MSP vs MSSP: The Difference and History

Businesses can create personalized security solutions, whether purchasing products they implement and manage themselves or outsourcing their cybersecurity to a trusted partner. When outsourcing, companies choose from managed service providers (MSPs) and managed security service providers (MSSPs) solutions. Here, we will explain historical differences between MSPs and MSSPs and offer a modern perspective on these business models.

The Market Need for MSPs and MSSPs

The need for assistance with cybersecurity tracks back to the early days of the Internet. Users needed tools to hide specific traffic from prying eyes (encryption) and control access to certain networks (firewalls). Originally, organizations bought, deployed, and managed their own solutions; however, cybersecurity soon became a confusing market space overbrimming with specialized products.

Many companies sought help to manage the process of sourcing, purchasing and installing new security solutions. Systems integrators, IT consultants, manufacturer representatives, and value-added resellers (VARs) surfaced to fulfill such needs.

As threats evolved, devices multiplied, and networks became more complex, businesses looked for a different answer – one that more closely resembled the “outsourced IT helpdesk model” that was becoming quite popular. In addition to the VARs and consultants willing to lead a cybersecurity project, managed service providers (MSPs) offered to source and install security products as well as manage the overall security solution as an ongoing service.

MSP vs MSSP – What’s the Difference?

Both MSPs and MSSPs offer managed services to their clients instead of one-time, project-based consulting and deployment contracts. Historically, an MSP delivered a broad range of products and systems as outsourced IT services, but did not offer cybersecurity. An MSSP specialized in security, with comprehensive, on-demand security as a service and sometimes cybersecurity compliance services, but didn’t cross over into basic IT services. Today, many provide both IT and security in their offering, and the MSP and MSSP terms are often used interchangeably as the solutions have merged.
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What Is an MSP?

Any company offering managed services such as IT helpdesk, backup/restore, and sometimes cybersecurity, is a managed service provider. Rather than collecting a one-time payment when the project is complete and returning only for renewals and hardware replacements, MSPs charge an ongoing monthly fee per user, per site, or per device – usually for a pre-determined minimum period (e.g. 36 months). In return, they perform the actions that the in-house team might otherwise do.

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What Is an MSSP?

Managed security service providers (MSSPs) can be referred to as a specific kind of MSP, one that emphasizes, differentiates, and markets their cybersecurity talent and specialized expertise. Today, some MSSPs employ teams of highly trained security experts working at a security operations center (SOC) for round-the-clock advanced security. It’s an excellent option for companies that are happy to manage their IT functions themselves but want to outsource security to the “experts.”

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A Modern Take on MSP and MSSP Terms

We now see a considerable blending of the managed service business models. MSPs have acquired MSSPs to add security services to their offering, but they continue to promote themselves as MSPs. Additionally, MSSPs have expanded beyond security with IT so that they can grow and compete with the MSPs, but they still refer to themselves as MSSPs. The result is that the terms MSP and MSSP have become synonymous in the market. The terminology could be a clue into a provider’s history or corporate priorities, but the reality is that you will need to ask about their specific services rather than make any assumptions based on an MSP or MSSP designation.

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Does WatchGuard Support MSPs or MSSPs?

WatchGuard supports all business models with our products, services, and resources. To simplify our written content, WatchGuard uses managed service provider as the “superset” term, meaning any business that provides managed services, including MSPs and MSSPs. Our partners choose the language that works for them. Whether they prefer MSP or MSSP, we are committed to providing them with a Unified Security Platform® architecture that enables efficient, powerful security services with increased efficiency, scale and velocity.

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