Is It Any Good to Work with Managed Service Providers?

In Part I, we discussed how organizations can take advantage of working with MSPs to proactively save their resources. In Part II, we will further discuss other advantages of working with MSPs.

Hire or Outsource?

IT recruiters can tell you how difficult it is to find the right IT professional for a specific role. It is not because there are no qualified IT professionals, it is usually because the perfect fit is hard to come by. IT environments typically have a mix of applications from small, medium, large and niche providers – matching a resource that has the right knowledge is a long-drawn task. In addition, you need to manage the employees and provide benefits and training, have a backup person who will fill in when they want to take vacation or time off or sick days or leave for another opportunity. Outsourcing comes in handy as it will mitigate all these risks.

Filling of Organizational Gaps

IT is an important department of almost every company in today’s digital era. However, not every company works in the IT industry itself, which is why their expertise and focus might be reserved for other areas, such as marketing, recruitment, consulting, etc. In other words, not every company has a perfect IT workforce, and thus, organizational gaps exist. An MSP can be instrumental in filling these gaps. An MSP works at the core of IT, which is why not only they can improve the existing IT infrastructure, but also train your employees to develop better data management habits for improved cloud computing, online backup, and data protection, etc.

On-Demand Infrastructure

Depending on the scale of your business, writing the code for your entire cloud structure that covers the essential elements viz. cloud backup, secure cloud hosting, admin panel, centralized management system, log and alert system, etc. can take weeks, if not months. Even after the infrastructure is created, there is no telling if any vulnerabilities are left. It will take a considerable amount of time to perfect the system. An MSP, on the other hand, has all the essential tools and scripts for configuring and running a cloud-based infrastructure. Depending on your requirements, the provider can tweak its standard systems and get it up and running in a matter of a few days, allowing you huge time and money savings. In addition, you will enjoy a peace of mind knowing that your IT services are managed by an expert.

Conclusion

A lot of companies don’t realize how poorly they are doing in terms of their IT infrastructure until they see the improvement after joining hands with an MSP. It is no surprise managers often express their regret later, believing they should have acted sooner. If you have not worked with an MSP before, you can still give it a shot and observe the impact first-hand.

Is It Any Good to Work with Managed Service Providers?

The IT department of any average business has to handle a variety of tasks, including cloud storage, cloud computing, cloud backup, data protection, data mobility in the data management areas, and a plethora of other tasks while ensuring compliance within a set of IT standards. Needless to say, IT department’s workload is tremendous, which is why considerable resources are allocated for its seamless operation.
Studies have shown that most companies use only a third of their available IT budget for new projects and initiatives, and the remaining two-third is used up for merely keeping the IT system up and running. However, with a Managed Services Provider (MSP), you can change all this, possibly reverse these numbers.
An MSP can reduce your IT costs by managing your company’s entire IT infrastructure remotely for a set, affordable fee. Outsourcing your IT needs to an MSP is not only convenient but also allow you to make the best use of your resources and minimize other associated costs.

Here are some of the major benefits of working with an MSP:

Predictable Costs within your Budget:

IT related costs are very often seen as expenses and widely considered unavoidable expenses to keep the company going. This means, there is no room for a “break-fix” type of model, which causes your monthly expenses to go up and down and fluctuate. This, in turn, will cause increased strain in budgeting and planning. To work around this problem, MSPs can sit down with you and come up with options so that you can pay a flat fee and divert your focus on what you do best — your business — and take the guessing out of IT budgets. Your company’s goals become aligned under such flat fee structure — any technical issues will be taken care of by the MSP, not by your local technical resources, reducing your costs. It will be in the best interest of the MSP to act quickly in the case of any issues. If not, both parties lose revenue if the issue is not handled in an effective and timely matter.

Proactive Approach

An MSP monitors your IT systems 24/7, which means problems related to the infrastructure can be detected in early stages, and fixed before any major damage takes place. For instance, data breaches can cause significant loss of important data, but with an MSP you can limit the risk almost completely through its high-level online backup mechanisms.
Another benefit of the MSP’s proactive approach is minimum downtime in an event of setting up and running cloud backup and/or cloud computing services and also recovery during a disaster.
Continued in Part II …

Businesses must learn to mind their own business. This is the mantra of the new age. Data storage and application support services for your business are strictly not a part of your production activities. Rather, they are the “extras” you need to conduct your business efficiently. The implication is that, you will not lose control over your business activities just because you have chosen to outsource these “extras” to third party vendors.

Expensed as Utility

Outsourcing data storage and application support services could help reduce costs. Cloud technology is a utility service and hence an operational expense. Huge investments in capital goods can be amputated from budgets instantly. Salaries for a number of expensive IT personnel can be reduced to the bare minimum. Tape drives, proprietary software can be retired and annual purchases of storage devices can be regarded as expenses of the past. Disaster recovery planning can be automated and business continuity can be ensured at no extra cost.

Scalable

Cloud services are scalable unlike build and own IT infrastructure. Cloud vendors ensure that they have elastic resources at their command and are ready to provide enterprises with additional storage on demand. Customers need only to pay for use and all resources commissioned can be optimally used.

Automated

Data storage, data replication and high availability of data are automatic. IT Administrators need no longer to worry about failed backups spend sleepless nights ensuring that the data archives and stores are secured against thefts, fires, floods or other kinds of disasters. Data is automatically sent off-site and/or replicated on-site using a single backup interface. Multiple copies of the enterprise data are, highly available on a global scale, round the clock. Although the data is owned by the customer, data security (physical and electronic) is the legal enforceable responsibility of the cloud vendor.

Devote Attention to Business

Furthermore, the transition to the cloud allows the IT department to shift focus and devote attention to the business needs of the enterprise. IT upgrades and computing issues can be left to the outsourced vendor, while the IT team engages itself in providing its services to the local needs of the organisation.

Flexible and Accessible

Flexibility is the unique selling proposition of the cloud. Data can be accessed anywhere, anytime using simple web interfaces. All kinds of devices —Smartphones, laptops, desktops— can connect to a single enterprise online data repository. Mobile workers can obtain essential information with due authentication and authorisation from wherever they are. They can backup their data to the central repository and make it available instantly to and management for mission-critical decisions.

Build or Hire?

In short, the cloud has disrupted thinking and created awareness that IT services need not be built or owned by the enterprise. It can be hired just like any other utility (such as power or communication) service and paid for on a per-use basis. It can help optimise on resources and free the enterprise to do what it does best—its own business. So, why build when your can hire? Why invest huge sums and tie up scarce capital when the same or better quality of services can be obtained by utilising a cloud backup and recovery vendor?
Data Deposit Box (DDB) is an award-winning cloud data backup and recovery solution, specifically designed for small, mid-sized to enterprise organisations. DDB is differentiated by its numerous value-added and industry leading features – agentless technology, on-site portable local storage, multiple off-site data centres, and virtual environments support.
About the Author: Troy Cheeseman is the President and COO of Data Deposit Box, a publicly traded (OTC: DBB), Toronto-based cloud backup service provider.

Data Deposit Box Awarded Best Cloud Solution and Best Storage Solution at Austin ASCII Events IT Summit. Data Deposit Box presented to over 150 Austin area MSP’s, detailing our new Smart Storage and cloud backup products which provide an end to end solution for MSP’s and the SMB’s they support.
After a great pavilion and 25min keynote, the Austin partners voted and awarded DDB the Best Cloud Solution and the Best Storage Solution awards! We are very proud of this accomplishment especially considering the competition at the event (Datto, Carbonite and Storage Craft); all fantastic providers with great products. Thank you to everyone who voted for DDB!!
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Most people do not know when a server should be replaced. Here are some points which will help in identifying whether it is good to continue using an old server or replace it:

Replace Server after Three Years

IT managers usually claim that servers can be used for years. It is true that the support cost increases after three years. IDC states* that the fourth year of a server increases support costs by up to 40%. If your server has passed its five years mark, the support cost will escalate almost 200%. Keeping a server for seven years means an increase in cost by up to 400%.
Facts and figures show that a server should be replaced after three years. Customers buy new servers when an existing warranty expires, usually three years. Extending the warranty is costly and replacement parts are difficult to find after passing the three years of warranty. Server crash is the scenario that companies plan to avoid. It is good to replace a running server than replacing a crashed one.

Operating System Support

Microsoft has pulled out the support for Server 2003. Though server 2003 was running in good condition, Microsoft decided to pull the plug and ended its life. If Microsoft declares that it will no longer support an operating system, it is the right time to replace your server. In fact, it is just like killing two birds at a time. New OS will work more efficiently when it is supported with a new server. Using unsupported operating system or old server means to play with business continuity. It is the responsibility of MSPs to understand your requirements and give suggestions when hardware should be replaced and what type of configurations they need to run the system.

Performance Issue

It is very difficult to define the level of performance of a server. Employees usually know how to work with a slow performing server. If a server is giving reliable performance, it does not mean that it is running in its best possible way. Here, IT professionals can support by determining whether you need to replace a server or not. Performance of server gets low when it runs with over 70 percent capacity.
Many customers do not change the server until and unless they are given a new model that is two times or three times faster than the old one. SSDs and Intel Xeon have improved server performance. When each and every employee in a department saves 10 minutes, it adds up for the company and can save a bundle company wide. For instance, a dentist needs to view images before dealing with a patient. If the server takes time in loading images, it means less time to spend with patients.

Conclusion

Performance, supportive operating system and age of server are the three factors that compel to replace a server. Sometimes, it is better to upgrade a server, rather than replacing it. If the system is running fine, but you are experiencing problems due to storage space and/or memory, it is better to re-purpose that server by adding more storage and memory options.
Server is the foundation of IT infrastructure, therefore, it is recommended that you follow a replacement plan. Using an old server increases overall support costs. Remember that in case your server crashes, you will need to pay more than replacing it.
* – http://goo.gl/ywOVMK

It is the need of every business to sort out valuable data and dispose of unnecessary files and folders on regular basis. When companies overlook such tasks, all data is saved whether it is useful or not. To keep data storage cost within budget, companies need to delete and organize data on priority basis.

Categories of Data

Mission-Critical Data

Mission-critical type of data is impossible to recreate again. Such type of data is the backbone of business, and you will not be able to operate your business without it. Legal agreements, contacts, IP, credit card info and tax documents are included in this category. Companies need to make backup of such data in the cloud, as well as in local drives. Save this crucial data in quality hardware and do not overlook data encryption.

Necessary Data

Such type of data is necessary for business, but can be recreated when required. It can be your report or email thread. It is important to store necessary data on specific places where backup option is available. Employees should be familiar with backup concept. For example, your company does not keep back-up of all data. It is expected from workers to save important files on drive with backup option. When hard drive fails, it becomes difficult to find data as employees do not know exact location for saving particular files. Make certain all workers are following the standards.

Infrequently Accessed Data

For companies, there are several documents that are necessary to store for few years. As these documents are infrequently required, they can be stored in cloud archives. There must be local copies of such data. It is not good to keep data in one place. Companies get benefit by storing infrequently accessed data in cheaper cloud archive storage options.

May be Valuable Data

Before data is stored away, companies need to organize their data according to its use and value. Some legacy documents and old statistics that are no longer in use. If you have not used such data within last six months, and will no longer use it in the upcoming year, it is possible that such data may or may not be useful for you. Confirm and dispose such data.

Worthless Data

It is often noticed that useless data for some users is valuable or “may-be-useful” for others. Therefore, figure out what is important and what is useless. Discard setup files for old programs, temporary files, old notes, joke videos and old newsletters.

Storage Policies

When a single place is used to store information by many employees, it is common to get junk files. Managing data on server becomes difficult when multiple workers are allowed to save information. In order to reduce data storage, inform employees about type of data they can store. It is recommended to remove all initial drafts when final is designed. In order to help employees, develop some policies for data deletion and storage.
Before making a decision about data storage, ask some questions to know the type of data.

  • Do you require these files in the future?
  • How long does this data should be stored?

Admin, MSPs and end users get many benefits by keeping the storage space free from unnecessary files.

How-Can-Newsletters-Help-in-Reducing-Number-of-Support-Tickets

There are users who are not familiar with things related to IT. They do not have an idea of cloud and do not know how to avoid malware content. It is good for service providers to spend some time with such users and educate them how to handle things appropriately. One of the effective ways for educating users is a monthly update based on their common concerns. Before designing newsletters, consider these features to make it helpful for users:

Maintenance and Patches Update

Inform users when new patches will be implemented. Have you planned any downtime that will influence uptime? When do the servers get rebooted?

Information about Security Threats

Monthly updates must include new scams and malware that your users could come across in the online world. It can be an email threat or reprehensible sites that post contents to grab attention. If users are well aware of threats and scams, it is possible that they can avoid some security attacks and threats.

Inform Users about Particular Issues

At times, there might be issues that affect a department or a group of people in your company; and as a result, these people might keep on sending support tickets. It is annoying for service providers to read tickets about the same issue again and again. To avoid such situations, make sure that known issues in the company are communicated in the updates, indicating how and when the issues will be resolved in the newsletter. It will reduce the number of support tickets as users are well aware of the issues.

Update about New Projects

Keep users well informed about the type of projects you are working on. Send updates how your team is working hard to improve the infrastructure. Majority of IT service providers are not appreciated as users do not have an idea what they are doing for business continuity. It is good to share your efforts with users to get positive response.

Repetition of Procedures & Policies

When security policies concerning cloud file share and BYOD are discussed, it is helpful to review IT policies of the company. If policies are updated many times and are communicated, users cannot give an excuse for violating the policy. When customers understand these policies, they tend to respect the policies.

Tips and Useful Tricks

It is fun to share tips and tricks with users in newsletters. If you received queries about certain tricks, you could include them as a guide in your newsletter. It will be much appreciated.

Share Videos and Photos

Newsletters should not be based on boring content. Service providers are not like robot, therefore, your emails and newsletters must have some personal stuff, such as photos and videos. Do not send dull contents as updates otherwise, users will ignore them all the time. It must include interesting content that users can forward to others. As users continue to read your updates regularly, they will become confident and capable and will not bother you for minor issues as they will be able to solve them.
Newsletters surely take a lot of your time, but they give you an opportunity to make employees capable to solve issues independently. Test your newsletters and compare the amount of help desk tickets you are getting from users before and after you started sending newsletters. If newsletters cannot achieve your goal, it is good to pay attention to other tasks that are helpful for users.

There are a number of misconceptions associated with open source software. Here are some facts to distinguish reality from fiction:

  1. Open Source Software is always Free

    It is one of the greatest misconceptions that open source software are available for free of cost. Virtual Machine Manager, Joomla and 7-Zip are a few software that do not require you to pay; however, all open source software are not free.
    Open source software is basically a program that permits people to change its source code. In other words, people can select a program and add or remove features to meet their business requirements.
    Open source licenses verify whether users have paid an amount to use program or not. For instance, Linux distro Ubuntu is linked with General Public License GNU that permits to use, share or modify software freely. On the other hand, distro Red Hat Commercial Enterprise Linux make use of freeware licenses; however, it confines free use through trademark rights. Red Hat charges for updates and closed binary modules, whereas source code is available freely for rebuilds and tweaks.

  2. Open Source Software is Inferior Quality

    Quality and security of software cannot be measured through license flexibility. Internet Explorer and Microsoft Windows are closed source software, but these have been targeted by hackers. It is ridiculous to think that Android has open source therefore it is more vulnerable to hack than iPhone.
    Bugs are also one of the common issues in closed source software. However, only the developer of that closed source program can work on fixing any of the bugs. On the other hand, open source software can count on its worldwide developers’ community to zip away the bugs and come up with an improved and mature product.

  3. Open Source Software is weakly Supported

    Usually, vendors include the cost of technical support and online customer service in product’s price. Commercial program, such as PhotoShop provides resources for premium support. Open alternatives, such as GIMP offer only community support in forums.
    Open source support is usually given critical reviews and seems to have bad reputation. However, open source software, such as WordPress, and its plugins and themes, are updated on regular basis to cover security patches. Some open source software such as Hadoop come with enterprise features. Hadoop’s support is as equal or better than commercial solutions.

  4. Open Source Software is Public Domain

    Public domain and open source are two different names; and they mean different. In reality, public domain software has no copyrights and restrictions like Creative Commons and UnLicense. Some public domain software examples include: Blast, I2P, SQLite. Open source software is restricted. License explains how application should be used, redistributed and modified.
    Knowing the difference between open source and public domain will help you avoid expensive legal issues while sharing or packaging up software.

  5. Open Source Software is Unreliable

    It is natural that customers get a quality product when they pay for it; therefore, free software is believed as unreliable in nature. Fact is open source software is designed with reliability and get tested by thousands of the community members. Popular web applications, such as Apache Web Server, BIND, and PHP are open source. Apaches HTTP server supports popular websites, Wikipedia, PayPal and Apple.

Significant Reasons to Virtualize Servers

While discussing about server virtualization, it is common practice to involve consolidation by putting physical workloads on one physical box. Separation in multiple physical workloads is handled by barriers of virtual machine. In fact, workload consolidation is a remarkably important with respect to virtualization. Consolidation is a nice-to-have feature, and should not be used as justification for virtualization. Conversely, virtualization is inevitable conclusions. When workloads are not consolidated, it does not mean that workload would not be virtual. Here are some of the significant reasons that force to virtualize each and every server:

Simplicity & Consistency

Virtualization is considered as an abstraction of hardware. It summarizes hardware and offers a predictable hardware set to operating systems. It is often thought that virtualization adds more complexities, but rather, it makes things simpler. Computers, computer peripherals and operating systems are highly complicated; and virtualization creates standard interfaces that remove layers of complexity and brings simplicity.

Testing & Imaging

One of the remarkable additional features is abstraction of storage and memory, and to take a snapshot of functional systems and save in a file. Imaging feature gives way to many capabilities like to snapshot of system before installation of software, patching and changing configuration. It helps in quick restore if something goes wrong. Though this might look as a negligible feature, it is a key feature and increases the reliability of overall system. Snapshot makes it easy to test various features, repeat testing or roll back to previous versions, and achieve your goals in non production environments.
Snapshot abstraction leads to the ability to keep backups in image based format. Such types of backups help in restoring the system easily and quickly without any additional interface. All hypervisor makers do not add this feature and, therefore, it is important to consider how this feature is added. HyperV has this feature fully; XenServer adds it partially, whereas VMware vSphere adds it with a paid license. If image based backups are offered, they allow a much faster recovery than other forms of backups. It is possible to recover entire system after a disaster in few minutes.

Migrations

Virtual machines can be treated as files when these are not running actively. This feature helps in migration between dissimilar hardware and physical hosts. Conventionally, hardware upgrade or replacement is a very difficult and risky migration procedure. When contemporary virtualization is used, however, it offers non-destructive and reliable system to move hardware with negligible or zero downtime. Due to virtualization, jobs that were risky and complicated in past have become insignificant today.

Management of Workload

Some virtualization features are appropriate for specific scenarios. Virtualization products offer tools to move workloads between different storage devices or host without facing downtime. Presence of fault tolerant options allows workloads to recover by moving from disastrous hardware to superfluous hardware without interference from users.
There are many additional features of virtualization and one of the significant features is consolidation. Just like other features, consolidation is not considered as central feature. Consolidation is responsible to give flexibility while handling workloads. Virtualization gives standardization, flexibility, stability and manageability. While buying virtualization products, analyze the value of the product against its expenditures.

While establishing small or large data centers, operating cost related to power consumption cannot be overlooked. In order to improve power efficiency, some suggest building data centers near hydroelectric plant. However, data centers come in various sizes, and therefore, building data centers near a hydroelectric plant is not the only option. There are better options to follow some tips and save power. It is impossible to control different variables, such as efficiency of cooling system or room size. If you have a roomful of servers in working conditions, here are a few ways for saving power in data centers:

Installation of Power Saving Servers

In data centers, rack servers use maximum energy. Most of these servers operate at just 20% capacity at any given time. However, these servers consume full power round the clock. If you are replacing existing servers or have decided to buy new ones, it is good to search for variable speed fans. As compared to constant speed fans, variable speed fans scale up or down based on load peaks. You can also pick certified power saving servers, which are about 30 percent more effective than typical servers.
Mechanical drives use more energy, therefore, Solid State Drives (SSDs) are selected to achieve power efficient system. SSDs do not generate much heat, and as a result, variable speed fans work at slower RPM. Mechanical drives will remain in data center until and unless SSDs become capable to store multi TB of data. Same is the case in RAID arrays, where mechanical drives are leading the system. Many IT managers use mechanical drives by disabling features related to power management. When servers are set in sleep or idle mode, it might cause performance issues.
Another effective tip for power saving is the installation of power supplies for each rack, as opposed to each server. Even older power supplies can give 60 to 70 percent efficiency rating. On the other hand, advanced and contemporary power supplies can give about 95 percent power efficiency. Though these power supplies are expensive, they can help in reducing cooling costs and power consumption for longer time period.

Storage Size

Consumption of power is directly proportional to the number of devices in the data center. If you do not need to use saved data on frequent basis, SAN and NAS are the options applicable for storage devices. You may consider servers that are less utilized for data storage; however, additional cooling requirement and CPU resources consume more energy than SAN and NAS.

Virtualization

To improve server utilization, self-regulating operating systems are used. Though operating cost is incurred in virtualized environment, it is negligible when compared to the power efficiency. Virtualization is responsible to free rack space, low cooling cost, and minimizes the number of cables by simplifying the networking requirements.

Cable Management

Overcrowding of cables causes hindrance in distribution of air across data center. If cables are managed properly, it helps in running servers at desired efficiency level. In the absence of appropriate airflow and ventilation, fans are required to work harder. Remove unnecessary cables for proper distribution of air in each rack and server and try to build a customized cable trench to hold your cables.