What is an MSP?

5 minute read

What is an MSP?

Topics: IT Managed Services

By Calligo on 1 October 2020

‘IT Managed Services’ is an umbrella term that refers to the practice of outsourcing day-to-day technology responsibilities to a third-party, or a ‘Managed Service Provider’ (MSP). 


Responsibilities such as network monitoring, maintaining backups, managing reports and analytics, implementing cyber security, ensuring compliance and more.


Employing a third-party vendor, or ‘Managed Service Provider (MSP)’ allows businesses to outsource their IT requirements to a team with greater IT expertise and focus more on their core competencies. It is a strategic way of improving business operations and accelerating returns on IT investment, and generally leads to IT cost reductions as well. 


The managed services market has undergone considerable growth in recent years and this trend is expected to continue, with expectations of growth from US$180.5 billion in 2018 to US$282.0 billion by 2023.



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The two types of MSP

For many years, the industry has delineated between two models of IT service provision: break-fix services, where your provider was contracted to provide immediate resolution of issues as they occurred, versus modern managed service providers where a more proactive stance was taken, involving continuous analysis of network performance, and pre-emptive steps would be taken before any issues manifested ‘on the front line’.


Now, the delineation is more subtle. ‘Break/fix’ services are far rarer as most businesses cannot be sufficiently supported by this model. The key delineation is now between data and technology.


The majority of MSPs currently support and maintain a customer business’ technology. They ensure its upkeep and maintenance. Typical activities include:


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Network Monitoring

Network monitoring is essential to ensure that your business applications and infrastructure stay up and running, and it’s generally provided by most MSPs. Efficient and effective monitoring of the network ensures that any known, unknown, expected and unexpected interruptions are taken care of before they can affect your business activities.


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Your MSP’s primary role is to maintain the security and availability of your data. A key part of this is the oversight and implementation of software patching, ensuring that all the software on which your business relies is continuously up to date with the latest defences, improvements and efficiencies.


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Regardless of whether your infrastructure exists on-premise or in the cloud, it is the duty of your MSP to create a backup plan and perform regular backups of your data and applications.


No matter how secure or efficient a system is, the threat of physical damage (i.e. a natural disaster, or fire), and the threat of a cyber-attack, are very real. Regular backups are a must for every business to mitigate the risk of these threats.


Not only should your MSP be able to direct you to your backup plan, it should also be an integral part of an overall business continuity plan, something often overlooked by MSPs and business owners alike.


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IT Security

IT security is generally one of the primary reasons businesses consider an MSP in the first place. And, with the ever-growing threat of cyberattacks on businesses, the need for state-of-the-art IT security is more essential than ever. 


If your MSP is providing you with IT security services, they should be providing you with:

  • Endpoint security and monitoring
  • End-user security awareness training and testing
  • Email security, including malware scanning, anti-spam and anti-phishing filtering, link-checking and more 
  • Network security
  • Remote access security, particularly in today’s Work From Home (WFH) environment
  • Disaster recovery
  • Regular, off-site backups
  • Virus, malware and ransomware scanning
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24/7 Helpdesk Support

This is now table-stakes for an MSP. whereas this level of support would normally be reserved only for those industries who themselves operated 24/7 service, or for whom any downtime represented serious commercial loss, it is now the expected norm for any business.


With working patterns so disrupted by the events of 2020, and many industries characterized by annual peaks and troughs of activity, standard 9-5 support hours are simply too risky. Imagine an accounting firm nearing tax deadlines being told their teams’ access to information or systems could only be resolved the next morning. Or a small ecommerce business with a global client base being told their hosting issue would have to wait.


In truth, all these functions are table stakes for MSPs in the modern business world. After all, no substantial differentiation is possible in any of these areas besides speed and reliability, both of which are rightfully expected to be of high standards. 


So where does an MSP differentiate? And where does a business find greatest value? Through its data.


Every business - of any size - knows there is hidden potential in its data. For an MSP to show maximum value, it needs to look beyond technology maintenance and instead work to improve the business’ ability to access, use, share and interrogate its data.


This is best achieved by starting with a granular visibility of data workflows - how does data enter, move through and leave the business? Where are the security gaps, productivity inefficiencies, compliance shortfalls and areas of overspend? From here, the most appropriate technology - but also processes - can be implemented to solve this wider spread of business problems. This is a far greater breadth of value for an MSP to deliver.


Example ways a data-focused MSP can offer added value:



If your managed service provider is focused on your data, they should be able to readily compare your data workflows to what is required of your business by your industry regulations, national data privacy obligations and of the accreditations you may have earned, such as ISO standards or PCI-DSS.


This may include what sort of data is allowed to be stored according to your accreditations, or what back-up routines are required by your industry regulations.


In particular, data privacy legal observance requires very specific management and oversight of your data in order to ensure no breaches. Every single interaction with personal data creates risk, and so only by truly appreciating the nuances of every data workflow can you be certain of continuous compliance.

Better IT Security with an MSP

Better IT security, with easier access

The processes and activities that a technology-centric MSP performs to support IT security are absolutely important, even critical. However, they do not go far enough.


The processes laid out above simply secure the existing infrastructure, according to the ways in which it is known to be used. But businesses are increasingly seeing employees access data in new ways, from new locations, on unrecognised devices and for unforeseen purposes. A technology-based approach cannot keep up or accommodate this.


Instead, an MSP that seeks to understand your data environment and how your teams interact with it will be able to recommend new protocols, technologies and even different sorts of employee awareness training to allow them to continue to use the data they need, but safely. And, echoing the section above, also in compliance with your regulatory requirements

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Cost Reductions

Most MSPs can prove cost efficiency. Usually through comparing the costs of their skills and activity to the cost of internal resource. Often, they will be able to make suggestions of ways to consolidate your licences, or offer you cheaper access to equipment and software through their buying power.


But these are all technology costs. A data MSP will look at your existing environment and evaluate where your cost sinkholes are - where your cloud infrastructure or data backups are over provisioned, or where your security spend is duplicated, or where your processes can be automated. This is a very different way of reducing costs, and a skillset that most MSPs lack. 


Data MSPs - or managed data services providers - are unusually skilled and highly supportive to your business. Don’t let the positive comparison of proactivity versus the dead model of reactivity fool you into thinking that is as far IT managed services can go. Consider how your business could really perform if it could realise the potential of its data, not just if its technology was fully functional.


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