote access and monitoring, backup and recovery, and much more.

Best of all, these features get combined into one robust tool, meaning your technicians don’t have to waste time toggling back and forth. Instead, the features all work together in one ecosystem to help you deliver powerful services efficiently and easily.

MSPs offer essential services that can help small businesses compete in a highly competitive market, driving costs down and influencing wider economic growth. The specialist tools used by MSPs are the backbone of their service offering, which is why choosing the right software is so important. All-in-one solutions are a good option for MSPs, allowing them to provide everything customers want through a single interface.

You can access a 30-day free trial of N-central here and a 30-day free trial of RMM here.

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