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What is a managed service?

Maybe it’s an unusual question but one that I get asked regularly is what exactly is a managed service? Managed services are effectively outsourcing services that can cover a broad range of potential services ranging from the infrastructure layer which may include servers, operating systems and the broadband infrastructure right through to network applications including security and mail servers. In more advanced managed services agreements, the arrangement can also extend to traditional desktop applications and the support of the company’s users. Managed services are an alternative approach towards IT management. Over the past few years, this type of IT-as-a-service has grown in popularity. Managed services are provided by companies called managed services providers or MSPs.

Why managed services?

Sometimes with such a diverse range of technical skills required to run the network it makes sense for the internal team to focus on the things that they understand the best and to outsource the less known IT items to third party managed service providers with accreditations and expertise in that particular area. Managed services can also support beyond the basic network administration and maintenance to include help desk services. It can include software-as-a-service (SaaS) for network applications such as LAN monitoring software, backup software, virus software, firewalling and voice services. A well executed managed service aims for the provision of an outcome rather than provision of a product. It means that the MSP should maintain the in-house skills required to support the service. Other objectives of managed services are to create predictable pricing, resourcing efficiencies across an organisation and to limit the internal costs associated with some IT functions within the organisation.

How do managed services work?

The term managed service implies the delivery of IT-as-a-service rather than an ad-hoc approach toward network maintenance. It embodies the concept of a proactive, preventative approach instead a reactive, remedial one. It involves transferring the responsibility of the outcome from in-house to a MSP. Managed services can work as a completely outsourced department for a fixed fee or can also work in conjunction with existing IT departments.  There is the option to portion off part of the work to an outsourced provider and to keep the remainder in house.

A managed service can include a managed WAN

A fully managed private IP network whereby all configurations and end devices is also an example of a managed IP service. A managed WAN can come in the form of a managed VPN where a private IP is not the right solution. As a rule, the managed service includes the configuration, management, ownership and maintenance of all of the equipment required to provide a service. It is worth seriously investigating a managed WAN. With the proliferation of SaaS and time critical applications on the network, transferring the performance and responsibility to a professional managed WAN provider can ease the performance pressure on an internal IT team with minimal influence over the network performance.

How a managed service can best work?

Assign a particular responsibility to the managed service provider. It is clearly important to define exactly where the demarcation points of the service starts and ends. Whilst the commercial aspects of managed services is one of the more dull aspects of the service, entering into a professional relationship that is set up from the outset to succeed will greatly increase the chances of success of the arrangement.

Working toward a guaranteed service level

A service level agreement is a good way to define and measure the performance of a managed services provider.  It also serves as a great tool for the MSP and helps to distinguish the grey areas that come with providing a service with significant responsibility. The service level agreement will spell out some metrics that can be measured and compared against an agreed time frame.

Managed services make sense for many organisations, small and large. In our experience, the combination of managed services and an internal IT team delivers the right outcome. The onsite, local knowledge of the internal team is often difficult for MSPs to replicate.The use of external resources via the managed services agreement ensures that there is a flexible workforce that is most likely more scalable than an internal IT team.