Managed IT is often a great alternative to traditional in-house IT management. A lot of people are turning to this kind of service because it is versatile, affordable, and convenient. At the same time, you do need to know a few things in order to get the most out of your managed IT service. Today, we present an in-depth guide that is meant to tell you everything you need to know.
What Is A Managed Services Provider?
This name isn’t really very specific, but there is a reason for that. A managed service provider might provide any number of services, but certain things are universal. A managed service provider (or MSP for short) is a specialized provider of internet service. Not only do they provide connectivity and hosting (like a standard ISP), but they also offer specific services that are meant to benefit specific customers. In most cases, they are catering to businesses, as most private individuals don’t need those specialized services.
The services provided by an MSP might include:
- Network monitoring
- Cloud connectivity/storage
- Encrypted email services
- Disaster recovery
- Smart filtering
- Help desk/tech support
- VoIP support
- Providing a virtual CIO
- Virtualization services (aka “sandboxing”)
All of these services have serious benefits, but we will talk more about that later. For now, it is enough to know what an MSP is and what they do. Managed IT service plans might include any of these, and there are plenty of other options out there, too. The rest will be made clear as we continue.
In this section, we will go over the primary benefits that come from using an MSP instead of a standard ISP. Of course, we should mention that services of this kind are not necessarily the right choice for everyone, but here are a few of the most common reasons for choosing that route.
Downtime can be incredibly expensive, as every minute represents lost business and lost opportunities for profit. Although MSP services might be a little more expensive than the traditional options, they more than compensate for that difference with the relative lack of downtime. When your home internet service goes down, that is an inconvenience. When a corporate system goes down, that is a catastrophe and is sure to affect a lot more people.
As to the question of how much money it will cost, there are all kinds of figures on the internet. We don’t necessarily trust any of these, so let’s look at a real-world example. Back in 2016, Delta Airlines had a network outage for about five hours in one of their operation centers. This resulted in about 2,300 canceled flights, which translates to about $150,000,000 in lost revenue.
Unless you have an extremely gifted group of techs at your disposal, your security will probably improve a lot when you switch to an MSP. The single biggest problem with computer security is the fact that it requires constant vigilance. Really, this could be said about any type of security, but the problem is a little greater when it comes to computers. There are always new and evolving cyber-threats about which to worry, and there are so many ways in which hackers can exploit a given system.
In most cases, companies see an improvement in their security upon switching to an MSP. Most of this comes down to network monitoring. A group of in-house techs probably won’t have the time to monitor the entire network on a 24/7 basis. Your MSP, on the other hand, will have time to do this.
Most of the time, an MSP will be a little more cost-effective than a standard ISP. It might not seem that way at first, since monthly rates tend to be a little higher. However, when you consider the fact that their services can save you all kinds of money, it becomes far more cost-efficient to use an MSP. It generally is a little cheaper to have multiple services bundled into one account.
It takes a qualified expert to run a secure and well-functioning network. As you might expect, the services of such people tend to be expensive. However, MSPs can usually provide you with a team of competent experts at a very low price. You might not have those experts on staff at all times, but they will be on call when needed.
Even if your IT situation is really solid, you could still have some serious problems when you start expanding. As a business grows, its network must grow accordingly. That means new servers, routers, cables, endpoints, etc. As you might already know, none of that stuff is cheap. However, an MSP allows you to expand your network without buying any new equipment at all.
They handle all of the physical hardware associated with your network, and that means they (not you) are responsible for its maintenance. Thus, when you need to scale your business up or down, it is as simple as calling your MSP and switching to a different plan.
A Short History Of MSP Development
In the late 1990s, there were no MSP services at all. When a computer network went down, it stayed down until a technician took the time to fix the problem. Before long, a lot of businesses were looking for a solution that would prevent these expensive outages. That’s when a few enterprising businesses started offering ASP services. That stands for “application service provider,” and these businesses were the precursors of the modern MSP industry.
The term “managed services provider” didn’t enter the scene until 2006, and was first coined and promoted by three computer scientists: Karl Palachuk, Amy Luby, and Erick Simpson. They authored the first books on the subject, though it is clear that they didn’t invent the concept.
One of the most important technological advances that made MSPs possible was the invention of the SNMP protocol. This stands for “simple network management protocol,” and it is what allowed for remote access and control of distant machines. This protocol, invented in 1992, is what made network monitoring possible, opening the door for a whole new level of remote support. These are based on a client-server model and are known for being very reliable, which is why this protocol is still commonly used today.
Over the years, the simple network management protocol has been applied in many ways. In most cases, an MSP will make use of remote monitoring and management software (often called RMM software for short) to monitor your network. They do this using a client program, which is usually called an “agent.” as the name implies, they feed information back to the MSP, giving them a detailed picture of what is happening. They are programmed to find problems and immediately report them to the MSP.
Reactive Service Vs. Proactive Service
As we mentioned before, the first IT professionals were mostly operating on a “break-fix” model. They would wait until something broke, and then step in to fix the issue. The problem with this model is the fact that outages are so expensive. While you are waiting on the IT guy to fix everything, you are missing out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars that you could have made. In the past, the stakes were not quite so high because people did less of their business online.
Because of this, most businesses have now switched to a more proactive model based on prevention rather than repair. By monitoring key aspects of the network and logging all significant activities, MSP companies can usually catch a problem when it is in its infancy. In other words; Before it becomes a major issue. Not only is this more efficient, but it is also a lot cheaper. Proactive services are the best thing about an MSP, so you shouldn’t hesitate to make use of them.
At the same time, some smaller companies might do well to stick with a reactive IT support model. Those companies who do relatively little business online, and whose IT resources are very small, can probably get away with this approach. Because this kind of IT support is usually cheaper, it can be a good way for a small business to save money until they grow large enough to afford better support. Nevertheless, an MSP does objectively provide a lot more in terms of services and options.
Service-Level Agreements: What Are They?
A service-level agreement (Better known as an SLA) is basically just a contract between you and your MSP. It spells out the rights and responsibilities of each party and sets the limits and terms of the services. If you have an issue to hammer out with your MSP, the SLA is obviously the best way to do that.
Perhaps the most important part of such an agreement is the total amount of uptime that is guaranteed. Because outages are so expensive, an MSP will make a contractual guarantee that they will not happen very often. Many standards MSP agreements promise 99% uptime, meaning that your network will only be down 1% of the time. This isn’t bad at all, and 97-98% uptime would probably be acceptable as well. Just remember: If the MSP doesn’t meet these requirements, they will be held legally liable for your losses.
When making an SLA, it is important that everything is clear and well-defined. Any term that you do not understand should be clarified, and all the specifics should be nominalized. For instance, if the MSP agrees to service any problems within a single business day, you need to make sure the contract tells you exactly how long a “single business day” is considered to be. Any generalized language could be used as a loophole, so you want everything nice and specific. And, of course, be sure to read the fine print.
Services Offered By Managed Service Providers
We told you that we were going to discuss these specific services in greater detail, and here we are. Here are several IT services that every MSP should offer. If yours does not, you might want to consider switching.
No matter how hard you may try to avoid it, an IT disaster will happen to your company sooner or later. Due to the high rate at which this happens, the odds are not in your favor here. That’s why you need to make sure that your MSP can offer a comprehensive and diligent response. This might include data restoration, breaking the encryption on a ransomware program, purging sensitive data, or any number of other measures. The bottom line is this: A data breach is always bad, but it becomes a lot worse if they catch you with your pants down.
Through the use of firewalls and other forms of packet filtering, it is possible to keep all known suspicious sites from connecting to your network. This includes the use of things like firewalls, anti-virus software, and DNS-level blocking. Because this is such a relatively simple solution, no MSP should be without this in the SLA contract. Obviously, there are different levels of filtering, and your business may not require maximum security.
24/7 Network Monitoring
This is probably the most important of all computer security measures. When a hacker is trying to gain clandestine access to your system, they are counting on you not to pay attention. If their activities are detected, their mischief can usually be halted before serious damage is done. There is basically no way for them to hack you without displaying some kind of abnormality in the network output. The question is: Will anyone see that abnormality? That’s where diligent network monitoring makes all the difference in the world.
VoIP Telephone Services
A lot of people don’t even use landlines anymore, so many companies are choosing not to use them as well. Indeed, wireless communication has come a long way since the 1980s, when the average cellphone was as big as a brick. Still, it is useful to have some kind of telephone service in your office. Internal communication is very important to the running of a successful business, after all. That’s why it is very cost-effective to bundle a VoIP option with all your managed IT service plans. It represents one more bill that can be consolidated.
A lot of people are saying that cloud computing is the future. Indeed, there are reasons for this statement. The cloud definitely offers an unprecedented level of connectivity and communication. By moving everything to the internet using virtualization technology, a lot of new doors have been opened. However, you should also be aware that cloud computing has been shown to have some very serious security flaws. We recommend that you use cloud services as a backup medium, as it can be very handy to have an off-site backup of your existing computer system.
This one might seem frivolous or paranoid…until you realize that most cyber-attacks begin with a tainted email. Often called “phishing emails,” these are fake pages designed to look like something legitimate. If a person is not paying attention, they can easily be fooled into giving up passwords, bank information, and all kinds of other damaging data. In the end, there is only one way to deal with this problem, and that is a combination of vigilance and education. Once you recognize a phishing email for what it is, it becomes powerless. That being said, a secured email system can make it much harder for those boobytrapped attachments and links to get through.
24/7 Help Desk
When you employ an MSP, you aren’t just paying for services. You are also paying for the expertise of a professional, so don’t hesitate to use that. Remember: These people work for you, so you have every right to ask them for advice. Any good MSP should have a 24-hour, 7-day-per-week helpline. This should allow any employee of your company to call them for tech advice, taking some of the strain off your in-house IT people. More importantly, this can keep a small problem from turning into a big delay.
Virtual CIO Services
A CIO (chief information officer) is a corporate executive who governs the use and acquisition of technology. They are also in charge of most IT-related projects, so they are an important part of your tech infrastructure.
A CIO might be put in charge of upgrading the company’s computer equipment, arranging for education and training, hiring (or firing) members of the IT department, and all sorts of other things. However, some companies cannot afford to pay the salary of a dedicated CIO. That’s why some MSP companies will also offer the services of a temporary, on-demand CIO. This tends to be a lot cheaper, as renting is usually cheaper than buying.
Virtualization is a relatively new computer science that involves simulating various environments. You may have heard of a program called Virtualbox, which is probably the world’s most popular virtualization software. Using this program, you can create “a system within a system,” but one of them is only a simulated environment. For example, some people use a simulated version of Windows 98 to run old computer games. In many cases, that is the only way that older programs can be run on a modern computer.
From a security standpoint, virtualization is used to create a safe, simulated environment for testing. If you aren’t sure about the legitimacy of a particular file, link, etc., you can simply run it in a simulated environment and see what happens. If a problem results, the virtualized system is deleted, and nothing of value is lost. When used in this way, virtualization is often called “sandboxing.”
IT Laws And Regulations In Pennsylvania
When dealing with computer data in a public setting, you must always give a little bit of consideration to the various data privacy laws. Most states now have these laws, and Pennsylvania is no exception. You can find a short guide to those laws here.
In the state of Pennsylvania, you can be legally charged for failing to follow these regulations, so you should take them seriously. Under the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the state Attorney General has every right to prosecute any practices deemed as unfair or harmful. While this law is somewhat outdated and doesn’t specifically address data protection, it provides the foundation upon which Pennsylvania’s data laws are built.
Under the common law of the state, Pennsylvania recognizes that the individual has an unquestionable right to privacy, and that includes personal data. This matter is usually handled in civil court, however, as it is a private dispute between two parties. Individuals can file one of four specific torts in order to initiate a case. These are called:
- 1. Intrusion upon seclusion
- 2. Appropriation of name or likeness
- 3. Publicity given to private life
- 4. Placing a person in a false light (defamation)
The revealing of personal data, whether intentional or not, could be prosecuted under torts 1 and 3. If anything defaming is found to be in the data, tort 4 could also be applied. So, when you find yourself asking “what are the best managed IT services near me?”, you should make sure that your chosen company knows these laws better than you do.
For a better understanding of your costs for Managed IT Services, you’ll need to talk with an MSP about your organization’s make up, and the goals you’re looking to accomplish with technology. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please give us a call at 856-754-7500 or schedule a consultation online.