What is Managed Service really? Some history.

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What is Managed Service really? Some history.

The buzz word of the year is Managed Services and virtually everyone is on the bandwagon.  But what really is a managed services company?  How do you tell if your service provider is just using the word and perhaps “flat rating” your service but really isn’t Managing your network? 

Let me give you a little history of managed services first then attempt to answer that question.  I am writing specifically about companies who service small network systems.  Small networks are from 10 users to about 250 users and typically span from 1 to 6 offices.   The companies who have helped with these networks in the past have been hamstrung by the lack of tools to help with the problem.  The networks developed as simple systems, usually built by a self taught network amature turned pro.  Maintenance was break fix only, meaning when something broke, you called and they fixed it…hopefully.  As time went on the best of the support people developed companies with planned programs periodically coming on site to do a system review of log’s and user information looking for hints of issues before they became big problems. Squaretree developed an elaborate checklist to write down disk usage and processor usage, etc. and graph them over time in the hope of seeing issues.  The problem, of course, was that you only could see what you could see the day you were on site.  If something happened after you left you’d never know till the user called.  Also the only professional test of the backup system was on the visit, users on site needed to be very aware of the backup system.  This frequently resulted in days or more of missed backups.  Finally the system was prone to other human errors.  One of the errors was the dreaded “user list”.  Frequently the benefit of reviewing the server performance records was overcome by the urgency of a list of user desires that seemed more important work when the tech came to the office.  The tech, trying to be accommodating, would take care of the issues and not have time to get to the system work.  It was a constant battle to get customers to understand that they were only causing themselves problems down the road.

All this time the hardware and software vendors were adding new and better ways for the systems to signal problems as early as possible.  Simple Network Management Protocol had been developing since the early 90’s and was getting applied to PC’s and Windows Management Instrumentation was added to the operating system.  At first the systems that could watch these tools and turn all the data into usable information were complex to manage and geared to large networks.  Approximately 3 years ago systems started to mature that would allow companies like Squaretree that were managing many small domains to take advantage of the same features and benefits as the large companies.  The best of the systems are still very expensive, 10’s of thousands of dollars, but that cost can be mitigated over many clients.  It is this technology that started the Managed Services movement.  Companies differentiate based on the way they use the tools and the systems they wrap around them.

More in the next installment

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