AWS Partner Network (APN) Blog

AWS MSP Partner Program – Raising the Bar

By Barbara Kessler and Thomas Robinson

In our last post about the evolution of managed services, we wrote about how the landscape is evolving for managed service providers (MSPs) who are working with customers in hyperscale cloud environments. In our opinion, established MSPs can no longer focus exclusively on running and operating their customers’ environments and must expand their reach further up the stack and into what has traditionally been the purview of consulting companies to include professional services and greater involvement in customers’ requirements such as compliance and development practices. This evolution also opens the door for established Consulting Partners to expand their reach into what has traditionally been the purview of MSPs, but now includes next gen capabilities. This evolution is driving a convergence that allows both types of APN Partners to fulfill customers’ full lifecycle needs: plan/design >> build/migrate >> run/operate >> optimize. Let’s now expand that discussion to review the AWS Managed Service Provider Program for APN Partners and how this program recognizes and validates the capabilities of the next generation of bar-raising MSPs.

This program has grown out of customers asking AWS to help them identify not what they have traditionally viewed as MSPs, but consulting and professional services APN Partners who can help them with this full lifecycle. We have in turn built this program to connect this request from customers to the best qualified APN Partners to deliver the kind of experience that is being sought. The program introduces a rigorous set of validation requirements in the AWS MSP Partner Validation Checklist that are assessed in a 3rd party audit process. These requirements address each of the areas discussed in our previous post:

Design, architect, automate

Next gen MSPs must be AWS experts. They must possess a depth and breadth of knowledge around AWS services and features, so they are asked to demonstrate this knowledge and provide examples of customer use cases as a critical part of their MSP audit. APN Partners must then expand this to show evidence of detailed designs and implemented customer solutions. These APN Partners must also demonstrate the ability to identify when solutions such as Amazon DynamoDB, AWS Lambda, or Amazon Redshift would provide a more efficient and less costly solution in their customers’ environments. We are looking to see that these leading edge APN Partners are leveraging their knowledge and using documented AWS best practices, as well as their own extensive experience, to create intelligent and highly automated architectures that allow customers to take advantage of the agility that the AWS Cloud enables.

Software/Cloud-based solutions

The move to cloud-based solutions has also driven changes in how MSPs handle billing and cost management for their customers. AWS MSPs are often also AWS Resellers and as such they become experts in AWS tools and services that allow depth of visibility and understanding around customers’ usage of various services. These MSPs typically leverage 3rd party or homegrown software solutions that enable robust rebilling capabilities and insights including proactive recommendations and proposed buying strategies, including proactive recommendations on instance sizing, reserved instance purchases, and use of managed solutions such as Amazon RDS. All AWS Resellers are asked to demonstrate this knowledge and their tools during their MSP validation audit.

Distributed operations and resources

We also dive deep into our partners’ support capabilities to validate the maturity of their operations and ability to consistently deliver an excellent customer experience. In addition to meeting industry standards for IT service management (ITSM), AWS MSPs demonstrate how these capabilities apply specifically to their AWS practices in areas such as service intelligence monitoring, customer dashboards, event/incident/problem management, change management, as well as release and deployment management. We believe that this foundation is critical to delivering a highly valuable experience for customers. APN Partners who are looking to expand into cloud operations capabilities can also consider incorporating the new AWS Managed Services for automating AWS infrastructure operations such as patch management, security, backup, and provisioning to add to their applications management capabilities.

Solution/Application-based SLAs

MSPs have traditionally provided Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to customers to address foundational concerns, such as response and restoration times, as well as infrastructure uptime, but this further evolves for next gen MSPs. Infrastructure SLAs for cloud-centric customers focus not on the uptime of hardware, but on uptime based on high availability architecture provided and maintained by the MSP. These SLAs should then expand into the customers’ workloads and application performance to focus on the outcome of experience of the customer. Review of these SLAs, documentation, processes, metrics and continual improvements are a valuable aspect of the MSP Program audit.

DevOps – CI/CD

AWS MSPs enable additional agility and efficiency for their customers through integration of DevOps practices and principles. ITSM standards for infrastructure and application release and deployment management are already broadly adopted by next gen MSPs and are baseline requirements for AWS MSP Program Partners. APN Partners demonstrate how they enable and/or manage continual integration and continual deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, as well as deployment and release management with repeatable and reusable mechanisms. APN Partners are asked to evidence this capability with a demonstration and customer examples during their 3rd party audit. We also encourage APN Partners to further build and enhance their DevOps practices through attainment of the DevOps Competency for Consulting Partners, which garners additional credit in the audit process.

Dynamic monitoring with anomaly detection

By designing and implementing advanced and intelligent environments, leveraging auto scaling, infrastructure as code and self-healing elements, next gen MSPs enable a significant shift in the focus of their ongoing monitoring and management efforts. AWS MSPs embrace a new approach utilizing next generation monitoring capabilities. Rather than setting a pre-defined static monitoring thresholds, these APN Partners often incorporate machine learning to determine normal state for their customers’ dynamic environments and they are able identify anomalies outside of normal patterns of behavior. These APN Partners then use this knowledge to deliver valuable management services and insights to their customers, the technology for which they demonstrate during the AWS MSP audit.

Security by design

Significant focus on security is another bar-raising element of the AWS MSP Partner Program. Next gen MSPs are engaging with customers earlier in the plan/design phase and they are able to address security needs from the onset of a project. During the AWS MSP audit, partners are asked to provide evidence and demonstrate their capabilities to protect their customers’ environments, as well as their own, using industry standards and AWS best practices. They are also asked to review access management strategy, security event logging and retention, disaster recovery practices, and use of appropriate AWS tools. APN Partners are then given an opportunity to demonstrate how they use these tools and practices to deliver continuous compliance solutions to help customers achieve various regulatory compliance and reduce potential exposure in this capacity.

Trusted advisor and partner

In addition to reviewing APN partners’ specific technical capabilities in each of these categories, AWS works with APN Partners and our 3rd party auditors to provide an objective validation of broader business practices and capabilities. During their audit, APN Partners provide an overview of their business, including financial assessments, risk mitigation, succession planning, employee satisfaction, resource planning, and supplier management, amongst other controls. They also provide evidence of their process to solicit and collect objective customer feedback, respond to that feedback, and conduct regular reviews with their customers. We also look to AWS MSPs to be vocal thought leaders who evangelize the next gen MSP point of view and work to educate customers on the evolution of cloud managed services and specifically the value of DevOps enabled automation. Due to the invaluable role of the AWS MSP, APN Partners must demonstrate in the third-party audit the viability of their business, their obsessive focus on customers, and their thought leadership to enable them to earn and maintain a trusted advisor role with their customers.

Raising the Bar

The AWS MSP Partner Program recognizes APN Partners who embrace this new approach to providing cloud managed services and who are experts that can unlock agility and innovation for their customers. The rigorous process of the program validation audit is designed to be consultative in nature to continually share best practices and deliver significant value for the APN Partners participating, while also giving customers a means to confidently identify those APN Partners whose have raised the bar in managed services. Please see the MSP Program webpage to learn more and to find the current list of validated APN Partners.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of next gen MSPs? Talk to us in the comments section!