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Self-Service and Managed Service Provider (MSP) Cloud Solutions

Self-service driving cloud solutions

Customer self-service is a theme that is spreading across a number of industries. As a result, numerous jobs, including those in IT, are changing or becoming obsolete, while industries are becoming more efficient. Cloud computing is a key technology enabler in making these changes possible. Last week I spoke at the IBM Edge 2013 MSP summit in Las Vegas, where self-service through automation was emphasized at a number of sessions, with the IBM PureSystems family of products as an enabler.

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are a segment of the IT ecosystem that needs to pay attention to this trend. It should be an important element that cannot be overlooked while developing their cloud strategy. Let's first look at some examples in various industries that are making headway with self-service:

  • Consumer IT: Internet users take it for granted that any help they need in utilizing products is obtained through a self-service online interface. For example, Facebook or Gmail do not provide phone support to non-paid end-users. Individuals, based on their expectations, set all configuration parameters. For example, you are responsible for privacy settings that Facebook then follows in matching appropriate information to accredited users.
  • Airlines: When a recent Delta flight I took landed late in Cincinnati, announcements encouraged passengers who could not make connections to use self service to re-book their tickets, e.g. scanning their boarding passes to re-print new itineraries. Delta recently allowed same-day bookings to be made online, a service that in the past was only available by phone. These help passengers enjoy a more pleasant experience while Delta saves costs.
  • Retail: Without interacting with any employees, you can order online or walk into any FedEx Office (formerly Kinko's) store and utilize print services with a credit card. While the costs at FedEx locations are higher for business cards compared to web-ordered cards, the convenience of immediate access draws a loyal set of customers. FedEx enjoys a healthy profit margin for such services.

When MSPs decide to deliver a service, they need to look for opportunities similar to those in the manufacturing industry that focuses on automation and process improvement. The maturity in manufacturing automation is so advanced that, while manufacturing capacity is returning to the United States, manufacturing jobs are not growing at the same pace. This is because fully automated facilities require fewer but more highly skilled labor resources. To build and deliver cloud solutions successfully, MSPs need to acquire or develop necessary skills.

When comparing self-service enablement in various industries, there are IT processes that can be automated to increase efficiencies. Ideally, the services would emulate processes that are already being used in consumer facing solutions, but MSPs can also look at cloud leaders for best practices. These are some examples:

1. Backup: The best example of how to deliver self-service is Dropbox. Installing the package is easy, and you can add multiple users for a Dropbox for Business account. With the end-user responsible for all management, Dropbox has to primarily focus on providing a reliable service and trusted security. Cloud backup service solutions play in a very competitive space, and self-service could be a unique differentiator for a MSP solution.

2. Infrastructure: Amazon is the gold standard of self-service in providing cloud resources. The user interface allows Amazon Web Service (AWS) customers complete tasks that remove the complexity of managing an IT environment. In addition to creating instances through a portal, Amazon has an interesting Platform as a Service solution called Elastic Beanstalk. It allows developers who deploy applications on AWS to set parameters driving automation of the infrastructure without having to write extensive code. Other infrastructure providers like Rackspace, Joyent and SoftLayer (planned to be acquired by IBM) are all in a race to enhance their self-service capabilities.

3. Software as a Service (SaaS): Since Electronic Health Records have been made mandatory by 2015, a number of solutions to help the medical industry have sprouted and gained a foothold in large establishments. However, new and progressive "born on the web" SaaS providers are making it very simple to register and start using their solutions. While the initial adoption was dominated by a few companies, several companies, like Practice Fusion and Kareo, are now delivering self-service solutions that help small medical practices match capabilities of larger medical groups at a much lower cost.

In any of the above examples, customers expect significant reliability from MSP solutions. To meet these needs, vendors like IBM and Oracle are providing integrated systems of compute, storage and network capabilities to help MSPs build differentiated cloud solutions. Simplified infrastructure is key to helping MSPs build self-service solutions that meet customer expectations of high availability and reliability.

With the increase in IT infrastructure needed to handle recent social, mobile and analytic trends, it will be difficult or impossible for traditional outsourcing/out-tasking to meet enterprise needs. The ratio of resources to the volume of IT services delivered through cloud solutions is very different from historic outsourcing contracts. The goal for MSPs will be to efficiently deliver self-service-based cloud solutions leveraging programmable infrastructures on an integrated stack. At the IBM Edge 2013 conference, the PureSystems family was well positioned to simplify the path of MSPs planning to deliver cloud, big data and analytics services to their customers.

This post was first published on Robustcloud.com. Republished with permission.

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Larry Carvalho runs Robust Cloud LLC, an advisory services company helping various ecosystem players develop a strategy to take advantage of cloud computing. As the 2010-12 Instructor of Cloud Expo's popular Cloud Computing Bootcamp, he has already led the bootcamp in New York, Silicon Valley, and Prague, receiving strong positive feedback from attendees about the value gained at these events. Carvalho has facilitated all-day sessions at customer locations to set a clear roadmap and gain consensus among attendees on strategy and product direction. He has participated in multiple discussion panels focused on cloud computing trends at information technology events, and he has delivered all-day cloud computing training to customers in conjunction with CloudCamps. To date, his role has taken him to clients in three continents.