The term MSP is the acronym for Managed Service Provider and identifies a working method nowadays used by many companies in the IT world. In general, the idea of Managed Service implies an outsourcing approach of management and maintenance activities with the ultimate goal of optimizing the use of resources and lowering costs of the client. In this scenario, the Provider is the company or society that provides the service.

MSP key points

We can define three main points that characterize a Managed Service Provider (MSP onwards):

  • unlimited phone/remote help desk;
  • proactive management of the infrastructure: backup, security, updates, etc..;
  • being a competent intermediary with additional providers and third parties.

CROP MSP RDM

Advantages and rates

Essentially a MSP contract is an “all-inclusive” contract with reciprocal advantages for both the provider and the client. In this way the client can have a fixed price for IT management, without worrying about any technical aspect or surprise about costs. Moreover, the client is aware the goal of the provide is the same of his own, ie to reduce down times and increase the overall productivity of the company.

The provider doesn’t bother about billing hours as he’s only interested abor having infrastructures, servers and computers to be always functioning, updated and secured. The better the client’s network is managed and the less non-programmed and urgent activities he will perform on site.Another fundamental aspect of the MSP approach is the provision of the service with a fixed price covering the various situations the client and the provider might find themselves into. A contract usually includes a Working Seat rate, eg a price proportional to the number of computers, servers and mobile devices of the client. This cost, according to the contract, will cover all services defined in the contract while respecting the three key points we talked earlier.

By providing an all-inclusive service, the company proposing a MSP outsourcing model has to deal with efficiency, a key element that can make a contract either very profitable or expensive and counter-productive. IT companies that plan to evolve with the MSP model must gear up with the proper tools capable of of supporting such 360° approach.

Modalities, tools and resource of the good MSP

The role of a MSP calls for a continuous and constant interaction with the client’s infrastructure, but being an outsourcing relationship, most of the work, if not even all of it, is done remotely. So let’s have a brief list of systems that a provider that want to be a MSP shouldn’t miss.

Remote control software

In order to work quickly and efficiently on maintenance and remote support activities, proper software is essential.
For instance Remote Desktop by Microsoft can be used only in network context where there is direct visibility of source (MSP computer) and destination (client computer). In no VPN or equivalent configuration is available, then tools like TeamViewer, LogMeIn, Ammyy and similar are needed, allowing to connect to the remote endpoint using their own infrastructure on the internet.

Ticket sytem - service desk

Tracking activities, maintaining an archive of all support performed, quickly measuring how work has been done for each single client, checking service SLAs and so forth are essential aspects of a MSP’s daily activities. Managing everything in a manual or semi-manual way, eg relying on emails and agenda, is not a feasible option if you want to do all of that in a professional way.
A ticketing system allows to receive support requests or information directly via email: once an email from the client arrives to the MSP, it enters a standard and well-defined work flow and becoming a real ticket.
Each ticket has well-defined states, which are essentially two: a ticket can be either open or close. The state naturally depends whether the activities signaled by the user are done or not. In this context, a ticketing system keeps a complete record of activities, users and times related to the work that has been done: such information is vital for both the MSP and the client.
Should requests not arrive via email, tickets will be opened directly from the management system’s portal

Monitoring and updates management

Another important aspect is managing updates of antivirus and operating systems, in addition to identify problems and failures of the infrastructure. Automation and monitoring are the most powerful tools a MSP has as his disposal for this purpose.

Automation

Automation concerns all those activities, often repetitive, schedulable or periodic, that can be delegated to a dedicated software (or similar tool) instead to a technician. Some automation examples are logging and reports about expiration dates and success/failure notification of interventions and related activities. We can put, in the context of automation, all those scripting and scheduling solutions that are often crafted ad-hoc for the client.
In general the concept of automation cover solutions (be them technical or administrative) that can help the provider to reduce intervention times, improve the client’s infrastructure coverage and enhance the cost/results ratio, also decreasing the human work component.
Systems we’ve just described are grouped into two software families: RMM and PSA

RMM stands for Remote Monitoring and Management and identifies software like remote control software for technical support (client’s computers and servers) and monitoring and notification (for instance, about the state of updates and backups) software. A correct organization of the documentation related to activities is of paramount importance too, in addition to the proper tracking of such activities in order to obtain a correct economical estimate (coherence with the chosen support package, exclusions, extra interventions, etc..).
PSA stands for Professional Service Automation: a platform for the management and control of tasks and resources, with scheduling and time-tracking capabilities. Such software includes several document management, notification (more on an administrative side than technical) and billing features.

Controlling updates is another key task for every software platform, and dedicated Patch Management software are available.
The scenario is completed with malware protection, network security and backup plans to apply to the infrastructure. For each of these topics it’s essential to define correct strategies and proper choices about the platforms to adopt (adequate backup software, managed antivirus, firewall and endpoint protection tools).

Specific tools for Managed Service Providers
Once defined the main characteristics, let’s see a selection of useful tools for a MSP

Kaseya

kaseya

The Californian company offers a complete package of software for IT management, composed by 5 main components: VSA, Authanvil, BMS, 365 Command and Traverse.
Respectively, those are tools for management and monitoring of devices (including patch management, remote control, system and network monitoring and antivirus protection), control and management of credentials (for authentication with tokens to data and applications), activity, resources and documents tracking (to optimize selling, support and content production processes), and lastly infrastructure diagnostics. It’s worth to note that Kaseya allows you to download and try its software.

Autotask

autotaskAutodesk is a well known player in the field of MSP services because of its vast and complete offer. According to the requisites we’ve cited, Autotask offers, as part of the IT Business Management line, a help desk service that can be customized on a client basis, includes SLA management, two modules dedicated to contract management and practices about quoting and billing, in addition to specific tools for documents management and CRM. Naturally a RMM coverage isn’t missing, as well as infrastructure monitoring and remote endpoint control.

MAXfocus
Previously known as GFI Max by GFI Software, MAXfocus is now a brand by LogiNow. In this case too the main features stand in line with the concurrent products, albeit being more oriented on a technical side rather than business: indeed, we can find a module dedicated to remote management comprehensive of platform management, endpoint protection and process automation in addition to a backup service -both on premises and cloud. A secure management of email, which can be provided with your own brand, is noteworthy. MAXfocus offers a service desk platform as well.

Connectwise

screen

Connectwise is a complete platform for MSP which satisfies all needs: from remote control with ScreenConnect (a complete tool that enables a fluid, stable and total control also in multi-monitor environments and with a limited Internet connection), to helpdesk assistance with ChatAssist and the LabTech RMM suite. The Connectwise Business Suite package, for instance, covers both  technical needs (with LabTech, which covers tasks about infrastructure monitoring, task automation and patch management with agents installed locally) and administrative needs (with the Quosal component, dedicated to the sales department). ConnectWise also offers products for document, project and ticket management, automated billing and much more. The coverage for mobile devices isn’t missing, as it’s guaranteed with a dedicated application used to interact with the company infrastructure. As for prices are concerned, Connectwise must be contacted.

SolarWinds N-able

n able

SolarWinds offers several specific products for monitoring, analysis and management of the different environments available in the IT sphere: from networking and datacenter to database performance analysis. A Web portal for help desk and mobile platform is available as well. Specifically, N-Able is a suite that encloses the main features we’ve cited in a single package, while maintaining the approach of the previous tools. We can find tools for RMM and IT management, backup and patch management, device management and endpoint protection. On an administrative side, tools for automation, reporting and client support aren’t missing. As with Connectwise, contact SolarWinds for a pricing quote, however a trial version is available for download.

ManageEngine

managengine

ManageEngine is a division of Zoho Corporation which has clients such as Sony, Ericsson, NEC and AT&T. It offers too a complete platform that includes tools for device protection (both desktop and mobile), resource monitoring, remote control, help desk and reporting. In the specific case of MSP applications, ManageEngine offers ServiceDesk Plus MSP (which includes help desk, billing management and interface rebranding), Desktop Central MSP (which includes a Web interface for monitoring, centralized patches, updates and software distribution and remote control) and, like Kaseya, Password Manager Pro MSP Edition for credential management. Amongst free products we’d like to cite AlarmsOne (endpoint monitoring with centralized console), ScriptZone (automation) and a number of useful tools in Windows and mobile environments for health state monitoring.

Comodo One

comodo

Comodo is a well-known company in the IT world, focused in the security sphere. Comodo One is the RMM tools for MSP, comprehensive remote management, mobile device management (MDM), patch manager and help desk. This suite also includes Comodo One Mobile, a tool specifically conceived for the management of the Comodo One platform also from mobile devices. Additional modules are Advanced Endpoint Protection, cWatch Network for the protection and tracking of network threats and Acronis Cloud Backup.

The Comodo One MSP is very interesting as well, which allows to register and access the free version of the product with ServiceDesk, Patch management and Comodo IT & Security Manager. The whole portal has been restyled at the beginning of 2016 and it’s complete and easy to use despite the vast number of available options. Reports, graphs and planned operations are organized “per Customer”, which represents the basic entity to work with. The engagement of the clients’ devices happens by means of an invitation email which includes a download link and instructions for all supported platforms.

AVG Managed Workplace

avg blur

A product of the well-renowned AVG, Managed Workplace covers all the needs of a MSP with specific tools for the main activities: remote control, patch management, centralized control (also from mobile devices), network and resources monitoring, reporting and integration with PSA services of third-party, like Connectwise. Antivirus protection is obviously integrated and there’s also tool for the control of ESXi host and a native interface with the Office 365 suite. A free trial is available upon registration on AVG portal.

Sygma

sygma2

Sygma is a white label platform exclusively available as a Cloud offering, dedicated to MSP seeking for an easy to use solution and complete with a Cloud integration. Sygma offers an email-based ticket system, an activity tracking system, an asset management database, an automated management of expiry dates, client portal, operator and client based reporting capabilities and much more. The integration with the Cloud consists in managing cloud servers, remote backup, email systems, cloud storage (like Dropbox and Google Drive) and much more. An integration with Teamviewer is also available, very useful to track and record remote sessions.
Thanks to a Windows and Linux agent, Sygma allows to monitor and manage servers and clients, run commands and scripts in an easy and quick way. Like Kaseya, you can register and create a trial account on their Website to test the platform.

About the Author

Lorenzo Bedin

Lorenzo graduated in Telecommunication Engineering and works as freelance IT consultant, after a period of training as systems analyst. Currently he provides hardware solutions, virtualized infrastructures and websites.

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