What Is an MSP? 6 Ways to Think About Managed Service Providers

Years ago, when businesses needed tech support beyond what they could manage in-house, they often turned to IT consultants. But as the technology landscape grew more complex and security threats spiked, companies needed more than ad hoc consulting services — they sought to fully outsource their technology function.

Enter managed service providers, or MSPs.

What is an MSP? In basic terms, an MSP manages a business’s IT infrastructure while also protecting it from cybersecurity threats. Companies that take advantage of such IT outsourcing can gain peace of mind knowing that they can rely on MSPs on an ongoing basis — they typically provide 24/7 IT support that internal teams and lone consultants can’t. Working with an MSP also tends to be less expensive than hiring and managing an in-house tech team.

Services offered by MSPs generally include:

  • managing the client’s daily IT operations
  • help-desk support
  • network monitoring
  • incident response for urgent issues like data breaches
  • data backups and business continuity plans
  • managing SaaS product and cloud computing security and performance

Even when MSPs provide similar offerings, it’s important for business leaders to understand that MSPs vary widely in their strengths and capabilities. The differences between them and the value they provide can help leaders decide which MSPs are the best fit for their business needs.

Security Specialization

Some MSPs, including Xantrion, are also managed security services providers, also known as MSSPs. That extra “S” for security matters: It means that the provider has a dedicated security team and leverages advanced technology, including AI-powered tools, to stop security breaches before they start. Other MSPs offer some security services, but not nearly to the same degree; for businesses in regulated industries and those that handle sensitive information, MSSPs are usually the better choice.

Reactive and Proactive Approaches

Most MSPs offer reactive services, solving problems as they arise and providing help-desk support to company employees. Others operate proactively, designing systems to prevent problems and clear the way for a company’s growth. Xantrion, for example, develops IT roadmaps for clients, assessing what it will take to get a company’s infrastructure running smoothly, executing on plan to achieve that goal and, finally, exploring advanced security, compliance and productivity-boosting features to help the business scale.

Client Relationships

How an MSP staffs its client teams can tell leaders a lot about the level of service they can expect. It’s standard practice for account managers at many MSPs to juggle 15 or more clients at a time, which limits how much custom, strategic advice they can provide to each client. In contrast, some MSPs provide their clients with virtual Chief Information Officers (vCIOs) who manage far smaller portfolios and are able to provide each client with regular feedback and guidance. Such high-touch client relationships can last years, with vCIOs and their teams becoming trusted, enduring partners who continue meeting companies’ IT needs as they evolve and grow.

Industry Specialization

Businesses are usually best served working with MSPs that have specific experience and expertise in their particular industry. For example, MSP staff with longstanding experience with financial services firms may know how to expertly prepare documentation and reports for auditor approval and compliance with Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirements, while those that routinely partner with life sciences and healthcare firms can develop systems and processes that align with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). And for companies that contract with government agencies, it helps to work with MSP experts who know the ins and outs of the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA).

In addition to expertise, companies should explore whether an MSP’s operations are tailored to meet their industry-specific needs. At Xantrion, for instance, life sciences companies are provided 24/7 help desk services to help manage sudden growth spurts — think dozens of new employees starting on the same day — that are common in the industry.

Certifications

Any service provider can say they’re following the best practices in an industry or field. Proving it is a different story…but certifications can help. Certifications achieved after rigorous testing by independent organizations provide assurance that an MSP is maintaining the highest standards. With respect to security best practices, prominent certifications include SOC-2 certification by the Association for International Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA), as well as CISSP by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. In addition to security, other critical certifications for MSP staff include basic and advanced certifications in the core operating systems that they manage, such as Microsoft.

Cost Structure

One of the key benefits of partnering with an MSP is the flexible and efficient cost structure. MSPs like Xantrion offer contracts that allow companies to pay only for the services they need, when they need them. Fees are typically based on companies’ headcounts, meaning that costs scale with business growth. It’s often a more efficient, less expensive alternative to hiring in-house IT teams that, depending on where a company is in its life cycle, sometimes wind up underutilized.

If your company is ready to work with an MSP or MSSP or are simply looking for a new partner to meet your growing IT and security needs, Xantrion is here to help. Our IT experts have helped hundreds of small and medium-sized businesses reduce IT support costs, improve cybersecurity and increase productivity. Contact us today to learn more.

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