What Fits Your Organization Best: MSP or MSSP?

May 6, 2024

Are you grappling with understanding the difference between a managed service provider (MSP) and a managed security service provider (MSSP)? Well, you're not alone. Many companies, particularly those concerned about their cybersecurity posture, often find themselves in the conundrum of choosing between these two types of service providers.


Here's a quick breakdown to clear the fog:


  • Managed Service Provider (MSP): Focuses on managing and ensuring your IT systems and infrastructure are operational.
  • Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP): Specializes in security, guarding your company's data and system and ensuring compliance with industry regulations.


Like a pair of binoculars, each lens represents one type of service provider. Together, they give a broader, more comprehensive view, but each individual lens shows different details.


This guide delves into the key differences between MSPs and MSSPs, their roles, services offered and pivotal factors to consider while deciding which type of provider better suits your business needs. Let's untangle the complexity and get you on the right path to holistic and practical IT and cybersecurity management.



Understanding Managed Service Providers (MSPs)

As businesses increasingly rely on digital operations, having a well-functioning IT infrastructure is crucial to success. This is where managed service providers (MSPs) come into play.


The Role of MSPs in IT Operations and Infrastructure Management

MSPs provide a broad range of IT services, primarily focusing on the administration, support and management of their client’s systems, databases and applications. They play a crucial role in ensuring the smooth day-to-day operations of a business. Their services include managing IT infrastructure, like network routing and web proxy configurations, and overseeing applications' and databases' access, sustainment and use.


Furthermore, MSPs provide essential help desk support to staff and manage user access accounts on customers’ systems. This often involves tasks such as Active Directory management and provisioning software, which includes deployment, maintenance or upgrades.


Services Offered by MSPs

MSPs offer a wide variety of services tailored to meet the specific needs of a business. Some of the standard services provided by MSPs include:


  • Technical support: They provide instant IT assistance to solve any technical issues that might arise
  • Remote work monitoring: MSPs ensure the security and efficiency of remote working environments
  • End-user management: They handle the management of end-user systems and applications
  • Help desk services: MSPs provide a single point of contact for users to get help with IT-related issues
  • Cloud migration: They assist businesses in moving their data and applications to the cloud
  • Automation: MSPs streamline business operations by implementing automation techniques


Benefits of Using MSPs

MSPs improve day-to-day business efficiency and productivity by handling IT management tasks. This allows businesses to focus their resources on core operations. MSPs also enable the scaling of client operations, ensuring that its IT infrastructure can keep up as a business grows. They are particularly beneficial for small businesses that lack the resources to staff large, experienced IT departments. Moreover, MSPs ensure the health and maintenance of the network and systems, reducing downtime and the associated costs.


Despite their wide-ranging IT services, it's important to note that while MSPs can provide baseline cybersecurity services, their primary focus differs. This is the key difference between MSP and MSSP. The latter exclusively focuses on providing cybersecurity services, which we'll dive into in the following section.



Understanding Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs)

MSSPs play a crucial role in today's digital landscape, especially as cybersecurity threats evolve and become more complex. Let's delve into the role of MSSPs, their services and the benefits of using them.


The Role of MSSPs in Cybersecurity

While MSPs focus on ensuring your IT systems are operational, managed security service providers (MSSPs) take it further by offering specialized security services. MSSPs are like your business's personal cybersecurity experts, providing top-tier cybersecurity skills to organizations that prefer to look externally for their protection.


Often, companies turn to MSSPs when they need more internal cybersecurity expertise and around the clock coverage, especially in highly regulated industries like banking and healthcare. In such scenarios, MSSPs provide superior expertise to ensure the company's network is secure and compliant with industry regulations.


Services Offered by MSSPs

MSSPs provide numerous security services, often on a 24/7/365 basis, to ensure your business is always protected. These services can include:



In addition, MSSPs offer more specific guidance and services, such as compliance consulting and assessments, incident remediation suggestions, vulnerability assessments, penetration testing and threat intelligence.


Benefits of Using MSSPs

Engaging with an MSSP has several benefits. First, the 24/7/365 monitoring frees up valuable internal resources to focus on priority business objectives. Second, MSSPs bring in-depth cybersecurity knowledge, expertise and technology that organizations may need to tackle the latest threats and remain compliant with changing regulations. It can be easy for security companies to be in their own world, and outside opinions or assessments can provide new strategies and perspectives. Additionally, MSSP’s typically have deep relationships with partners and vendors enabling access to specialized resources and in-depth knowledge.


MSSPs can also help businesses with understanding and implementing industry-standard technology platforms or frameworks. For example, an organization’s staff may have basic IT management knowledge, but they need help with more complex security tasks, like protecting data and managing security programs. If you need to align with a cybersecurity framework like NIST CFC or ISO 27001, an MSSP would be an ideal choice.


Finally, for businesses that need comprehensive IT and security services, partnering with an MSP and an MSSP can provide a single point of contact for all your IT and security needs.



Key Differences Between MSPs and MSSPs

As we delve deeper into managed services, it's crucial to understand the key differences between MSPs and MSSPs. These differences revolve around the scope of services, specialized expertise and operational focus.


Scope of Services

The first distinction lies in the services they provide. An MSP offers a broad range of IT services that cover operations and infrastructure management. They manage IT infrastructure, provide help desk support, manage user access accounts and provision software. On the other hand, an MSSP focuses solely on providing comprehensive cybersecurity services. From endpoint and network protection to threat detection and response, MSSPs provide specialized security services that MSPs may not offer in as much depth.


Specialized Expertise

While MSPs can provide cybersecurity services as part of their offering, they typically need to gain the specialized expertise that MSSPs possess. MSSPs have a dedicated focus on cybersecurity, equipping them with deep knowledge and skills to combat the evolving landscape of cyber threats.


Operational Focus

Finally, the operational focus of MSPs and MSSPs is different. MSPs operate out of a network operations center (NOC) and focus on improving business efficiency, enabling the scaling of client operations, and ensuring the health and maintenance of the network and systems. In contrast, MSSPs operate from a security operations center (SOC) to stop breaches, decrease risk, ensure systems are up-to-date and meet compliance standards. They continuously monitor and protect the infrastructure and respond swiftly to system intrusions.


Understanding the difference between MSP and MSSP services is vital to making informed decisions about your business's IT and cybersecurity needs. At Optiv, we combine the strengths of both MSPs and MSSPs to offer comprehensive and integrated services that cater to your specific needs. We aim to ensure your business is always protected, efficient and compliant.



The Intersection of MSP and MSSP Offerings

As the digital landscape evolves and threats become more complex, the lines between managed service providers (MSPs) and managed security service providers (MSSPs) are increasingly blurring. This is due to a growing need for a more integrated approach to IT and cybersecurity services.


How MSPs are Expanding into Cybersecurity

With the rise in cyber threats, MSPs recognize the need to enhance their service offerings beyond maintaining IT infrastructure and operations to include more robust security measures.


Continuous education is crucial for MSPs to gain the experience and knowledge needed to expand their cybersecurity practice. For instance, they can enhance the security expertise of existing MSP employees through dedicated training or certifications. This not only adds value to the services they provide, but also ensures that their client's IT systems are both operational and secure.


The Blurring Lines Between MSPs and MSSPs

On the other hand, MSSPs, who are solely focused on security, have recognized the need for a more comprehensive approach to IT management. Some MSSPs have begun incorporating more traditional IT services into their offerings, giving clients a more holistic solution. Still, MSPs are unlikely to match the specialized expertise that a true MSSP can offer.


Many organizations operate with both MSP and MSSP offerings, allowing customers to reap the benefits of both services. This integrated approach ensures that clients receive well-rounded IT and security protection.



Choosing Between MSP and MSSP: Factors to Consider

When deciding between an MSP and an MSSP, there are several key factors to consider. It's about finding the right balance between operational efficiency and cybersecurity risk management. Here's how to assess your business needs, evaluate your level of cybersecurity risk and understand the cost implications.


Assessing Your Business Needs

What are your business's current IT capabilities and the level of risk you're willing to accept? If you lack in-house IT abilities or need help setting up your infrastructure, an MSP could be the right solution. They can provide “do it for me” ease when it comes to your IT, freeing up your team to focus on strategic work.


On the other hand, if you have basic IT capabilities but need advanced protection for your data and networks, you might benefit from an MSSPs deep security expertise and ability to align your business with cybersecurity frameworks like NIST CFC or ISO 27001.


Evaluating the Level of Cybersecurity Risk

If you're handling sensitive data or operating in a highly regulated industry, you might need a higher level of security than an MSSP can provide. MSSPs can conduct risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and implement proactive measures to mitigate these risks.


A robust cybersecurity program can help protect your organization from financial and reputational damage caused by a data breach or cyberattack.


Understanding the Cost Implications

While MSSPs may initially seem more expensive, they can provide significant cost savings in the long run. MSSPs can eliminate the need to hire full-time in-house resources and can offer cost-effective solutions to manage your security needs. In contrast, MSPs may have lower upfront costs but might not provide the level of protection your business requires.


The cost of a cybersecurity breach can be far more significant than the cost of proactive protection. It's worth investing in robust security measures to safeguard your business.



5 Benefits of Integrated MSP and MSSP Services

There are several advantages of leveraging integrated MSP and MSSP services:


  1. Single Point of Contact: You have one point of contact for all your IT and security needs. This simplifies communication and ensures that your issues are resolved efficiently and effectively.
  2. Comprehensive IT Solution: A holistic service covering all IT operations and cybersecurity aspects. This means you don't have to juggle multiple vendors for different services.
  3. Cost Efficiency: Integrating MSP and MSSP services eliminates the need to hire separate teams or vendors, leading to significant cost savings.
  4. Enhanced Security: Advanced security solutions that go beyond the traditional offerings of MSPs, ensuring your business is protected against sophisticated cyber threats.
  5. Access to Expertise: It comprises experts in both IT and security fields. This ensures that your business benefits from the best practices in both areas.




Understanding the difference between MSP and MSSP can significantly influence your approach to managing your IT infrastructure and cybersecurity needs.


As the lines between MSPs and MSSPs are blurring in an increasingly interconnected digital landscape, many MSPs are upscaling their capabilities to meet growing client demands. This is where we at Optiv step in, providing a harmonious blend of MSP and MSSP services tailored to your needs. In our role as an MSSP, we offer services that include the management of security tools, threat management, incident response (IR), and forensics. Our high-availability security operations centers (SOCs) are staffed 24/7/365, providing real-time security monitoring and rapid response to security incidents.


For more insights, explore our managed security services and discover how to extend your security team and maximize resources. To delve deeper into our MSP services, check out our technology services that help clients manage, maintain and monitor their technology investments in real-time. We are not just a service provider; we aim to be your trusted partner in your journey towards achieving a secure digital future. Contact us today.

John Pelton
Senior Director of Cyber Operations | Optiv
John Pelton is Optiv’s Sr. Director of Detection in Response within Managed Services and leads a team in safeguarding clients’ environments comprised of engineers, analysts and hunters. John has previously led client success organizations and has a heavy emphasis on client satisfaction, process optimizations and effective risk management.
Frank Giannetta
Senior Vice President, Cyber Managed Operations | Optiv