What Does the Software-Defined Data Center Suite Mean For Managed Services Providers

If one thing has been made clear by the general sessions at this year’s VMWorld, it’s that the cloud is now here to stay, and VMWare and other vendors are providing tools to manage the cloud, where ever it might reside, and the machines that run on it.

The second general session of this year’s VMWorld focused on two tools in the vCloud Suite:  vCloud Automation Center, which handles infrastructure and application provisioning to turn IT into a service, and vCloud Operations Management, which handles monitoring and remediation of problems.  These tools, as well as some other tools in the vCloud Suite, tie in closely with both vSphere and other cloud providers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure to provide automated provisioning and management of public, private, and hybrid clouds.

As the presenters were demonstrating these products and showing how they worked together to deploy and maintain applications, I started to wonder what this meant for managed services providers who’s product was managing IT infrastructures.  These companies tend to focus on small-to-medium sized entities that don’t want to take on the additional expenses of staff, IT monitoring, or 24–hour operations.  Can this software replace these providers?

If managed services providers can’t find ways to bring additional value to their customers,they will be quickly replaced.  If software has gotten to the point where it can not only detect an issue but attempt to remediate it as well based on policies that the administrators set or perform a root cause analysis immediately to pinpoint the issues so administrators can act, then there is a significant cost savings that can be captured on the customer’s side.  Even if taking advantage of the advanced remediation provided by these software packages requires a little work to get right, the ongoing cost savings that would be generated make this sort of investment very attractive.

At $work, we currently use a managed service provider.  They provide monitoring and patching for the most critical servers in our environment, which comes out to about one third of our environment.  The rest are managed using a variety of tools such as the monitoring in vCenter and scripts.  Like many environments, the monitoring coverage is not ideal.

But when I look at the cost of expanding managed services to cover the rest of my environment, or even continuing it, and compare it to using a software solution, there’s no contest.  I can get a greater level of coverage, some level of automated remediation and intelligent baselining, and a short payback period.

Now, I realize that this won’t be implemented overnight.  These systems can be just as complex as the infrastructures they are monitoring, and they take time to learn the network and develop baselines.  But the payoff, if done right, is software that goes beyond monitoring systems to managing them for you.

Infrastructures are going to get more complex now that software-defined storage and networking are a reality and vSphere is getting application-aware features.  If managed services providers want to remain relevant, they need to bring more value to their customers, update their tools and their offerings to better support the cloud, and work more closely with their customers to understand their environments and their needs.

If they don’t, then their customers will be throwing good money after bad.