Remote services provide opportunities for resellers to expand their managed services portfolios. Managed services are rapidly transforming the channel business of direct customer support. Rather than merely being the retail outlet for vendor products, channel pros have discovered that providing managed services allow them to offer commidities that are highly valued by their customers and derive a revenue stream that is not directly tied to a particular vendor.
One facet of managed services that has become increasingly interesting to resellers is that of remote services. Remote services are those services that can be delivered over the network from a central service location. These services have the potential of radically reducing the cost associated with delivering service while substantially increasing customer satisfaction.
What are remote services? In the case of storage, they can include remote monitoring of storage elements, load balancing, fault correction, backup and archiving. Storage vendors such as EMC have understood the virtue of remote services for years. In some cases EMC has gone so far as to require customers to agree to remote monitoring to ensure element uptime guarantees.
Understanding pain points to deliver remote services
For the reseller, things aren't quite so cut and dried, however. Rather than compelling customers to agree to remotely delivered services, they must demonstrate an acute understanding of how such capabilities can be integrated into IT operations in a seamless way.
Storage resellers have the straight-forward opportunity to show that a remotely delivered service, such as element monitoring or fault correlation and isolation, can ensure critical data integrity. What is somewhat more challenging is showing how data integrity enables such mundane things as revenue generation.
This is when resllers must understand customers core business processeses. Channel pros should not only have a good understanding of their customers businesses, what they produce and in what markets, but how they produce it. Most IT organizations are only too happy to share their headaches with their reseller partners. These usually correspond to specific facets of the business that must be enabled along with some sense of how increased performance can impact the process.
One good way to open such discussions is to ask if the IT shop has computed a cost of downtime and what drives that cost.
Once an inventory is made of the critical functions that the IT shop must support, it is easy to illustrate how such things as remote infrastructure monitoring with preemptive service dispatches can maintain a higher operational readiness.
Delivering remote services for customers
One approach resellers can take is to compile a list of business process tasks and the remote service that can influence it positively. For example: Accounts payable bookings require the use of an Oracle database and Sun server, both of which must be accessible 24 hours a day, five days a week. If remote services can manage the performance of the data base or the server and demonstrate a high business value, remote services will deliver a tangible return on investment.
Storage resellers can then begin to expand remote services to other aspects of the business which are managed less comprehensively. If the IT organization complains that keeping a particular system available is a problem, then you have a remote service opportunity.
Technology to deliver remote services is probably already well known to channel pros. These include the old standby management platforms such as HP OpenView, CA's Unicenter, BMC's Performance Manager (formerly Patrol) and IBM's Tivoli. Since each platform evolved from element level management, they all share a dependency on management agents -- either physical or virtual -- that collect telemetry on infrastructure health that is then correlated with known fault signatures to provide insight into infrastructure problems. Each of these platforms enables remote management by collecting telemetry from the customer site and delivering a view into the customer's infrastructure to the service center.
In the case of remote storage services, the information delivered can be predictive fault analysis and alarming. When a potential fault is detected, the service center is notified in time to either redirect storage to backup arrays or to dispatch a service technician to correct the problem before the customer is affected. Not incidentally, such platforms also provide detailed reports and service logs with which to brief the customer.
Deploying such technology is generally an exercise in adding to the technology a customer most likely has. Since management platforms are generally pervasive, the best approach to developing a remote management capability is simply to define a new remote console to the customer's management tool, connected through a VPN or other secured network connection to the remote service center. This is usually easy to do and the process of transitioning support can provide the basic documentation necessary to establish an understanding of the customer's particular requirements. Simply establishing consoles into each customer's infrastructure will quickly build the necessary support infrastructure to handle multiple remote accounts. Ultimately, of course, a more efficient architecture is required, but by that time, channel pros will want to engage directly with platform vendors to develop the infrastructure.
Opportunities for delivering remote services are pervasive in enterprise IT, but are increasingly an attractive option for small medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are constantly challenged by high overhead in their IT operations. Resellers can expect to find a very warm welcome for remote services such as storage area network monitoring and diagnosis, automatic archival and backup of critical data stores and general networked infrastructure management and control.
About the author: Mike Jude is an expert in business process analysis and optimization and is research director at Ptak Noel Associates. He is also a co-founder of Nova Amber, a consulting firm specializing in virtual business process implementation and technology.