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Managed Services for IT environments

What are Managed Services?

Managed Services are simply business functions that are outsourced to a third-party provider who, by merit of their focusing exclusively on that activity, have accrued the resources and skills to deliver the service efficiently to their clients. The vendor is known as a Managed Service Provider.

IT Managed Services

This document focuses on managed services as they relate to IT. This differs somewhat from typical managed services such as taking over a function like finance or HR. Specifically, the continuity of the hardware and software components of its client’s IT systems is of concern, rather than the complete outsourcing of the IT function.

A good definition is offered on the MSPAlliance’s web site: “Managed Services is the proactive management of an IT (Information Technology) asset or object, by a third party typically known as an MSP, on behalf of a customer. The operative distinction that sets apart an MSP is the proactive delivery of their service, as compared to reactive IT services.” The emphasis on “proactive” and “reactive” is ours.

While traditional IT support tries to rectify problems after they occur, an MSP spends most of their time predicting and preventing faults in the first place. To accomplish that goal, they implement a number of technologies and services as discussed below. Note that while this article describes a generic MSP, there are many who offer one or more specialised services, such as security or hosting, or serve one vertical market, such as banking or health care.

A Typical Managed Service Profile

While the details of management tasks vary, MSP’s generally offer the following to their clients:

  • Continuous remote monitoring. Current technology allows MSP’s to extract system metrics over a secure network connection. Windows, Linux and OSX provide fine-grained data about system performance and functioning that can be used as early-warning indicators for pending system failures. With this predictive capability, MSP’s can handle most problems before they occur or at least before they result in a business crisis. MSP’s inspect both port-based signals to make sure a system’s services are available and throughput signals to make sure that the services are responsive.
  • Remote support. MSP’s can usually correct 90% of common problems without visiting a site. This is a vital aspect of their service because their client might be suffering losses waiting for their arrival. In addition, if the problem occurs at a remote branch or on a mobile worker’s device, the MSP can assist them immediately without first locating them. MSP’s use specialised support software that strongly encrypts their connection to a client’s system or devices, preventing third-parties from snooping their data.
  • Help desk or self-service kiosk. MSP’s typically offer a help desk or online self-service kiosk that allows their customers’ users to log support calls on a 24-7-365 basis. Help desk staff are often technically qualified to assist users with common problems. In some cases, an automated online ticketing systems lets the user administer their own support calls and pipes requests directly to appropriately qualified technicians. Automated escalation is another typical feature that prompts managers to chase support requests that are long outstanding or do not meet the service standards agreed to in SLA’s (Service Level Agreements).
  • Predictable billing. MSP’s generally bill for an agreed upon set of services in advance. Customers can predict their IT costs accurately and budget for them accordingly.
  • NOC (Network Operating Centre). A vital aspect of the MSP’s service is that they maintain a centre of operations from which they deliver their services. An NOC centralises technicians, providing them with unbroken Internet access and power, a safe and healthy environment, adequate communications, and any other necessity that allows them to provide continuous services to the MSP’s customers.

A well-equipped and staffed managed service provider ensures that their clients enjoy a continuous flow of information and information services that are vital to their business operations. With the right service partner, a company can focus on organisational goals instead of IT. Contact us to achieve them.