Channel partner programs, Content, SOC, Security Operations

MSPs Partnering With MSSPs: SolarWinds, Flexis Describe How

The myth: Armed with a few new products or services, small MSPs can fully transform into full-blown MSSPs (managed security services providers). The reality: Most small MSPs can't afford to build and staff full-blow security operations centers (SOCs).

Amid that sobering reality, thousands of MSPs worldwide face an inflection point. They need to push deeper into cybersecurity -- to lock down their own networks, and to safeguard end-customers from a lengthy list of cyber threats. In addition to gaining some in-house expertise, those MSPs may need to plug into MSSP partnerships or SOC as a Service (SOCaaS) providers for more advanced services.

MSP to MSSP Partnerships: Getting Started

Enter SolarWinds MSP and Flexis -- an outsourced NOC (network operation center) provider that has extended into the outsourced SOC sector.

Nick Blozan of Flexis
LinkedIn: Nick Blozan of Flexis
LinkedIn: Marco Muto of SolarWinds

Flexis is a SolarWinds Threat Monitoring Service Program member. That essentially means Flexis leverages SolarWinds Threat Monitor, a cloud-based security platform, for its MSSP services. Those Flexis services, in turn, are available for VARs and MSPs to consume and extend out to end-customers, according to Nick Blozan of Flexis.

During this week's SolarWinds Empower MSP conference in Atlanta, Flexis described a special Jump Start program designed to help MSPs get started with threat monitoring.

For about $895 per month, an MSP can plug into Flexis and gain threat monitoring that spans two end-customers as well as the MSP itself, Blozan says.

In fact, participating MSPs are required to consume the service -- a healthy development considering many partners don't have a feel for the threats that may be looming in their own networks.

MSP to MSSP Partnerships: SolarWinds Strategy

SolarWinds' vision for MSSP-to-MSP partnerships came into focus when the company acquired Trusted Metrics in July 2018.

At the time, Trusted Metrics was a fledgling SIEM (security information and event management) platform. The SolarWinds deal allowed Trusted Metrics to bring the product to market in a much, much bigger way, according to Trusted Metrics co-founder Marco Muto -- now director of business development at SolarWinds.

Still, the product -- now known as SolarWinds Threat Monitor -- isn't necessarily designed for all MSPs to consume on their own. Managing a SOC dashboard, Muto notes, is not the same as managing a NOC dashboard. With that reality in mind, SolarWinds built out its two-tier product strategy -- promoting Threat Monitor to MSSPs. And those MSSPs, in turn, can extend the services out to MSPs.

Over the past year, SolarWinds Threat Monitor has developed a go-to-market strategy that wasn't possible when Trusted Metrics was an independent startup, Muto notes. On the R&D front, the cloud-based system's back-end architecture is now faster and more scalable. Also, plugins to third-party security hardware and software have flourished, he adds.

Early MSSP partners include Flexis, Falanx Group and Secuvant -- though I haven't checked in with Falanx and Secuvant in several months and need to do so.

One Size Fits All? Not Exactly

Generally speaking, MSSP Alert believes in the multi-tier delivery of SOC services -- extending from the software vendor to the MSSP, down to MSPs, and then out to end-customers. But we certainly realize there are numerous ways for MSPs to gain SOC-like services.

Additional options include many SOC as a Service software platforms, which potentially drive down staffing requirements through automation. Also, a lengthy list of MSP-friendly technology companies are introducing MSSP-type monitoring services for their MSP partners. Examples include ConnectWise investing in Perch; Continuum promoting Empower cybersecurity services to MSPs; and GreatAmerica Financial Services promoting Collabrance for NOC, SOC and MSSP services.

Overall, I believe the MSSP-to-MSP partnering market is making progress. Companies like SolarWinds MSP and Flexis say the latest financial and consumption models allow partners to generate profit margins that weren't possible before the age of cloud-based SOC software.

MSPs and Risk Mitigation: Still Getting Up to Speed

Still, it's early in the MSSP-to-MSP partner game. Many MSPs are still evaluating a build, buy or partner strategy in the MSSP market. Dozens of software companies and large MSSPs are formulating SOCaaS partner programs. And frankly, thousands of MSPs are trying to wrap their arms around the basics of risk management.

With all those variables in mind, Flexis is looking to grow at a responsible pace with MSP partners. "We don't want to go for a pure volume play," Blozan says. "We're looking to onboard MSPs that have true interest in the technology, and are willing to go out to market with us. We will never, by the way, have direct relationships or direct engagements with our MSP's end-customers."

On a similar note, SolarWinds MSP has no plans to set up its own SOC. Instead, the Threat Monitor team will focus on their core competency -- delivering cybersecurity software to MSSPs.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.