Managing by Remote Control: Page 3

Posted February 2, 2001

Alan Radding

(Page 3 of 3)

What Marconi needed was a full-scale, 24x7 network operations center (NOC) to run the network, but NOCs are costly to build and difficult to staff. Instead, the company enlisted IntelliNet Corp. of Richmond Heights, Ohio, which provides NOC services. But a NOC typically only reacts to problems. For more proactive management, Marconi hired Silverback Technologies Inc. of Billerica, Mass., which provides network performance monitoring and reporting.

Lessons Learned about Managed Service Providers

When it comes to managing IT systems and network infrastructure, outsourcing to an MSP is a far better deal financially and in terms of speed of deployment.

Pick an MSP carefully. Many are small startups. Make sure it has the financial backing for the long haul.

Have a contingency plan in case the MSP fails.

Insist on a service-level agreement.

Check the MSP's standard service-level agreement very carefully and make changes to reflect specific company concerns.

"With IntelliNet and Silverback, I now have control," says Wither. Through Silverback, which took one day to implement, Wither is able to monitor the network and track individual circuits. To keep abreast of what is happening, Withers simply logs onto the Silverback portal and checks the status of Marconi's circuits in real time, drilling down for more detail when necessary.

The combined cost of IntelliNet and Silverback comes to $7,500 per month, which Wither considers a bargain compared to the cost of building and operating a NOC and managing the network. But the payoff goes beyond the out-of-pocket savings. "The communications channel has become strategic. With Silverback, we have moved information about the channel from the technician in the basement to the user community," Wither says. When there is a problem, he can alert employees and customers.

Pacific Coast Building Products Inc. of Sacramento, Calif., another conventional company, turned to Luminate of Redwood City, Calif. Pacific Coast runs SAP R/3 enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications in multiple locations. "I was just one person, and I could never complete all the daily tasks and checklists SAP throws at you," reports Dean Hancock, technical team lead.

Now Luminate monitors SAP, the network, and the database. Instead of facing a mountain of chores every morning, Hancock finds an e-mail from Luminate detailing the status of the system in prioritized order. "Instead of spending half of each day running around trying to check 40 things, I do three or four things that are important," he notes. The alternative, Hancock adds, is to invest in an enterprise management tool, which costs a fortune but offers results that are far from certain.

Due Diligence

Picking the right MSP is critical. As another form of outsourcing, selecting an MSP is similar to choosing any outsourcing vendor. And since the MSP may need to work with other IT services providers, such as an ASP or Internet data center, the IT department may have to get these parties involved, too.

Managers also need to carefully scrutinize services and service-level agreements, and insist that the MSP actually demonstrate the promised capabilities. "There is still a lot of vaporware in the market," Hancock warns.

Many of the MSPs are startups, too. Managers will need to assure themselves that the MSP has the partnerships and financing in place for long-term survival. "Space4Rent is in its second round of financing so, sure, I'm concerned," says Drake Philbrook, CEO of Globalogic Corp., in San Diego. Globalogic, a consulting firm, turned to Space4Rent.com of Carlsbad, Calif., for Web hosting and management services. While he is very satisfied with Space4Rent to date, Philbrook has a contingency plan in mind that entails bringing the services in-house if necessary.

Drake Philbrook, CEO/President Globalogic Corp.
Drake Philbrook, CEO/
President Globalogic Corp.

"Look at the viability of any MSP. Do your due diligence," advises Coffield, of the MSP Association.

Remember, MSPs became possible because of the Internet. It's the Net which allows IT to leverage more sophisticated, automated management systems and expertise remotely than it could provide in house, and at a far lower cost. As companies get a taste for MSPs, they want to extend the concept to other areas of their operation, including storage, testing, and Web site performance. "Customers are pushing the MSPs," Ferengul notes.

At the same time, this is leading to MSP creep, where MSPs scramble to add new functionality. Anything that can be managed over Internet is fair game. //

Alan Radding is a freelance writer based in Newton, MA, specializing in technology and business. Visit his Web site at www.technologywriter.com.

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