Monthly Archives: February 2016

BS-RMM

What’s behind the importance of Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tools in the partner universe?

As Techopedia helpfully explains, RMM is the “proactive, remote tracking of network and computer health”, and typically delivers a set of IT management tools that enable technical staff to maintain service delivery more efficiently and productively - like trouble ticket tracking, and remote desktop monitoring and support.

But, inevitably, not all RMM solutions are created equal. So what is it that makes for a RMM tool that keeps your customers happy and your support teams’ productivity keen?

We looked into a number of recent comparative articles and reviews (like this one in Business Solutions and this one in TechTarget’s SearchIT Channel, amongst others) and came up with this (hopefully!) helpful wish-list:

1. Ease of deployment

“The choice you make when selecting RMM software often boils down to the best combination of integration, deployment and automation characteristics”, writes SearchIT Channel’s John Moore, and to my mind, deployment ranks right at the top of this hierarchy.

Why? Because the less you can disrupt your (and, by potential extension, your customers’) business with your RMM deployment, the better.

So look for solutions that can deploy selectively to one device or a group of devices, and to one location or multiple locations, in one smooth movement.

Consider the hardware onboarding, too; automatic provisioning is far less disruptive than manual, but Mobile Device Management (MDM), for example, will need to be cross-platform (iOS and Android) and offer easy enrolment and configuration functions.

Ultimately, you need to be comfortable with the vendor’s and solution provider’s role in all this, too. What sort of hand-holding or on-boarding will you receive during those crucial first few weeks? Is it restricted to self-help online tutorials, or will it follow a structured statement of work delivered by an engineer on a 1-to-1 basis?

And will they offer you any kind of satisfaction guarantee to protect you against the potential infelicities that shifting a hefty slice of your business productivity to a single platform could occasion?

Much of this is driven, in reality, by whether you choose a cloud-based RMM platform or an on-premise one – so shop around for solutions providers who offer options, to enable you to properly balance risk and return.

 2. Asset coverage and management

RMM can’t effectively monitor or manage anything unless it’s pointing to the right sources of information, and has within it the appropriate management tools.

Your RMM solution needs to work tightly with customers’ workstations, servers, printers, routers and mobile devices, but you also need to be able to slice and dice the monitoring and management by whatever criteria suit you best in any particular situation – by OS, by application, by location, and so forth.

The more geographically, technically, and logistically complex your and your customers’ operations, the more beef you need under your RMM bonnet!


3. Usability and minimal training requirements

Whichever kind of RMM you deploy, users have to be able to use it! For partners and MSPs, that’s principally operators in their own organisation (technical support staff, or perhaps, on occasion, account managers) but customers might need access to the solution, too (in a corporate enterprise deployment scenario, for example)          .

Either way, complexity can spell disaster. The Standish Group, a research outfit that tracks corporate IT purchases, has found that complexity is at the root of some 66% of all IT project failures or late deliveries.

Consequently, your RMM solution has to be built on intuitive features that are easy to master, should be able to orchestrate workflows to prevent human error, and must generally reduce the learning curve for the operators.

Look in particular for features like pre-configured groups, searches, templates and schedules, so that your teams don’t have to hand-craft monitoring and corrective routines on a day-to-day basis.

4. Automation

Related to what I said above about training, automation is the secret ingredient in making an RMM solution function effectively out of the box, and therefore enhancing the productivity and customer satisfaction it can deliver.

In any event, insist on pre-loaded monitors and alerts (so that you can go from both proactive and reactive investigation.)

But be wary: you need to get to the bottom of how quickly and precisely you can choose which of the hundreds of automated elements should be ‘on’ and which should be ‘off’. Does it involve cumbersome, costly trawling through countless groups, and individually cherry-picking the elements?

Or is there a more business-driven approach (such as allowing you to selectively turn off, say, all the Exchange or SQL server performance monitors at once, as opposed to their individual constituents?)

In the search for RMM zen, not all automation is nirvana!

5. Remote capability

Of course, none of this really works for your customers at all if your RMM solution’s remote support capability is lacking. If you can’t easily deliver support straight to a user’s screen, you’re not providing much of a service.

In an ideal world, the “stealth” functions of the RMM platform – the ones that enable you to support customers by making helpful changes and adjustments to their machines without them even knowing, and without interrupting their work – rule.

But sometimes, interrupting the user is unavoidable. Whichever situation you find yourself in, prefer a RMM solution with a native remote support capability, rather than a connection to a third-party one.

The former is controllable from within the solution itself, with one click, alongside all the solution’s other functions (the oft-cited “single pane of glass” approach) and will deliver a more seamless support experience to the end-user.

6. Integration capability

Finally, integration looms large on many MSPs’ and resellers’ RMM agendas. The ability to work with a “supporting cast” of existing applications (including security) not only diminishes customers’ operational headaches, it also creates a three-stage virtuous commercial circle.

The RMM solution becomes saleable because it works securely with existing applications sold by the partner, enabling it to potentially add an extra revenue stream to each customer.

New applications become saleable because they can be easily controlled thanks to the RMM solution, enabling the partner to into existing customers.

And for new customers? Rinse and repeat on both counts!

RMM: which solution to choose?

Essentially, it boils down to this: MSPs and resellers don’t know how their markets are going to diversify in the future. They may be selling one kind of service today, tomorrow it could be another, depending on where there’s profit to be made.

But they’ll all be online, they’ll all be remote, and they’ll all bankrupt the partner if they don’t integrate with a RMM solution that helps to transform the burden of keeping the service running into a highly automated – rather than costly manual – process.

One RMM solution to serve them all? Now that would be a great thing to sell.

manage-backup-banner

Here’s the terrifying truth: according to industry analysts Gartner Group, in this recent article, only 35% of small and medium businesses have data backup in place for disaster recovery (DR) - and 70% of them do not believe that their backup and DR operations are well planned!

So that’s 65% of SMBs just waiting, apparently, for IT channel partners to sweep in with a convincing new backup or DR solution, and swathes more of them looking to the channel to help them either replace or improve the solutions they are already using.

Only it’s not quite that simple. Firstly, there is a fast-changing regulatory environment, which is outpacing many of the DR and backup solutions available.

Secondly, end-users are clamouring for unprecedented ease of use. Forget complex on-premise applications that suck up admin resource; in Gartner’s words, today’s business users want one simple data backup solution that meets all their RPO (Recovery Point Objective) and RTO (Recovery Time Objective) requirements.

A big ask?

Backup and recovery challenges: is MSP the panacea?

On the face of it, backup and DR services delivered in an MSP model would seem to be a great fit for these eager but choosy end-users.

Rapid to set up (often within an hour or two), easily scalable (so the service builds margin and profitability for the channel partner as it grows), the MSP approach also removes complexity from the mix, smoothly delivering viable alternatives to partners whose long-standing offerings have too limited a scope for their business today.

And as the MSP model is naturally compatible with the cloud, it helps get the thorny mechanics of backup and recovery off hard-pressed IT managers’ desks, slashing on-premise risk and admin overheads.

But beware - there are dizzyingly stringent forces at work in the background, potentially challenging many MSP backup and DR solutions’ licence to operate. EU data protection directives are now being reworked and will become regulations – that is, they will assume uniform force of law across the 28 signatory countries – by 2017.

Make no mistake, for MSPs and other service providers, these changes are a big deal. They make MSPs, as data processors, explicitly responsible for breaches in any data they have “touched.”.

Fines may be as high as €100m or 5% of global revenue (whichever is higher), in stark contrast to the current UK limit of £500,000!

 

Backup & DR: the MSP proof points

Clearly, the data regulators are upping the ante, so here’s how to ask questions that will help to identify the MSP backup and DR solutions that can be profitably delivered in this newly draconian environment - without engendering insane levels of legal and reputational risk!

1) Data centre - citadel or sitting duck? Firstly, Is the data all in one centre, or is it mirrored between different sites so that data can instantly fail over to another centre in the case of an outage? Is the data centre elsewhere in the EU, or in the UK, where it’s ultimately more manageable?

At the very least, the data centre should be ISO 27001-certified. But additionally, consider what physical security there is on site, and how long the generator fuel will keep the centre online in the event of a power failure.

(If all this seems like nitpicking, remember that €100 million fine for the consequences of getting it wrong…)

2) Speed, frequency, and data volume – Some 80% of businesses experience a shutdown if they can’t get to their data.

 Yet the fact is that, often, when backup software is tested against large, complex data sets that emulate those of a real-world production system, the time it takes for the backup to complete  - despite even the most ample computing, I/O and bandwidth resources – does not fit within the required backup window.

And that window is shrinking. Indeed, as Information Age recently put it, “with today’s expectation that services will be available around the clock, every day of the week and with an increasing data volume, the back-up window is constantly being squeezed… more than ever before.”

This raises another pertinent point. When uploading of data is not an option, due to bandwidth constraints, can large data sets be “seeded” to the solution provider instead? And will this attract extra fees that will eat into partners’ margins?

Likewise, does the solution make it possible for the partner or end-user to instantly access large amounts of data without the prior need to download it in its entirety? The most powerful MSP backup solutions use clever technology to eliminate this latter bottleneck.

3) Security – In a multi-tenant cloud MSP environment, global encryption keys and space-saving deduplication (each of which can be used to unlock customer-confidential data) should frighten partners and their end-users alike!

 Partners need to be sure that their solution providers’ offerings use both source-side and global deduplication. This makes the data tamper-proof by ensuring that each customer’s unique encryption key remains valid only for their own data set, whilst intelligently managing the shared data pool as it changes.

Finally, solution providers should use the latest, government-standard 256-bit AES GCM encryption technology, both for data in transit and at rest.

Settle for nothing less!

4) Cost, effort, and complexity – Managing hundreds of DR and backup end-users manually does not scale, invites security errors and, ultimately destroys margins. Partners need to quiz solution providers about whether they offer integrations that simplify customer and technical management, including remote monitoring (RMM) and “single pane of glass” operating consoles.

Likewise, when things do go wrong, where is the support coming from? Chasing it down across continents and timezones is stressful, time-consuming, and, therefore, expensive. Prefer a service provider that offers UK-based support, 24/7.

 

The size of the MSP backup/DR opportunity

So with regulations stricter, but end-user expectations higher, than ever before, is there still money to be made from managing the provision of a MSP backup and DR service?

The answer seems to be a resounding “Yes”! Analyst MarketsandMarkets, for example, predicts global growth in the DR service market from $1.42 billion last year to $11.92 billion by 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 52.9%.

But, like everything else in business, it’s about backing the right horse - so choose your tipster wisely.