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What is a Managed Service Provider and Other FAQs

It’s tough to keep pace with the rapid pace of changes in the IT landscape. What is a managed service provider and how can managed IT services help your business?

CDW Expert CDW Expert
What's Inside

Many businesses don’t have the IT staff to handle all their needs, or specific gaps in areas such as cybersecurity or network and infrastructure management. Enter your friendly neighborhood managed IT service provider, like CDW. What exactly is a managed service provider and what do you need to know before onboarding with one? What are the pros and cons of managed services? Read more for answers to these questions and many more.

What is a Managed Service Provider?

A managed service provider (MSP) is a third-party company a business hires to remotely manage its IT infrastructure and end-user systems. MSPs perform a set of managed services that the client defines. These services may include network and hybrid or cloud infrastructure management, as well as security, monitoring and many more.

How Do MSPs work?

When a business needs assistance in achieving its objectives, they may turn to an MSP to fill gaps in their IT system or staff. The MSP will begin communication by assessing the current environment of the organization, identifying areas for improvement, and providing recommendations to support their business goals. Since every organization is unique, the MSP will offer various service options to meet their specific needs.

Why would a business need an MSP?

Sometimes, a business may not have enough resources to handle all their IT needs in-house. That's where MSPs come in. They can provide IT expertise without requiring a large investment. Additionally, MSPs can support existing IT staff when budgets are limited or when other important tasks need to take priority. In times of disaster, MSPs can help businesses maintain continuity, or they can offer 24/7 monitoring services to enhance security. By partnering with an MSP, businesses can offload the management of their IT infrastructure and focus on other critical areas.

What services do MSPs typically provide?

Networking, cloud, and security are three primary areas where MSPs often focus, but it’s important to note that the breadth of managed services has evolved considerably in recent years. For many organizations, these relationships have become intrinsic to many aspects of IT strategy — a cost-effective way to cope with skills gaps and ensure the organization keeps pace with fast-changing technologies.

What are the typical pricing models for MSPs?

MSPs offer various pricing models to their customers, often under a subscription model.

  • One option is per-device pricing, where the MSP charges a fixed fee for each device it manages.
  • Another option is per-user pricing, where the MSP charges a flat fee for each user, accommodating those who use multiple devices.
  • All-inclusive pricing is also available, which includes a flat fee for infrastructure support and management services.
  • Tiered pricing is a popular MSP pricing model, where organizations can choose the bundle of services that best suits their needs.
  • Lastly, there is monitoring-only pricing, which covers only monitoring and alerting services for an organization's infrastructure.

What is a service-level agreement (SLA)? And what is included?

An SLA is a formal contract between a service provider and a client that outlines the expectations, responsibilities and performance metrics for the services being provided.  SLAs differ based on the type of managed service offered by the MSP, its size and automation capabilities, and the agreement between the MSP and the customer.

Do MSPs typically offer customizable services?

Yes. Networking, cloud and security are three primary areas where MSPs often focus, but it’s important to note that the breadth of managed services has evolved considerably in recent years. MSPs deliver expertise tailored to organizations’ needs, whether optimizing a hybrid work environment or managing compliance risks. CDW offers unparalleled expertise and experience to craft custom, vendor-agnostic solutions that help customers achieve critical objectives. 

How quickly do MSPs typically respond to IT issues?

The response time of an MSP depends on its size and capabilities, the implementation of automation, and the SLAs agreed upon between the MSP and the business. When selecting an MSP, it's crucial to inquire about their response time and automation abilities. It's also important to know if they offer extra support beyond the customer’s current requirements if additional assistance is needed in the future. Organizations shouldn’t hesitate to ask questions to ensure the MSP meets all their needs.

How can you get started with an MSP? What is the onboarding process like?

Getting started with an MSP

Prior to onboarding, businesses should be clear and specific about what they want to achieve from an MSP. Defining areas where the MSP can help, what the SLA looks like, and which key performance indicators (KPIs) will measure success is the best way to achieve the desired outcomes.

To proceed, a business must decide on their preferred MSP model. Would they prefer a dedicated team, or would they rather use resources from an MSP that supports various organizations?

It is important to involve key stakeholders, especially high-level executives, who can share their vision. However, businesses may often require an MSP due to a pressing issue. Therefore, it is recommended to involve IT team directors, managers and procurement officers in the decision-making process.

While interviewing an MSP, ask about automation. Once an MSP is selected, after an initial observation period, automation allows an MSP to provide the customer with valuable insight into potential automation opportunities.

Lastly, businesses should assess which MSP capabilities best align with their business goals and make their selection.

The onboarding process

When a company hires an MSP to manage its services, the MSP will start by asking a detailed questionnaire to understand the scope of work and services required. This will include information about employee contacts, existing services and IT management, technical and security specifications, and other business details.

Based on the company's needs, a team will be assigned to manage their services, and a welcome kit with detailed information about the terms of the agreement and work process will be provided. The MSP will then import all critical data required for their services, install and test remote monitoring and management, and schedule regular calls to provide updates based on the agreement.

What are 3 pros and cons of MSPs?


  1. Enhance Overall Operations
    MSPs also help increase operational efficiency, partly through their onboarding work of documenting processes for security and other areas. In establishing which tasks the MSP will handle, how they will respond, which decisions they can make and when they should escalate to the client, MSPs identify opportunities to improve and streamline processes to improve overall readiness and maturity.

  2. Leverage IT Expertise
    Another key benefit of managed services is partnering with highly seasoned teams of senior IT professionals well-versed in best practices, tools, solutions and strategies. Over time, these experts help organizations increase the reliability of their systems and processes by ensuring that services are consistent, SOPs are documented and quality assurance is implemented.

  3. Take Advantage of Automation
    Organizations often want to help identify manual processes to eliminate and make better use of their automation tools. MSPs can review major processes like customer onboarding to help organizations streamline before integrating or increasing automation. Ultimately, these efforts increase efficiency, reduce manual error risk and help address staffing concerns.


  1. Outsourcing IT
    One downside of using an MSP is that it involves outsourcing and relinquishing some control to a third party. However, for organizations that lack sufficient employee resources or budget to hire the necessary staff, an MSP can be a highly beneficial option.

  2. Not Every MSP Right for Your Business
    Not every customer is a good fit for a particular MSP. Sometimes a business’s own preferences may influence their decision to work with a larger or smaller MSP. It’s important to assess the type of attention and service your business requires before selecting an MSP. It’s important to note, that not all MSPs have the capability to provide the required number of professional experts on hand, so its imperative businesses make their selection carefully.

  3. Not all MSPs have robust automation capabilities
    Before finalizing their decision, it's important for customers to have a conversation with the MSP they’re considering about their experience and capabilities with automation. They should inquire about the tools the MSP uses and the extent of their automated operations. It's important to note that automation goes beyond risk reduction and is also critical for enhancing efficiency. The absence of automation may impede an MSP's ability to detect repetitive patterns, compromising security reliability.

Why choose CDW as your MSP?

CDW Managed Services will help you move faster by increasing and focusing the productivity of your staff, accelerating cloud adoption, and ensuring you are continuously compliant and secure. With a staff of more than 400 technical professionals who hold certifications across all infrastructure platforms, you can feel confident knowing that CDW has the expertise, scale and ITIL-based processes to meet the strictest SLA. Ready to get started? Contact us today.

Call 800.800.4239 to contact us now.