Managed service providers can find value in storage as a service
The managed services market is growing fast, predicted to expand from $138 billion in 2016 to $256 billion by 2022. That's the upside.
The downside for managed services providers (MSPs), is that this growth is creating strong as new players try to gain a foothold in the space.
To distinguish itself, an MSP must now be creative in the services and value it delivers. One way to do this is by offering cloud-based storage as a service (StaaS), which solves a variety of challenges for customers, particularly for small and midsize businesses (SMBs).
Data storage is already a major pain for organisations and that pain will worsen. By 2025, data volumes will be close to 1,000% higher than they are today.
This is particularly problematic for SMBs, which are being drowned in the tsunami of information they gather. Data is flowing relentlessly to organisations of all sizes, but SMBs are finding it extraordinarily difficult to keep their heads above water.
Once upon a time, SMBs could simply buy more hardware to meet their data storage needs, but that's no longer an option. Data volumes have outstripped SMBs' capacity to buy new hardware and disks. They just can't afford it. What's more, these companies are typically understaffed in their IT departments, if they even have one.
The bottom line is that SMBs have reached a point where it becomes extremely challenging and expensive for them to deal with the information overload. They need help and they need the right solution.
That's where a value-added StaaS offering comes in.
SMBs can reap game-changing benefits from a robust, scalable storage solution that eases the management headaches that come with traditional storage.
An MSP can deliver this to SMB customers. With storage as a service, they can offer SMBs the opportunity to access high-quality, infinitely scalable storage. Better still, they can offer SMBs the flexibility to pay only for what they need, when they need it, without incurring any up-front costs.
With StaaS, SMBs can easily throttle their storage requirements up or down as capacity needs change. It's an attractive proposition for a growing business - storage at a price significantly lower than the cost of owning and maintaining an in-house storage infrastructure.
However, low cost and flexibility aren't the only reasons why storage as a service is increasingly appealing to SMBs.
New data privacy laws, such as Europe's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and other nation-specific regulations that prevent data leaving the country, are putting stringent data storage requirements on businesses.
Even the smallest businesses must now comply or face stiff, perhaps lethal penalties. Thus, a third value that MSPs can offer is to help SMBs better store and manage their data and remain in compliance with rules like the GDPR.
Clearly, the market for StaaS is strong, but a typical MSP has a rapidly growing business that offers a variety of different services to customers. At this point, it's probably not practical to build out its own sophisticated storage infrastructure.
This means that if it wants to offer the best storage service to customers, it has to choose the right storage vendor for its business. Here's what to look for in a vendor:
1. Ease of use
This factor is crucial. An MSP is probably already stretched to capacity and has no spare resources to allocate to the task of deploying and managing its own storage service. But there is no need to do so - with the right storage solution, such as scale-out storage appliances, it can simply plug and play with the ability to 'bring your own disks'.
Scale-out storage allows users to mix-and-match drives of different capacities and types (SAS, SATA) in the same bays and with zero configuration. This means no RAID, volume or LUNs to configure. These scale-out storage solutions deliver the power to manage the storage needs of customers in any location, from any browser, so you spend less time managing storage and more time driving strategic initiatives.
2. High scalability
Some MSPs get engaged in data projects that suddenly require a much larger team and a new budget because they did not realise the customers' data needs were going to grow so fast and become so unwieldy.
Choose a highly scalable data storage solution that keeps pace with customers' data growth, which is often more than 100% per year. The right storage solution will allow an MSP to cost-effectively add any number of drives, anytime and in any granularity to meet the customers' requirements. The global storage pool can be grown with zero configuration and no application downtime.
3. Intelligent analytics
Look for a self-organising storage solution that applies analytics and machine learning to the management of information. Ideally, such a storage system will use analytics to identify the data that should be backed up and the data that should not, giving an intelligent, tiered data architecture that provides rapid access to mission-critical information. This is the only way for MSPs and their customers to keep up with the explosion of data.
4. Strong data protection
Finally, customers' data must be kept safe and available. If not, an MSP will quickly lose their business, not to mention place them (and the MSP) at risk of regulatory trouble. So it's important to ensure that data storage offerings also include the ability to protect business data wherever it lives and guarantee that it's always available, no matter what happens.
The best solutions use snapshot, replication and encryption technologies and can also recover individual files, entire systems, or failover a whole data center very quickly.
Increasingly, MSPs need to differentiate themselves in the market. Standing out isn't about what they can do - it's about what else they can do.
By offering a smart, cost-effective and highly-scalable storage solution, they can rise above the crowd, attract more customers and build long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationships with them.