Many growing business owners and managers are overwhelmed by the increasing complexity of their IT environment—between an ever-expanding array of desktops, notebooks, servers, handheld devices, and software and the new demands of remote access (that add significantly to IT management complications).
With this evolution of ever more byzantine, yet critical applications, businesses need to support operating systems, desktops, and servers that are also continually evolving. For many businesses, outsourcing IT management is a lifeline.
Managed services is the practice of contracting out everyday IT management for a variety of specific functions. Ideally the managed services provider (MSP) is able to perform those functions more efficiently—from both a cost and work perspective— and also more effectively than the client.
For many businesses, the primary advantage of MSPs is that the business retains control of its IT assets—deciding exactly what they want the MSP to monitor and manage.
While MSPs perform a number of services, today the term most commonly refers to those that provide daily technology support and maximization operations. Most MSPs bill a flat or nearly fixed monthly fee—providing clients with predictable, easy to budget IT support costs.
MSPs deliver and manage network-based services, applications, and at times equipment. In addition to core network management, services often extend to the management of virtual private networks (VPNs), VoIP, unified messaging, call centers, video networking, firewalls, servers, and Web hosting.
Most of these services can be performed remotely (off the client’s premises). Among other benefits, this allows clients to save precious workspace footprint.
Basic benefits of managed services include:
-Low entry costs
-Preventing problems and reducing risk
-Quickly resolving problems that do occur
-Managing IT systems more proactively
-Managing IT systems more cost-effectively
-Reducing IT-related business interruptions.
-Freeing up the client’s IT staff to focus on more profitable, more beneficial projects
-Increased security through timely patching and increased visibility of exposure
-Hosted email services, spam and virus protection
-Assistance with forecasting IT expenditures.
-Online ticketing systems
MSPs help clients maximize their IT investment by getting the most out of everything they’ve paid for. A typical menu of client services includes:
-An initial assessment of the IT environment
-An initial assessment of management requirements
-Providing ongoing alerts on servers, workstations, laptops and network connectivity
-Providing ongoing security and patch management
-Providing assistance with backup and recovery
-Onsite support where necessary and logistically feasible
Basic services start with monitoring and notifications that include problems that clients agree to resolve themselves. More comprehensive services span the spectrum from alerts to problem resolution.
MSPs usually perform these services remotely from a central network operating center over the internet and price their services on a subscription basis. Because MSPs perform the same services for many clients, they can execute these functions more cost-effectively than companies could perform them internally. The fees are often based on the number of devices or the number of users in combination with the desired service level.
Choosing a Managed Services Provider
Not all MSPs have the same capabilities and offer the same services. The best providers have relevant experience; the infrastructure to provide continual management, maintenance, and monitoring; and are keyed into the technology marketplace.
Look for an MSP with a highly experienced IT staff that has a proven track record. Find a provider who is honest about costs and will clarify any additional charges upfront. Value added resellers (VARs) are often a good choice. Most offer expertise across a wide array of devices and applications and consistent support for customers with multiple locations. Additional key advantages of a VAR include their ability to acquire equipment in the event of an urgent need, and their strong relationships with a wide variety of technology vendors.