The most basic task that an MSP performs is helping people and companies with their technology problems. Your computer won't start, a piece of software you need won't load anymore, or (mine and most tech's least favorite) your printer won't work.

You probably have a family member or friend that everyone in the family goes to with their computer questions (if you're reading this, there's a good chance that's you). MSPs are usually started by that person. They get asked to help people enough, and they enjoy helping, so they make a business out of it so they can do it full-time.

These helpers often start out charging by the hour or doing fixed prices for certain tasks. Maybe they open a store-front repair shop, or get into helping small businesses ("hey, my buddy's starting a business, can you help him get his accounting software set up?"). However, these businesses are not quite MSPs.

The difference between the computer repair businesses and an MSP is the billing model. MSPs provide technology support under a subscription model. The pricing models vary quite a bit, but they generally have customers sign a long-term contract and the customers pay a fixed monthly price for the services. This model provides income stability for the MSP, and encourages them to automate as much of the general maintenance as possible. For the customer it provides them a more predictable IT budget and peace of mind of protection from most technology disasters.

MSP's services vary widely too. They usually start with providing support for issues, providing regular preventative maintenance, security monitoring, and backups. However, they often provide advice and guidance on how to use technology better. They can be a key strategic ally to a business. Some MSPs are very specialized and only take care of certain key technologies.

So, if you read this far, you're probably still wondering what MSP stands for. MSP is short for "Managed Services Provider". I think it might be the least-clarifying acronym I know, but once you understand what it really means then it starts to make sense. An MSP is a service provider who manages some aspects of your technology.

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