Network management: proactive vs reactive

Russ Levanway, CEO, Tektegrity

At some point, any business that uses computers will realize just how important they are. Unfortunately, that realization often comes as someone is pacing nervously, waiting for a repair technician to arrive.

In the IT industry, there are different models of service provided. The “break-fix” model works just as the name implies. When something breaks, an IT company is called to fix it. This model is most often employed by small businesses with limited reliance on computers or those who just haven’t considered the importance of their network. The break-fix model involves certain amounts of risk and luck.  Sometimes, a business get lucky, and computers last for a long time without any issues.  But just as often, luck runs out, often creating unplanned and expensive downtime, repairs, or data loss.

The other service model is the “managed services” model. The focus of a managed services provider (MSP) is proactive and preventative IT services. Well-managed IT systems run smoothly, with fewer unexpected repairs or expenses.

TekTegrity is an MSP.  While not all MSP’s are created equal, here’s a peek inside TekTegrity to illustrate how we operate.

First, we operate on long-term service agreements because we value our relationships with our clients and want to take a long-term approach to them.

In these agreements, we have a base monthly fee for multiple reasons.  There are software licensing costs to provide remote support, virus protection, backups, and other services.  There are costs to guarantee specific response times, to make sure we are staffed appropriately.  But the bulk of that cost is time we spend doing proactive work on client networks and systems.  At TekTegrity, there is a dedicated team that most of our clients never see, that is going through a pre-defined set of proactive tasks all of the time.

Here is a list of proactive services we provide to our clients:

  • Patch management—We deploy critical updates for Windows computers and servers, as well as server software like Exchange and SQL.
  • Antivirus management—We continually update the antivirus software, review viruses caught, try to identify trends with viruses, and run both real-time and routine scans.
  • Malware scanning – We run malware scans nightly on computers to catch items that might not be caught by Antivirus software.
  • Hard Drive optimizations – When necessary, we perform automatic defragmentation, and clean up unnecessary temp files.  We get alerts when servers are running low on disk space.
  • Common software updates – Frequent automatic software updates for software such as Microsoft Office, Java, and Flash
  • Backup management—We review all backup logs for all hard drives on all systems we back up.  We actually mount backups and test restores, either by booting up an entire virtual server, or by restoring individual files.
  • Server monitoring—We get alerts if servers lose a level of redundancy.  For instance, we’ll receive a warning if a hard drive or power supply fails, or is about to fail.  Without these alerts, the next failure is likely to bring the server down or result in data loss.  Most of the time, these alerts allow us to quickly get replacement hardware without the server ever going down.
  • Power monitoring—With many battery backup devices (UPSes), we get alerts when power is lost, when a battery is ending it’s charge, and we can send signals to power down servers.  If a battery is at the end of its life, we get notified, allowing us to replace the battery before the next power outage crashes your server!
  • Server up/down—If a server goes down, we are alerted, allowing us to get the system back up with minimal lag time.
  • Internet connection down—If your internet connection goes down, we get an alert, allowing us to anticipate problems with e-mail and web browsing.

The caveat with managed services is that servers, computers, and network equipment have to be capable of allowing remote and proactive management.  We can sometimes be sticklers for certain software and hardware, because it allows us to be proactive instead of reactive.  An MSP can’t guarantee that proactive support will stop all problems before they start.  However, investing in equipment that can be proactively managed, and having a service plan in place, allows you to minimize risk.

Understanding how MSPs operate helps people realize why so many busy organizations are turning away from the break-fix model and embracing the managed services model.

Of course, if you like to gamble and can’t escape to Las Vegas, the break-fix model is always good for a little excitement!

Russ Levanway is the CEO of TekTegrity, an IT Managed Services Provider serving the Central Coast and Central Valley. The organization’s Total Systems Management™ (TSM) service model provides preventative IT support at fixed monthly fee levels. For more information, visit www.tektegrity.com.