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The Drive Towards Managed Services

Increased management complexity within organisations, together with a mounting need to provide business partners with greater visibility of IT infrastructure, is driving the demand for managed services.

Mark Swanston, Infrastructure Operations Services Manager at GlassHouse Technologies (UK), outlines the challenges companies face in managing their IT infrastructure once they have taken advantage of consolidation technologies such as server virtualisation, storage area networks and data de-duplication, and what to consider when choosing a managed services vendor.

Having a highly consolidated environment is great for hardware return on investment (ROI), however, the traditional wide margin for error we’ve grown accustomed to has also been eliminated. Keeping a highly consolidated and visible environment running properly poses a number of challenges:

- Skill Set – with all your eggs in a much smaller basket, learning virtualisation management on the job is not an optimal choice for many businesses – it requires real expertise.

- Processes – in the historic underutilised environment, it was enough to handle individual incidents on a reactive basis since a single failure rarely had widespread impact. In today’s highly consolidated environment, however, a single failure can be catastrophic so the “firefighters” of the past need to focus on pre-empting and preventing problems and downtime by managing performance much more closely.

- Tools – many enterprises have purchased monitoring and management tools in the past that have not lived up to their promise. The chore of configuring these tools properly has proven to be a challenge, and in the old underutilised environment their relevance was marginal – there simply weren’t as many critical performance management issues when servers averaged less than 20% utilisation. Today, when businesses need monitoring and management tools more than ever, the appetite to invest in them is soured by the history of underperformance and failure to meet expectation.

Enterprises can overcome many of these challenges by adopting a managed service approach either internally or through an external service provider.

For those who seek outside help, understanding how to differentiate among the various options can be helpful. Some guidelines include:

- Midmarket focus – if you’re going to be among a supplier’s smallest customers you shouldn’t expect to get a lot of attention nor have your needs for flexibility addressed. You should look for suppliers that can show references of happy midmarket clients that are not being wedged into a one size fits all model.

- Consulting capability – many managed service providers have only basic consulting capabilities that enable them to help a company manage its current situation. But if you plan to grow, expand and react to market opportunities in the future, make sure they have a proven track record of helping their clients transform under the managed services contract.

- Vendor agnostic – many hardware manufacturers have offerings in managed services business. Why? Not because it’s easier than making product – they often do it to create a locked in environment for their product sales. While this isn’t always the case, it’s wise to leave your options open so that your managed service provider isn’t dictating your platform selection.

- Location agnostic – midmarket enterprises find some management options require them to move their infrastructure to the provider’s space and in some cases leave their infrastructure entirely. These arrangements may seem convenient, but they force you to relocate if the service fails to deliver.

- Ability to handle complex scopes – many providers focus on the easy bits and don’t have real capability in the critical areas of backup and storage. Find out exactly what the offerings, tools and capabilities are in these areas to make sure you’re getting the management expertise you need.

IT infrastructure management is posing an ever increasing challenge. While the temptation will always be to find the cheapest way to solve this challenge in the short term, businesses need to be constantly looking to the future and considering the implications of any decisions they make today on their budgets and organisational set up for the next ten years.