Managed Services has grown from something very small in 1990 to a very important component of business strategy for any IT (Information Technology) department today. Managed Services can be many things but it is primarily the proactive management of an IT object by a third party organization called a Managed Service Provider (MSP). The MSP delivers the contracted services according to a contract that typically uses a monthly flat-fee billing model – this allows the clients to better budget for resources.
Managed Services range from full hosting, SaaS (software as a service) such as salesforce.com, IaaS (infrastructure as a service) to specific services such as security, backups, disaster recovery, monitoring, network and many others. The intent is to outsource the day to day management responsibilities and IT processes as a method to improve operations, reduce and mitigate risk, and cut costs.
Examples of Managed Services
- Endpoint Management
Endpoint management involves contracting out the 24 x 7 management and monitoring of endpoints. Typically, this includes proactive patch management using products such as BigFix. This is a very scalable offering that is flexible and offers subscription based predictable pricing.
Hosting involves having the chosen applications (and servers, etc) hosted at the MSP’s location. They are responsible for availability, security and monitoring as well as disaster recovery. This allows the client to outsource the infrastructure and IT staff. Current IT staff can then be redeployed to more business critical work rather than day to day maintenance.
Staying on top of compliance requirements and general patching is a huge challenge for system administrators, especially since this is only part of their day to day job responsibilities. Outsourcing security means that specialist personnel can focus on log and vulnerability analysis and incident detection and, sometimes, remediation. Outsourcing security also includes providing better visibility into the network and associated security endpoints.
- Business continuity
Outsourcing disaster recovery has been a service that has been around for many years. Today it is being built into many of the managed services that are being offered. It can range from something as simple as backing up critical data to the more complex solutions involving hot failover.
- Contract Management
This is a relatively new offering that involves having the MSP manage the details behind contracts and assets. They keep track of when service agreements expire and provide visibility into the status of current contracts. The MSP can also store digital copies of contracts remotely and can assist with budgeting and timing of contract renewals. This is something that is incredibly time consuming for IT managers so it is well worth considering as a managed service offering. This offering can also include Vendor Management.
As with security, having an MSP manage the issues around the network including incident management and, preferably, avoidance is a significant benefit. This includes reviewing network resources such as routers to ensure compliance with respect to firmware and passwords as well as monitoring the network for breaches or outages.
Cloud services range from simply providing hardware to the provision of full environments including the applications themselves. There are offerings that include big data environments as well as those that are simply a virtual server that you maintain yourself.
The options listed above are not a complete list of every managed service offering that is available. What is important to understand is that managed services are now a real alternative to hiring specialized IT resources. The benefits of using managed services depend on the services you contract for but can consist of the following;
- Discovering and fixing problems before they impact the business
This is a function of the proactive maintenance, patching and monitoring and includes minimized downtime.
- Reduced and known costs
This is due to the monthly flat-fee billing used by most MSPs as well as the reduced costs for IT personnel who would have been dedicated to patching and monitoring
- Better Innovation
IT staff can now focus on architecting better business solutions instead of monitoring and patching systems
- Increased operational efficiency
- Better compliance
Managed Services is now a mature option that should be included in the toolbox for any IT department. This does not mean using all of the options listed above, but part of strategic planning should involve looking into them to see which ones will provide the best value for your specific environment. Ideally you should look for vendors that offer the platforms and options that most benefit your department and then see if they can combine them into an attractive offering, rather than obtaining multiple pieces from multiple vendors. This lets you get the maximum benefit for the least amount of work, which is the whole purpose of using managed services in the first place.
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