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MSPs vs MSSPs: Key Differences & When to Choose Each

MSPs vs MSSPs: Key Differences and When to Choose Each As organizations become more reliant on technology, securing IT infrastructure from cyber threats is a […]

MSPs vs MSSPs: Key Differences and When to Choose Each

As organizations become more reliant on technology, securing IT infrastructure from cyber threats is a growing concern. Many companies look to outsource management of these critical systems to external providers. Two common options are managed service providers (MSPs) and managed security service providers (MSSPs). But what exactly is the difference between an MSP and MSSP, and when should you choose one over the other?

MSPs vs MSSPs: Key Differences & When to Choose Each

MSPs vs MSSPs: Key Differences & When to Choose Each

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What is an MSP?

A managed service provider (MSP) delivers ongoing support and management of a company's IT systems and infrastructure. This typically includes services like:

  • Server, network, and desktop monitoring and maintenance
  • Data backup and disaster recovery
  • Cloud hosting and migration
  • Help desk and technical support
  • Hardware/software procurement and licensing

In the past, MSPs mainly offered break-fix support. But today, their role is much broader - acting as an outsourced IT department for small and mid-size businesses. MSPs provide round-the-clock monitoring, maintenance, and support through advanced tools and NOCs (network operations centers).

Key benefits of partnering with an MSP include:

  • Reducing IT costs by eliminating the need for in-house IT staff and infrastructure
  • Enhancing efficiency by leveraging MSP expertise and best practices
  • Improving uptime and reliability through proactive monitoring and maintenance
  • Enabling internal staff to focus on core business activities rather than IT administration
  • Accessing enterprise-level tools, technologies, and support typicaly out of reach for SMBs
  • Scaling IT capabilities up or down as business needs change

As trusted advisors, MSPs also help companies make strategic technology decisions to support their goals. They provide technology roadmaping, budget planning, vendor selection, project management, and other advisory services. Top MSPs act as an extension of their clients' teams.

MSP Services and Solutions

MSPs today provide a vast array of IT services and solutions. Some examples include:

Monitoring and Management: 24/7 monitoring, alerting, patching, antivirus updates, performance optimization, remote access, reporting, and more.

Help Desk: Ticketing, troubleshooting, end user support, training, how-tos, self-service portals, and service level agreements.

Business Continuity: Data backup, disaster recovery planning, redundant infrastructure, emergency response protocols.

Cloud Services: Migration assistance, multi-cloud management, optimization, governance, cost management, architecture design.

Cybersecurity: Firewalls, endpoint detection and response, access controls, VPN, email security, vulnerability scans, penetration testing.

Procurement: Hardware/software purchasing, licensing management, vendor management, asset inventory, contract negotiation.

Project Management: Technology roadmaps, budgeting, deployments, migrations, change management, resource allocation.

Compliance: Assessments, audits, policy development, controls implementation, managed compliance services.

This breadth of offerings allows MSP clients to outsource a wide range of IT functions and adopt flexible consumption models like pay-as-you-go billing.

What is an MSSP?

A managed security service provider (MSSP) delivers specialized security services to protect IT systems and data. Common services include:

  • 24/7 security monitoring
  • Endpoint protection
  • Threat detection and response
  • Email security
  • Security awareness training
  • Vulnerability assessments
  • Compliance audits

MSSPs leverage advanced SOC (security operations center) facilities to continuously monitor networks, endpoints, logs, and traffic across a client's environment. They use threat intelligence and analytics to detect and respond to security incidents. MSSPs also provide expertise and skilled resources to augment internal IT security teams.

With cyber attacks growing in frequency, sophistication, and impact, businesses are increasingly turning to MSSPs to manage core security functions. This enables companies to stay ahead of emerging threats, address skill gaps, and meet compliance requirements in a complex threat landscape.

MSSP Capabilities

MSSPs offer a robust set of security capabilities, including:

Threat Monitoring: Endpoint detection, intrusion detection, behavioral analysis, log review, traffic inspection.

Incident Response: Malware analysis, forensic investigation, containment, remediation recommendations.

Awareness Training: Security education for staff, phishing simulations, risk assessments.

Vulnerability Management: External/internal scans, penetration testing, remediation tracking.

Policy Audits: Reviews of policies, controls, architectures; gap analysis and roadmaps.

Compliance Services: Certification assistance, audits, controls mapping, managed compliance processes.

Staff Augmentation: Certified security experts as an extension of in-house teams.

Security Stack Management: Selection, implementation, optimization, and support of security tools.

Threat Intelligence: Access to real-time intel on emerging threats, adversaries, and campaigns.

By leveraging MSSP expertise and resources, organizations can strengthen defenses and focus their internal staff on other priorities.

MSP vs MSSP: Key Differences

While MSPs and MSSPs both provide ongoing managed IT services, there are some key differences:

MSP (Managed Service Provider) MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider)
Handle overall IT infrastructure and operations Focus solely on security
Have broad IT expertise Have specialized security skills and experience
Offer expansive services like help desk, cloud, backup, etc. Provide security-centric services like monitoring, threat management, and training
Utilize RMM (Remote Monitoring and Management) software Leverage advanced SOC (Security Operations Center) facilities and SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) platforms

Some other key distinctions:

  • Tools and technology: MSPs use remote monitoring and management (RMM) software as their core platform. MSSPs rely on security information and event management (SIEM) solutions, security orchestration and response (SOAR) platforms, endpoint detection and response (EDR), and other security-focused tech.
  • Staffing: MSPs have general IT expertise across networks, servers, applications, help desk, cloud, etc. MSSPs maintain staff with specialized skills like threat hunting, malware analysis, ethical hacking, compliance audit experience, and security certifications.
  • Services scope: MSPs provide a wide array of IT services whereas MSSPs focus specifically on security services. However, leading MSPs offer security services or partner with MSSPs to provide layered IT and security.
  • Proactive vs reactive: MSP services take a proactive approach focused on optimization and prevention. MSSPs are more reactive, continuously monitoring and responding to threats.
  • Reporting: MSP reporting centers on IT performance and operations. MSSPs report on security incidents, vulnerabilities, compliance gaps, and security program maturity.

In many cases, businesses will partner with both types of providers - leveraging an MSP for core IT services and an MSSP to effectively manage security. This integrated approach provides full-spectrum visibility and protection.

When to Choose an MSPs vs MSSPs

Here are some guidelines on when to select an MSP over an MSSP and vice versa:

Choose an MSP when you need:

  • Help managing day-to-day IT infrastructure and operations
  • Technical support across hardware, software, networks, cloud, etc.
  • Strategic guidance on IT investments and initiatives
  • Flexible IT staffing and skills augmentation
  • A proactive partner to optimize and enhance IT productivity and reliability
  • End-to-end management of IT systems

Choose an MSSP when you need:

  • Specialized security expertise, resources, and capabilities
  • Advanced threat monitoring, detection, and response
  • Assistance meeting compliance requirements
  • Core security functions managed by seasoned professionals
  • A partner solely focused on security strategy, management, and operations
  • Robust security capabilities like SOC monitoring, pen testing, and threat intel

While their roles differ, partnering with both an MSP and MSSP can provide end-to-end management of IT infrastructure and security - enabling businesses to focus on core objectives without disruption.

Hybrid Approach

More and more companies are taking a hybrid approach by working with an MSP that provides integrated IT and security services. Leading MSPs offer a full spectrum of cybersecurity solutions via in-house experts or partnerships with specialized security firms. This model gives clients the best of both worlds - a trusted MSP partner to manage IT along with robust security capabilities.

Benefits of a hybrid MSP-MSSP approach include:

  • A single provider and point of contact for both IT and security
  • Tight integration between systems management and security monitoring/response
  • Shared knowledge and coordinated workflows
  • Flexibility to toggle services based on evolving needs
  • Cost efficiency of bundled IT and security services

For many mid-size enterprises and SMBs, partnering with a hybrid MSP for integrated technology and security management provides advantages over maintaining fragmented IT and security functions.

Choosing the Right Partner

As risks grow, taking a layered approach to IT management and security often makes the most sense long term. But it's important to choose providers carefully based on your needs and environment.

Here are some tips when evaluating MSPs and MSSPs:

  • Consider both the breadth of services offered and areas of specialty or expertise
  • Ensure the provider has experience supporting organizations like yours
  • Ask about their security strategies, technologies, certifications, and capabilities
  • Review sample reports, deliverables, and metrics to understand service models
  • Confirm they follow established best practices and frameworks
  • Validate certifications, compliance audits, and partnerships
  • Request client references to understand real-world performance
  • Evaluate cultural fit and look for long-term, trusted advisor relationships

Aligning with the right managed services partner(s) can transform IT and security operations, enabling your organization to thrive. Assess your needs, weigh the differences in MSP and MSSP approaches, and perform due diligence to select providers that best fit your environment and goals. This will allow you to offload day-to-day IT and security burdens and focus on business growth and innovation.


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