MSSP panel dishes on pains, pleasures of managed security model

Panel members Struters (second from left), Dawson (centre) and Perez (second from right), flanked by Intel Security's Richard Steranka (left) and Ken McCray (right)

Panel members Struters (second from left), Dawson (centre) and Perez (second from right), flanked by Intel Security’s Richard Steranka (left) and Ken McCray (right)

Even for solution providers used to some of the concepts of managed services, moving to a managed security services model or embracing managed security services as part of a business model requires a substantial re-think for many channel partners, a panel of MSSPs said.

At Intel Security’s recent North American Partner Conference in Boca Raton, Florida, three of the company’s top channel partners — all of whom happen include managed security services in their offerings — took to the main stage to discuss a variety of topics, and managed security services was naturally on the agenda.

All three of the companies involved —  Toronto-based Information Systems Architects (ISA), represented by president Kevin Dawson, Calfornia-based Dyntek, represented by Steve Struthers, vice president for the company’s security and federal businesses, and Chile-based Novared, represented by CEO Miguel Perez — came from a “traditional” channel background before moving into managed security, and the three shared a view that going into the process, they thought it was going to be an easier transition that it ended up being.

“My belief we that I could take any extra capacity in my professional services team and throw them at my Security Operations Centre and staff it that way,” Dawson said. The reality has been somewhat different, with a very different skill set required to effective offer managed security. In the end, he said, managed security staff focused on managed security, and professional services staff on professional services. That’s not to say there isn’t interaction between the two — Dawson reported that adding managed security services has helped the company find professional services opportunities as well.

Perez echoed Dawson’s though, saying that heading into managed security, Novared thought “it was an easy business.” The reality? Not so much. Perhaps the biggest change is the level of intimiacy one has with a customer in the managed security services model, as well as how the customer looks at the solution provider in the case of emergency.

“When you’re a reseller doing professional services, when the client has a problem, you’re healer. As an MSSP, you’re not a healer,” Perez said. “You’re right there with them, and that’s the main struggle to build the MSSP. You’re in a relationship, and everything that’s happening, you have to know.”

But there’s a fine balance in providing feedback and offering solutions, he warned. Come to your customers with too many false positives, and you’ll be seen as a lackluster MSSP. But miss something and have an incident happen? That doesn’t go over very well either.

“It’s a different DNA in terms of how you approach the business,” Perez said.

So what drives managed security sales? For Struthers, one big driver has been to take customers through their current security standpoint, including the number of products they have currently bought, but not yet deployed. As he put it, managed services helps them solve the ‘I haven’t even got what I ordered in the last renewal cycle fully implemented yet’ problem.

For Dawson, the threat — and reality — of ransomeware attacks has been a big driver.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had any of our managed services customers hit by ransomware, but as we remediate the cases we get on the other side, it’s driving the managed services business,” he said.

While the three agreed that ultimately, security will be sold as “dial tone” — or a fully service-based subscription, Struthers in particular warned security vendors against moving too quickly away from the sale of products and solutions that address particular threats and opportunities.

“That’s still where budgets are going to be drawn up for a little while to come,” he said.

The three also tackled the issue of Intel Security’s “platform” approach to security. Perez called platform a good idea, but warned that Intel Security isn’t alone in heading in that direction.

Dawson suggested Intel Security is in a unique position to support such a platform, given Intel writ large’s unique experience in promoting “platforms” that aren’t a product unto themselves, but that drive the products built on those platforms forward, offering the example of USB.

“It’s an example of a platform that Intel has created that’s changed the landscape not just for Intel but for everyone,” he said. “Intel will profit, but it will also be a layer anyone can build in to, which makes it a platform not only for Intel, but for the whole industry. Intel never sold USB, but they sold way more laptops as a result of USB.”