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MSP anyone?

ISV, VAR, IS, ASP, ISP … the world of business and technology is full of abbreviations. Here is another one to add on to the list - MSP.

ISV, VAR, IS, ASP, ISP … the world of business and technology is full of abbreviations. Here is another one to add on to the list - MSP

Before we discourse on what an MSP does, let's think about professional estate management for your property. It’s your property but the folks there manage it for you. Whether it's landscaping , cleaning the drains, swimming pool maintenance, or security, they are at your service.

A Managed Service Provider (MSP) is to IT services for your company what an estate manager is to your property. In general, an MSP is a company that manages and delivers information technology services for other companies, on a subscription basis.

YES

Typically, an MSP would monitor the network infrastructure and/or system security of a subscriber, and report its findings on a network, typically the Internet. Subscribers would then log on to the MSP’s Web site to view the status of their network, and thus, inspect on the status of the services which the MSP provides. There are some similarities between ASPs and MSPs. For one, both provide a form of subscription-based service to a customer. However, the similarities end in terms of the type of service that they provide.

An Application Service Provider provides a form of application that the customer has to subscribe to in order to use it remotely. The application could be over the Internet or other wide area network.

An MSP, as defined by MSP Association, “deliver[s] information technology infrastructure management services to multiple customers over a network”. Unlike an ASP which delivers applications to subscribers, an MSP delivers network management service to subscribers. If your business model depends heavily on technology, any downtime would cause you dearly. For example, if your medium enterprise has an e-business to run, and if any particular e-business is down or fails to run properly, customers may be lost and revenue affected. In extreme cases, the reputation of your medium enterprise may be tarnished.

Although it is recommended to have a system management program in place, this would involve a large monetary investment as well as many man-hours. You would need cash to purchase system management tools, train dedicated personal to use it, implement it and finally, monitor the whole infrastructure.

As your business grows, so will your infrastructure and management program. This will result in the need to purchase more management tools, re-train the support personal, as well as re-implementation.

MSPs take away most, or in some cases, all of the system management aspects of your infrastructure. Since they already have the equipment in place and the expertise at hand, the up time for such a program would be very fast. What may take you months to do, may take only weeks for an MSP. And when your business model grows, an MSP will grow with you, since fierce competition has forced players in the MSP arena to constantly upgrade their services and package.

In short, outsourcing to an MSP would leave you doing what you do best - making money without having to worry about the integrity of any critical systems. There are some common things that cut across any organization that calls itself an MSP. Subscription service would be one such common characteristic for any MSP. A typical MSP will carry out deployment, implementation and operation of monitoring tools on behalf of the subscribing clients.

Generally, MSPs set themselves apart from one another in the sense that while one MSP does all the monitoring of a client’s network infrastructure remotely within its own organization, there are MSPs that place monitoring equipment (management server, for example) on the client’s site. By “planting” monitoring equipment on the client’s site, even if the network connection between the client and the MSP goes down, the system can still collect data on the client's network.

How an MSP does what it does
Upon a successful client subscription to an MSP, a typical MSP will plant an agent into the client's network. Making use of Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), the agent will then be configured to search the part of the network that is being outsourced to the MSP for data on any critical system.

Data on the critical system, such as down time or any breach of system security, will be collected and submitted onto an MSP portal.

An MSP portal will not simply echo the data received from the agent. Instead, it will transform all the data into useful information that identifies any operational problems, detects performance related problems in the network infrastructure and the traffic flow of networks and applications. The current security settings and configurations will also be compared to the findings of the agent so as to detect any breach in system security.

No two enterprises are the same. While they may have the same business focus, there are bound to be some elements that set them apart. Although the following selection criteria may not be applicable to each and every enterprise, it should at least help in considering what factors to look out for when sourcing for an MSP.

  • When a company grows, so will its network. Therefore, not only should a prospective MSP be able to monitor the current network infrastructure, the service which it provides should be growing along with an organization.

  • Various MSPs have different practices regarding the reporting of findings. While a subscriber may have to go through a standard set of reports offered by an MSP, others may be able to customize the way which the findings are being reported. Some MSPs may even offer a form of “package” reporting and charge additional fees for anything extra. The reporting practice and additional cost (if any) should be taken into consideration prior to signing the contract.

  • Most MSPs remotely monitor a client’s network. When a problem arises, either a sub-contractor is engaged to attend to the problem or the MSP’s own technical team is assigned the job. There isn’t much of an issue if the MSP’s technical team is taking up the matter. However, if a sub-contractor is being assigned, clients who want to subscribe to the MSP's services should also be given information about the MSP’s sub-contractor.

  • To monitor an organization network, an MSP may use commercially available management tools or develop their own agents that make use of SNMP. An MSP may even subscribe to an ASP for the management tools. Some organizations are more comfortable with MSPs that use commercially available tools while others may accept the MSP argument that in-house management tools are more suited for remote monitoring.

  • Here comes the age-old concern, cost. Cost for subscribing to an MSP can vary from US$80 per month for monitoring of each server to as high as a few thousand dollars to monitor a back end server.
Iworld Networking, a regional Internet Infrastructure MSP, recently launched its company and services in Singapore. The company provides management of a diverse range of existing or customer-installed Internet infrastructure including network devices, servers, security systems, Web servers, Internet services and databases. Iworld services include:

  • Infrastructure Monitoring and Management Services
    to identify and notify faults in customers IT infrastructure on a 24x7 basis. Through analysis of monitored data, the monitoring services identify the cases of faults and events, prevent recurrence of identical problems, and also provide recommendations for system optimization and capacity planning.
  • Security Monitoring and Management Services
    for real time intrusion detection and notification, combined with operations center monitoring network and server availability, analysis and reporting services and managed firewall services.

  • In March 2000, Iworld has won its first contract with Genesis Multimedia, an Internet access service provider founded in September 1999.