Managing by Remote Control

A new class of ASP, the managed service provider, can do remotely and at a lower cost what many IT shops find difficult to do on their own: monitor and manage systems operations.
Posted February 2, 2001
By

Alan Radding


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Monitoring and managing applications is often so complex that IT doesn't even know that a system or network is down until users start calling--or, more likely, screaming. "We didn't have a good problem-tracking system. Things would get missed," admits Rob Walsh, systems operations manager at SupportKids Inc., an Austin, Texas, company that tracks down parents who aren't paying child support. But if users are calling, then things have already reached the crisis stage.

When SupportKids officials found their company in this position, their initial response was to buy a management tool. "We looked at buying Remedy or another help-desk system. Then we found TriActive and realized that we wouldn't have to support a separate help-desk system," says Walsh. TriActive Inc., also of Austin, is one of the new breed of managed service providers (MSPs). It manages help-desk tickets for SupportKids as well as provides system monitoring, system inventory, and asset management services over the Internet.

AT A GLANCE - Marconi Medical Systems Inc.

The company: Cleveland-based Marconi Medical Systems, part of Marconi plc, is a global supplier of clinically focused medical imaging systems, services, and information central to modern patient care.

The problem: The company needed to monitor and manage its increasingly complex, increasingly strategic, global network and improve communication of network status to managers.

The solution: Marconi outsourced the operation and management of its network to a network operations center and turned to Silverback Technologies Inc. of Billerica, Mass., a managed service provider, to continually monitor the network and provide real-time network status directly to Marconi managers via the Internet.

For years, vendors have offered management software tools, but those products never really worked as promised. For one thing, these tools typically were point solutions, each with a different interface and different skills requirements. The grand enterprise management tools that promise to do it all, like the Tivoli's and Unicenter's of this world, are costly to license, take years to implement, and are more likely to fail than work, notes Corey Ferengul, senior program manager with Meta Group, of Stamford, Conn.

Enter MSPs. This new class of application service provider (ASP), which uses the ASP model but delivers systems management services rather than business applications, is rapidly pushing ASPs out of the spotlight. MSPs provide remote systems and network infrastructure management via the Internet. Not only does this system work, say IT managers, but the cost savings are staggering, bordering on the too-good-to-be-true.

Initially, the MSP concept focused on the management of large server farms that were co-located in an Internet data center. Quickly, the concept caught on. Today, organizations can find a wide range of functions delivered through an MSP model. These include data center operations, Web site performance, testing, help-desk management, and storage. "MSPs today are doing anything involved with performance monitoring, infrastructure operations, and the management of the application infrastructure," Ferengul says.

It's just in the past year that the MSP concept has taken off. "Unlike the ASP market, where there are few customers, we are seeing quite a bit of MSP adoption," he notes. Using a broad definition of MSP, which includes storage service providers, Meta Group projects $10 billion in MSP revenue by 2005. Ferengul counted as many as 84 MSPs as of November 2000, and is noticing the appearance of new MSPs almost every week. Even co-location providers and Web hosting companies are adding MSP capabilities.

International Data Corp. (IDC) of Framingham, Mass., takes a narrower view of the MSP market. It estimates worldwide MSP revenues will reach $78 million in 2000 and grow to $524 million by 2004.

Resource Allocation

While both ASPs and MSPs represent forms of outsourcing, the ASP focuses on the application--enterprise applications, e-commerce sites, Web site hosting, and even extra storage--and downplays any cost savings. The MSP focuses on monitoring the systems and the network. With an MSP, the sophisticated management tools already are up and running, and the MSP has people on staff who know how to use those tools. Users just have to plug into the management tools and expertise via the Internet.

One doesn't replace the other, and companies might use both an ASP and an MSP together. However, "it would be hard for an ASP to do what an MSP does. They would have to build the management capabilities and the network operations center," Ferengul says. Looking ahead, ASPs and MSPs will likely partner to deliver a fully managed ASP offering.


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