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MSP vs MSSP: How to Choose the Best Solution

msp vs mssp - compare apple and pear

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Despite tech layoffs garnering headlines these days, organizations are having a tough time finding cybersecurity talent. In fact, there are 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity positions in 2023, and that gap is expected to persist through at least 2025. This macro trend in the industry also helps explain why “MSP vs MSSP” has become a popular topic in the service provider space.

Service providers that can address cybersecurity challenges can solve business problems for clients who don’t have adequate in-house cybersecurity expertise. Clients who can’t keep up with threat detection, incident response, patch management, and compliance requirements are willing to pay a service provider to handle them. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the managed security services market is expected to more than double its 2021 size by 2027 (growing from $23.19 million USD to $56.6 million USD).

In this article, we’ll look at exactly what an MSP and MSSP are, the differences between an MSP vs. MSSP, and what service providers should look for in solutions that help them run a successful MSP or MSSP business.

What is an MSP?

An MSP (managed service provider) is a third party that manages some or all aspects of another organization’s IT infrastructure, processes, assets, and applications.

MSPs surged in popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s as IT became essential to businesses. MSPs serve businesses of all sizes, but are particularly popular with SMBs (small to medium businesses) without the budget or staff to maintain their own IT infrastructure. MSPs enable these small businesses to gain the benefits of IT without the overhead. Instead of maintaining an in-house IT department, they pay a fee in exchange for IT services backed by an MSP’s SLAs (service level agreements).

As you might expect, MSPs have evolved over the years to keep up with the demands of modern IT. The early 2000s saw a heavy focus on infrastructure like on-premises servers, switches, and routers. Cloud computing and mobile device management surged in popularity in the 2010s. And the early 2020s have required MSPs to evolve to support the demands of remote work.

MSPs offer a wide range of services depending on their target market and business model. Here are some of the most popular examples of modern MSP services:

  • Remote monitoring and management of IT assets and infrastructure
  • IT project management
  • Backup and disaster recovery
  • Managed cloud services
  • Network management
  • IT staff augmentation
  • Managed telecom and VoIP services
  • IT helpdesk
  • Patch management

Many MSPs handle all aspects of IT for their clients and may offer all of these services. However, that isn’t always the case. MSPs often specialize. For example, some MSPs might focus solely on managing cloud services like Office 365 or Google Workspace. Others may specialize in printers or networks. Interestingly, some MSPs even provide managed security services which can blur the lines when categorizing a provider as an MSP vs MSSP.

Modern MSPs typically use tools like RMM and PSA software to enable them to run their businesses efficiently. RMM software enables remote monitoring and management of IT assets while PSA software streamlines backend services like contract management and billing.

What is an MSSP?

An MSSP (managed security service provider) is a third party that manages some or all aspects of cybersecurity for other organizations.

MSSPs are sometimes considered a type of MSP, and to some extent this is fair. After all, cybersecurity is a subset of IT. But it’s a very complex subset that often requires specialized skills. Network perimeters are dynamic and can’t be protected by traditional “castle and moat” style security behind a corporate firewall, sensitive data is spread across multiple clouds and environments, and new threats are emerging daily.

The basic cybersecurity services offered by traditional MSPs — particularly those without specialized managed security services offerings — often aren’t enough to keep up. MSSPs fill that gap and help businesses address modern cybersecurity challenges without a large team of in-house security engineers.

MSSPs specialize in offer services such as:

  • SoC (security operations center)
  • Security monitoring
  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Incident response
  • Threat detection and threat intelligence
  • IAM (identity and access management)
  • Risk assessments and risk management
  • Policy development
  • Security training
  • Reporting, auditing, and compliance
  • Deployment, configuration, and management of security appliances
  • Endpoint protection
  • Email security

Like traditional MSPs, an MSSP might offer a broad set of services that cover a client’s cybersecurity needs end-to-end. In other cases, a managed security service provider might specialize in a specific domain.

While RMM and PSA software are staples in the MSP toolkit, SIEM (security incident and event management) platforms are popular with MSSPs. Additionally, MSSPs will often leverage security tools and technologies such as IPS/IDS (intrusion prevention system/intrusion detection system), EDR (endpoint detection and response), and vulnerability scanners.

What’s the difference between an MSP and MSSP?

The core difference between an MSP vs MSSP is that an MSSP has a narrower focus on cybersecurity.

In theory, the line between an MSP vs MSSP is clear. An MSP focuses on IT services, while an MSSP focuses on cybersecurity. If a service provider uses an RMM and runs a NOC (network operations center), it’s almost certainly an MSP. If it uses a SIEM and runs a SOC, it’s almost certainly an MSSP. However, in practice, things can get blurry.

Many traditional MSPs are investing in cybersecurity and adding cybersecurity solutions to a broader IT services portfolio. For example, CompTIA’s 2022 trends in managed services indicated that 42% of MSPs hired personnel with specific cybersecurity skills within the last year. Some MSPs offer MSSP-like services such as incident response and SOCaaS (security operations center as a service).

The takeaway is that being an MSP and MSSP aren’t mutually exclusive. A service provider could be both. Whether or not they are depends on their service offering.

This “one-stop shop” approach can make business sense from the perspective of both MSPs and their clients. For MSPs, offering cybersecurity solutions is a great way to expand your business and grow as a trusted advisor for your clients. For clients, a single provider that handles IT and cybersecurity makes vendor management simpler and more efficient.

What to look for when evaluating MSP and MSSP solutions

The right solutions can help MSPs and MSSPs supercharge their business by automating tedious workflows, streamlining business operations, and making it easier to service clients. The wrong tools can hamstring a service business, erode profits, and increase the risk of an SLA breach (or, in the case of managed security service providers, a data breach).

Below we’ll explore seven essential categories to consider when evaluating tools for MSP and MSSP businesses.

Integrations

Integrations are essential for service providers that want to streamline operations and reduce data silos. For example, integrations with ACH platforms can simplify payments. Similarly, integrating platforms with a ticketing system helps improve service quality and response times.

The right integrations can drastically improve visibility and incident response from a cybersecurity perspective. Cloud platforms are often siloed with their own individual dashboards and alerting schemes. This can lead to alert fatigue and oversights. Integrating all the endpoints and platforms that generate events and security information into a single SIEM makes security operations less noisy and more efficient.

Automation

Automation helps both MSPs and MSSPs scale their business more efficiently. For MSPs, automating tasks like patch management, incident remediation, and billing enables you to service clients and get paid on autopilot. Automatically running PowerShell scripts can also help MSPs save time and money. For MSSPs, automation and artificial intelligence enable threat detection at a speed and scale that manual processes can’t keep pace with.

Remote access

Remote access is a core feature for MSPs. Secure remote access enables ad hoc troubleshooting and issue remediation without rolling a truck. Service providers should pay close attention to remote access features when evaluating MSP software. There are plenty of ways to gain remote access to client computers, but they vary significantly in complexity, security, and speed. For a closer look into different options for remote access, check out Remote Desktop Options for MSPs.

Security

While looking for security features in a platform, it can be easy to overlook the security of the platform. Don’t make this mistake when you evaluate tools for your MSP or MSSP business. When considering a solution, ask these questions:

  • Is MFA (multi-factor authentication) supported?
  • Does the platform support high availability?
  • Is your data backed up?
  • Can you access your data?
  • Does the vendor have a responsible disclosure platform?
  • What is the vendor’s reputation for addressing vulnerabilities?
  • Do your tools have to meet any specific compliance standards?

Pricing transparency

Tooling is ultimately a business decision. If a platform has all the functionality you need but costs more than the value it delivers, it isn’t the right solution. For MSPs and MSSPs, transparent and scalable solution pricing is essential to growing your business.

When evaluating a platform’s pricing, ask these questions;

  • How long are the contracts?
  • Are there any minimum costs?
  • Are there different license tiers? How easy is it to upgrade or downgrade from one tier to another?
  • Is the pricing based on user or endpoint?

At Syncro, we believe your solutions should incentivize business growth, and the Syncro all-in-one integrated MSP platform has simple and transparent pricing. There are no minimums, no long-term contracts, and unlimited endpoints are supported.

Our pricing is based on a simple idea: per-user pricing incentivizes growth, while per-endpoint pricing penalizes it. As your business grows and you become more efficient, you should be able to support more endpoints per technician. A per-endpoint license effectively penalizes that growth as more endpoints mean more cost. A per-user license incentivizes efficiency and helps you become more cost-effective as you scale.

Support

Service providers’ ability to consistently provide quality service depends largely on their tools. The quality of support available for those tools can make a world of difference. If something goes wrong, how quickly can you resolve it? If you need to know how to address a specific workflow, is there a resource available to guide you? The answers to these questions can directly impact how well you address your clients’ needs.

While you’re evaluating MSP and MSSP solution vendors, consider the quality and availability of their support. Key questions to ask include:

  • Does vendor support come with an additional fee?
  • Does the platform have an active online community?
  • What’s the vendor’s reputation for support?
  • Does the platform have a knowledge base? How frequently is it updated?

In addition to checking the vendor’s website, look for activity in online communities where others in the industry are active such as Reddit, Facebook groups, and Spiceworks. User sentiment from across the web can help you understand how well a vendor supports its customers.

The best solution for MSPs

The Syncro platform is purpose-built to help MSPs run a profitable, reliable, and scalable business. It combines essential MSP features, including RMM, PSA, and remote access into a single integrated platform to help service providers streamline their business. Whether you’re a well-established MSP looking to optimize, or a startup that’s about to hire your first technician, Syncro can help you supercharge your business. To try Syncro for yourself, sign up for a free trial today.

Bobby Amos, Syncro

Bobby Amos

Product owner on Syncro’s product team, always striving for a better partner experience. Former MSP tech. Thoroughly immersed in pop culture.

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