Managed Services From A to Z10:00 AM EST Wed. Oct. 10, 2012
How much do you know about managed services? As is the case with many technologies, it might be hard to say because the market is constantly evolving. With that in mind, here's a primer on managed services -- from A to Z. From companies to know to definitions of different services, it's everything you need to know to get started or expand your business in a new direction.
Autotask is one of the most popular professional services automation platforms, a tool on which many managed service providers run their services business. From service ticket generation to billing, PSA tools help MSPs run their businesses more efficiently, according to Autotask CEO Mark Cattini.
One of the key components to many MSPs' offerings is the ability to back up a customer's data on a regular and scheduled basis to an offsite location.
What else could it be? As the managed services model has matured, the lines between MSPs and cloud services providers are blurring. Cloud provides MSPs with more opportunities to bring to customers, and cloud-based MSP platforms have reduced their investments needed to run the business.
The managed service industry has moved beyond the monitoring and management of servers and network equipment down to the desktop level. MSPs have the tools to secure and track all incoming and outgoing traffic onto an individual user's device, whether it's a desktop, notebook or mobile device.
Most MSP platform services now offer email services, including storage and security of email, as a staple offering to service providers.
One reason why managed services are so attractive to end users are the flat fees they pay every month or quarter for the services, giving them a standard and predictable bill instead of paying every time something goes wrong.
GFI Software's GFI Max RemoteManagement solution is a fast-growing managed services platform option for many MSPs. The company's number of customers increased 30 percent in 2012 to 6,500 customers. GFI, led by CEO Michael Gooch, said at the end of 2011 that its customer base had doubled to 5,000 in two years.
Many MSPs and solution providers have found a niche revenue stream selling help desk services to customers, offering first or second (or third) level support on behalf of clients, either through their own resources or a third-party provider. Some vendors, such as Level Platforms, even provide solutions through their RMM platforms.
IT Nation is one of the largest MSP conferences each year, hosted by ConnectWise, another services automation platform company that runs the back-office ticket and billing functions for many MSPs. Held in November, last year's show attracted more than 1,600 attendees, according to CEO Arnie Bellini.
To be a successful managed services provider, many companies count on the help of third-party partners, all of which join together for a common cause. MSPs typically rely on an MSP platform partner, a professional services automation platform and other quoting, services, security and other tools, as well as voices from industry groups such as MSP Alliance and CompTIA MSP Partners to ensure they are doing the best for their clients.
Kaseya, led by CEO Gerald Blackie, has developed RMM and other applications for MSPs since launching in 2000. Last summer, the company added a new entry-level, cloud-based IT systems management offering to its product portfolio.
Level Platforms launched in 1999 as an MSP before transitioning the business to develop RMM software for other MSPs. Its Managed Workplace 2012 platform recently added Salesforce.com integration to its Service Desk Module, according to Gordon Rielly, CTO of Level Platforms.
Management is perhaps the most important word and the credo for many MSP businesses. The model was formed around the ability to manage customers' servers and eventually their PCs, networks, printers, phones and virtually any other product with an IP address.
Ottawa-based N-able Technologies is another RMM option for MSPs. N-able's N-central 9.0 platform includes new remote control capabilities and a new automation manager, said N-able CEO Gavin Garbutt.
In essence, the concept of managed services is the outsourcing of the management of an organization's IT functions to an MSP.
Most MSPs run their whole services operation off a single platform from one of several vendors specializing in the space, such as Continuum, Kaseya, LPI Level Platforms, N-able Technologies, Nimsoft and more.
Many applications produce quotes for hardware and software sales, but an increasing number are incorporating services revenue into the process so that MSPs can more accurately and more quickly make an offer to customers for a scope of work.
Many MSPs started out offering remote monitoring (and management -- see M) as a means to create stickiness and a recurring revenue model by tracking their customers' IT infrastructure for problems and fixing those problems before the customer even knew something had happened.
Really, it's professional services automation, but we already had a P. PSA tools such as Autotask, ConnectWise and Tigerpaw allow MSPs to more effectively and productively run their businesses by providing one pane of glass to view all their service offerings, from the creation of a service ticket to quoting and billing.
Tigerpaw is the third largest PSA platform vendor, along with Autotask and ConnectWise. The Bellevue, Neb.-based company recently added a mobile version that allows users to log expenses and create tickets using mobile devices, and it also added a cloud-based version for customers.
MSP vendors have worked hard to develop friendlier user interfaces over the years, integrating more services and tools into a single pane of glass that service providers can utilize to track all their offerings.
As MSPs have matured their models, many have looked to move beyond simple remote monitoring and management to include more services that can be done remotely. One example is virus protection, as well as a slew of other security services, in which the MSP can update and track a company's protection and exposure to unwanted threats.
Most MSP solutions have focused on Microsoft's Windows platform, but now that's changing as more mobile operating systems take hold in the market. Mobile device management has become a big target for many MSPs.
Xerox, led by CEO Ursula Burns, is well known as a document imaging giant, but the company is one of several traditional hardware vendors (including Oki Data, Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark and more) that are making big strides in the managed print services market too. Xerox recently outlined "Seven Things You Need To Know About Managed Print Services" at UBM's XChange 2012 conference.
Yorktel is an Eatontown, N.J.-based solution provider that specializes in video communications and has expanded its portfolio to offer managed video solutions. Managed video -- and voice -- is seen as the next frontier for MSPs as more end users adopt IP technology in those areas.
One of the early players in the managed services field, Zenith Infotech sold off its remote monitoring and management business to create what is now Continuum. Zenith, meanwhile, continues on with business continuity and cloud solutions. Under the reign of CEO Akash Saraf, the Warrendale, Pa.-based company has spent much of 2012 looking to put behind it court issues in India related to bonds that it failed to repay by certain deadlines. Most recently, it announced TigerCloud, a rent-to-own private cloud service.