Sometimes you can learn a lot when you stop talking and start listening. Such was the case during a recent conversation with Logicalis VP Wayne Kiphart, ViaWest CTO Jason Carolan, and Nimsoft VP Tim Van Ash. Our chatter explored how MSPs could differentiate while moving into cloud computing. By the end of the conversation, Kiphart, Carolan and Van Ash identified three paths that can lead MSPs to cloud success.

Background and disclosure: My conversations with Kiphart, Carolan and Van Ash were tied to a March 7 webcast, which was sponsored by Nimsoft.

So what do those cloud experts potentially bring to the table?
  • Launched in 1997, Logicalis has grown to 2,500 employees, and blends data center services with managed and cloud services -- everything from IaaS to disaster recovery as a service.
  • ViaWest launched in 1999 and has grown to 315 employees. I believe the company ranks among the largest privately held, independent data center providers in the U.S., blending colocation and hosting services with cloud and managed services.
  • Nimsoft started out as an on-premise IT management platform that has expanded to include a cloud-based platform plus IT service management software.

MSPs: Three Cloud Computing Paths

Kiphart, Carolan and Van Ash see three ways for MSPs to distinguish their services in the cloud.
  1. Customer Service Strategy: Here, MSPs will need to take on the likes of Rackspace, which focuses on Fanatical Service. But here's the twist: I think so many cloud providers offer lousy customer service that there's still room for MSPs to differentiate here.
  2. Vertical Market Strategy: This is another popular path, but we all know how difficult it is for a VAR or MSP to "master" a vertical market (say, health care). I'd imagine it's even more difficult to go vertical in the cloud -- but Kiphart, Carolan and Van Ash offered some reassuring guidance.
  3. Compliance Strategy: From HIPAA to PCI, you're likely familiar with the acronyms that scare executives and thrill auditors.

A Closer Look

So how can you get started in one or more of these areas? The experts recommended:
  1. For customer service, make sure you're industry-agnostic and develop a well-defined service level agreement, then go exceed that SLA with unparalleled support. Offer great change control/management, alerting, escalation, and quick isolation/resolution.
  2. For vertical market, focus on the business challenges in a specific industry, master that industry's language, deliver industry-specific apps, and aggregate different technologies built for that industry.
  3. For compliance, zero in on ISO/IEC 27001 to establish a scalable security framework.
As usual, I've over-simplified a rather complex topic that could warrant a few chapters of guidance.