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Why Amazon May Not Be Your Best Bet for Hosting

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has long been the preferred choice for large-scale enterprises looking to deploy a public or hybrid cloud IT infrastructure. But for the MSP attempting to serve a diverse range of clients, is AWS the best option?

To help answer this question, we'll consider the pros and cons of the AWS delivery model, the ramifications of using Amazon's platform as a managed service provider, and the alternative options.

What Amazon Has to Offer

For individual and corporate consumers, Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides a number of cloud-based computing and infrastructure solutions. One of the Amazon subsidiary's most popular offerings is Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), a solution which makes a virtualised cluster of computers available to subscribers on demand. The Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), a high-speed web-based storage facility aimed primarily at developers, is another big mover.

Amazon entered the managed services market at the end of 2016 with the unveiling of its AWS Managed Services. This consists of a set of tools and functionality that automate infrastructure management tasks for Amazon Web Services deployments. The solution facilitates the automation of cloud management tasks such as provisioning, patch management, change management, user access management, incident monitoring, backup, and restore.

Besides a dedicated Cloud Service Delivery Manager and Enterprise-level AWS Support coverage, AWS Managed Services also draws upon the expertise of a global pool of affiliates in the shape of the AWS MSP Partner program. The scheme includes independent MSP contractors who pass a third-party audit and provide skills and general consultation for AWS subscribers throughout what Amazon describes as "the cloud adoption journey: Plan & Design > Build & Migrate > Run & Operate > Optimize."

A Question of Scale

Even managed service providers that participate in Amazon's AWS MSP Partner program acknowledge that the cloud service giant doesn't represent an existential threat to small and medium-sized MSP endeavours. There are good reasons for this.

One of them is the fact that AWS as a whole is geared towards organisations in the global Fortune 100 – top-tier corporations that need more than simple enterprise support. The vast majority of commercial enterprises fall in the small- to medium-sized bracket, and prefer a greater level of customisation and individual attention than a huge service like Amazon's can typically provide.

The amount of flexibility that Amazon Web Services allows when it comes to tailor-made offerings and customer service is limited – and in this regard, an independent and smaller-scale MSP has the advantage.

The Price You Have to Pay

Another thing that makes AWS a less than ideal choice for the mid-scale MSP – or anyone else outside the Fortune 100 tax bracket – is the price often associated with the service. 

AWS customers typically consume their cloud resources on a "pay as you go" basis. However, without measures in place to monitor both visible and hidden expenditure, the costs of an Amazon Web Services deployment can quickly mount up to astronomical levels. Unattended, unmonitored AWS instances and the sprawl of resources over multiple sites and users are the two biggest culprits in driving up hidden costs.

It's reckoned that an organisation which uses AWS infrastructure to host all of its production applications can easily incur monthly bills that run up to five or six figures. 

Cost Management Strategies for AWS

The cost management tools available on the AWS platform are all proprietary and may not meet your needs if you're an organisation that has to juggle multiple cloud providers, or has to employ and provide advanced visualisation and forecasting features to – or on behalf of – your clients. For this reason, third-party cost management tools are often necessary for monitoring an Amazon Web Services deployment.

There's an entire ecosystem of these cost management utilities and services available – but evaluating the software and providers of these products is a time- and resource-consuming exercise in itself. For the range of features and infrastructure that you might typically expect to demand from an AWS platform as an MSP, this evaluation could include:

  • Outlining your organisation's multi-cloud strategy: Since AWS cost management tools don't assess other cloud environments, if your business customers need to use services such as Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform (GCP), cloud agnostic third-party tools may be required.
  • The precise mix of external and Amazon cloud services in use: This can quickly get complicated if a number of your MSP clients have to balance on-premises virtual infrastructure with cloud services in a hybrid environment, or choose to mix various public cloud platforms to achieve a diverse and heterogeneous IT framework.
  • The total size of your AWS deployment, and its monthly costs: Generally, the greater your AWS expenses, the more likely it is that a third-party cost management application with sophisticated optimization features will pay for itself.
  • Legal and regulatory compliance issues: With clients in the financial services, government, life sciences, health care, or other industries subject to strict legal restrictions and regulatory compliance regimes, the use of cloud services can complicate matters of data handling, governance, and auditing. In these circumstances, third-party cost management utilities generally provide better usage and reporting tools than anything native to the Amazon Web Services environment.
  • Vendor support: Not all cost management products were created equal. For larger AWS deployments, user-managed software generally costs less and provides more control over configuration. However, a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering eliminates management overheads and may be easier to procure. 

The Question of Resources

Disciplined cost management is only one aspect of effectively managing an Amazon Web Services deployment. In its initial phase, organisations typically pay a price in operational efficiency and wasted resources during the process of AWS cloud adoption and organisational change management.

As of 2017, AWS consists of over 90 services covering a wide range of functionalities that include compute, storage, networking, database, analytics, application services, deployment, management, mobile, developer tool-kits, and tools for the Internet of Things (IoT). Most of these services aren't directly available to end users. Rather, they ship as application programming interfaces (APIs) for developers to use in creating their software. Web-based applications based on Amazon Web Services offerings must then be accessed over the internet.

Fine-tuning these application deployments and enabling personnel to adapt to new methods of working – both within your own MSP business, and at the organisations of your clients – requires time, energy, and financial resources that could be better spent in other ways. And during this adjustment period, slowdowns and downtime may lead to lost revenue or business opportunities.

As if that weren't enough, the limitations of the Amazon Web Services foundation offering require the addition or importation of supplementary tools and services to round out its functionality for various business applications. It's for this reason that AWS MSP Partners must call upon products and services from independent software vendors (ISVs) for third-party tools covering cost management, infrastructure and application security, event logging, data visualisation, configuration, vulnerability analysis, data protection, migration solutions, and other functions.

The Dedicated Alternative

Though high-end elements of the platform such as AWS Managed Services cater to huge corporations or global systems integrators that need to manage dozens or even hundreds of Amazon products and services, AWS at its heart remains a multi-tenant cloud platform. There's a single (admittedly massive) pool of Amazon resources, from which subscribers pull a share. 

Enterprises with the clout to pay for their own larger section of that pool can gain a greater level of autonomy and control – but, as we've seen, the price they have to pay for this privilege can be huge.

For the vast population of small- to medium-sized businesses – and the MSP community that serves them – there's a cheaper alternative: dedicated cloud hosting. 

Dedicated hosting avoids the problems of resource sharing between multiple users by assigning an exclusive (or dedicated) set of cloud resources to each subscriber. As a dedicated client, you have access to your own cloud infrastructure to administer as you see fit. That includes a data centre or centres, management tools, applications, utilities, and support services.

How Dedicated Hosting Benefits The MSP

With administrative control over the infrastructure, software, and security systems exclusively assigned to you under your hosting plan, dedicated hosting gives you, as an MSP, the freedom and flexibility to choose the platforms and applications that your clients really want. Unlike in shared server environments where the central provider calls the shots, you can set all of the configuration options needed for managing the IT infrastructure and services provision of your various clients.

You can typically achieve this from a software-based administration panel that's available from any location with internet access. This web-based console also enables you to remotely control your customer's account settings.

As for the underlying infrastructure, your dedicated hosting provider bears the cost of building and maintenance, freeing you from this financial and management burden, and increasing the return on your investment. What's more, a good dedicated hosting plan will come with a subscription-based pricing model and flexible terms.

To meet the changing demands of your client base, you'll need to constantly make adjustments in what resources go where – and be able to call upon more resources whenever necessary. Since IT resources aren't shared with any other clients on the host's cloud, a dedicated hosting plan will give your MSP business all the computing power, bandwidth, secure data storage, backup facilities, and ancillary services that you require – with administrative power to order up more or less resources on demand. This kind of flexibility and control enables you to scale your infrastructure up and down as needed.

Network availability and business continuity are critical factors both for you as an MSP and for your clients. Your dedicated hosting provider will have measures in place to maintain and guarantee agreed levels of uptime, and/or network bandwidth. Enhanced security and disaster recovery (DR) options should be available to preserve data integrity and business continuity. Some providers will also offer value added features or specialised services, enabling you to extend the range of solutions for your customers.

The unique IP address you'll have on a dedicated server helps in safeguarding your corporate identity and business reputation. In a multi-tenant hosting environment, shared IP addresses expose subscribers to the potential consequences of bad behaviour by others using the space, such as spam generation, or the distribution of malware. Having your own exclusive address eliminates this risk. A unique IP address also facilitates compliance with regulatory requirements.

With a "white label" dedicated hosting solution, you can distinguish the administration panel and other client-facing software with your own brand name and logo, creating the impression that your MSP business is the owner of the cloud infrastructure. This raises the profile of your organisation, inspiring greater confidence and loyalty from your clients.

MSP-HOST: Your Dedicated Hosting Partner

MSP-HOST is a white label dedicated hosting solution that provides Unifi cloud hosting to service providers who are looking for a streamlined, hassle free, and cost-effective solution for managing their clients’ hosting requirements. And as an MSP, you won't have to shoulder the hefty upfront costs of setting up your own hosting equipment. 

You also don't have to be a Fortune 100 corporation or jump through any AWS-style hoops!

Hosting packages start from as little as £19 per month. To sign up for a 30-day free trial package or arrange a free demonstration, contact an MSP-HOST representative.