As managed services reach beyond network and server infrastructure, the managed service platforms that IT solution providers use are likewise evolving to offer a clearer end-to-end view of the entire IT environment.
Some managed service providers (MSPs) say that insight is critical as more businesses begin considering scenarios where on-premises technology might be supplemented by – and integrated with – cloud services and applications.
The evolution is important for another practical reason: It helps MSPs and VARs derive more relevant data from a single management tool.
"N-able is the first place we go for all sorts of information about our clients," said David Gracey, founder and president of Network 1 Consulting Inc., an MSP in Atlanta that has been using the N-able platform for close to five years. "This is huge, because it is one less management tool that we have to worry about."
Gracey was referring specifically to N-able Technologies Inc.'s move to add "freemium" endpoint security capabilities to N-central 7.0. In effect, the new edition allows Network 1 Consulting to consolidate and manage security updates in a single place, and it gets clients used to the cycle of managing security updates, firewalls and patches on a recurring basis, rather than as an annual renewal process. In mid-June, N-able added another freemium feature to the platform: PWDManager, which is an enterprise-class Windows password management tool.
Deploying managed services platforms for new customersWill Welch, director of business development for CalTech Software Systems, an MSP in San Angelo, Texas, said the integration of endpoint management capabilities into N-able has helped his company increase its MSP customer base by 30% over the past six months. The feature allows CalTech's team to introduce the managed services concept to customers that have not yet embraced the concept, he said. "It starts with the conversation. Often, we weren't able to get the conversation going until we could show prospects what we could do."
James Thomas, owner of Computer Systems and Software, an MSP in Miami, said automation capabilities are another critical piece of the managed services tool evolution. His company has opted to use management software from Kaseya; that platform was recently updated to include more comprehensive scripting and templates for automating repetitive services tasks, such as monitoring system availability or automating patches. It also includes more reporting features.
"Management by exception is the whole key to success with managed services," Thomas said. "I only need to look at the systems that fail or that are about to fail."
Level Platforms Inc., another MSP platform provider, has taken several steps in the past several months to extend its Managed Workplace product outside the traditional managed services realm. Among other things, the software now can be used to monitor and manage roaming laptops that are connected to a customer's network via a VPN or Internet connection. You can also use Managed Workplace to manage the high-profile SMB business applications suite from NetSuite alongside customers' on-premise network infrastructure and applications.
Charles Love, director of professional services for Big Sur Technologies Inc. in Tampa Bay, Fla., which uses the Level Platforms managed services applications, said one downside of having more transparency is that clients don't always see the work his company's team is handling behind the scenes. But he continues to push as many clients as possible to migrate to the managed services umbrella, and endpoint application support is critical for that transition.
"It is my eyes and ears at the customer site," Love said.