The new cloud paradigm: Managed services as a service

As published in FCW on October 25, 2016.

One of the primary attractions of moving to a cloud environment is cost. Before taking the plunge, it’s common for agencies to calculate cost savings as high as 90 percent for moving from an in-house data center to a hosted cloud environment. Unfortunately, by focusing primarily on hosting costs, that calculation often ‘is not an apples-to-apples comparison. The cost of services — the work needed to manage the cloud environment — can inadvertently be left out.

Once the managed services are factored in, an estimated 90 percent cost savings can quickly become a 50 percent savings or under — not small potatoes but still much less than expected. Worse, although moving to the cloud allows for a “pay only for what you use” hosting model, the cost of managed services is often fixed and usually scaled to the highest needs.

However, there are ways to reduce the cost of the managed services, and here’s why: A cloud environment offers the opportunity to implement a new type of labor model. It allows agencies to treat the labor to support the cloud — or managed services — as a service, just like any other service or device within the cloud. It helps move agencies toward a new, more efficient paradigm: managed services as a service.

Think of your cloud environment: It scales up and down based on your needs, and you only pay for what you use. Shouldn’t your services model also scale up and down based on your needs? Shouldn’t your services coverage, for example, scale up and down with your peak computing load so that you pay more when you use more and less when you use less? The answer in all those cases is “yes.” Managed services should not be fixed; they should be dynamic month to month, just like your computing environment.

Getting what you need

 

Any reputable cloud services provider will give you options when it comes to managed services. However, you have to know what to ask for. One of the challenges of moving to a new paradigm of service is understanding what you actually need versus what you might assume you need — or what you’ve been told in the past.

Your cloud environment usage will have peaks and valleys as well as unexpected events. What you pay for managed services should reflect that. Adopting managed services as a service allows you to create a highly customized service-level agreement (SLA) that fits your unique computing needs so that you pay only for what you need when you need it.

Spend the time and do the research to understand those needs well. Get as granular as possible. The more granular you get, the more efficient your support will be and the less ‘you will pay overall.

Here are just some of the questions you should answer:

  • What service coverage do you need overall? Does it vary over time? Do you need 24x7x365 coverage? Or 8×5? Do you need operating system patching? Do you want continuous monitoring?
  • What do you need per environment? Could you have less coverage for non-production environments?
  • What coverage do you need per machine? Are there some specific instances that need a very high level of support?

To get even more granular, ask questions such as: Does everything need antivirus protection? What about incident and problem management? What level do you need for each environment? What level of patching do you need for each machine?

You typically ask those questions for all your programs, so it makes sense to do the same for your managed services.

Once you’ve answered those questions, consider what type and level of security you’ll need. In fact, consider breaking out security from the SLA to ensure you’re covered in every potential scenario and for every environment in your cloud.

Remember that the answers are unique to your agency, your programs and your environment. If you need 24x7x365 service, by all means pay for that. However, there’s a good chance you can get more specific and save money within that managed-services-as-a-service model.

One last thing to consider: Make sure your provider offers a managed services portal. It will allow your employees to play a more active role in your cloud environment. It will help them learn about the cloud environment while at the same time serve as another way to keep costs down. In most cloud managed services scenarios, given the right easy-to-use tools such as a managed services portal, your staff can handle 75 percent of the things your managed services provider does for you.

Beyond the basics

 

You might already know that moving to the cloud provides a range of advantages beyond cost savings, the primary of which is the opportunity to innovate. One of the first ways to take advantage of that opportunity is to add automation. The more you can automate, the more you can enhance efficiency, which in turn enhances productivity and reduces risks and costs.

As part of that automation, consider continuous integration/continuous delivery and deployment (CI/CD) and DevOps. CI/CD builds on agile methodology to automate the entire process from development and testing through deployment. DevOps or DevOpsSec then builds on CI/CD by treating everything as code, including operations and security. A CI/CD and DevOps approach will serve to advance innovation and efficiency dramatically.

Taking a managed-services-as-a-service approach, coupled with DevOps and CI/CD, will bring back a lot of those cost savings initially expected with a cloud environment. Paying only for what you need and only for what you use can be 50 percent to 75 percent less expensive from a managed services standpoint. Enhancing automation and efficiency will reduce costs even further.