A Managed Services Provider (MSP) typically provides an array of IT services for their customers. While a traditional value-added reseller (VAR) operates on a transactional and short-term basis (such as around a hardware/software purchase and deployment), MSPs typically forge long-term partnerships with their customers over annual, or multi-year periods, and receive recurring income for continuous services. While any type of customer may seek out an MSP depending on their needs, MSPs commonly serve small to mid-sized business which may be understaffed, with some organizations lacking an in-house IT staff altogether.

Managed Services Versus Break/Fix

MSP contracts generally fall into two broad categories:

Managed Services

A customer “rents” the MSP’s service on a monthly basis to maintain various systems and provide consultative services. Often, any “fixes” applied under this contract (hardware, software, security incidents, etc.), will be covered under this contract, at least up to a certain level, as specified in the SLA.


A customer retains an MSP’s services in the event something gets broken, which can apply to hardware, a misconfiguration or other issue that causes operational dysfunction, and a security incident or breach. Under this retainer contract, an MSP makes itself available in the event a break/fix event is triggered, and receives additional pay for hours worked and hardware replaced.

Why Do Organizations Rely on MSPs?

With IT skills ever-growing in demand and ever-short in supply, MSPs can provide valuable support in helping customers scale to meet a new initiative (such as software deployment) without having to add and train headcount. An MSP can also provide specialized skills in technology areas that are in need. Additionally, MSPs typically have experience across diverse environments so can provide valuable expertise when it comes to tackling a challenge, or in vetting possible solutions.

In recent years, increased remote working and remote access needs, cloud migrations, and digital transformation initiatives have also made MSP services an attractive option for many organizations.

An MSP can help at any stage of a customer’s IT lifecycle, including:

  • IT policy and program creation

  • Scoping / evaluation potential IT solutions

  • Solution implementation

  • IT operations, network, and security performance monitoring

Some common services MSPs may implement and/or manage for a customer include:

  • Helpdesk support

  • Network and application monitoring/management

  • E-mail

  • Storage

  • Business Continuity and disaster recovery

  • Hardware repair

  • Software installation, updating, and patching

  • Configuration management and optimization

  • IT security

  • Cloud migrations

  • Deployment of digital transformation initiatives

MSPs may provide a broad or focused service offering. While MSPs increasingly offer more than basic cybersecurity services, organizations that require highly specialized security services (identity and access management, privilege management, etc.), frequently turn to an MSSP (managed security services provider).

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