Managed services providers routinely take on responsibility for ensuring various parts of your IT infrastructure and operations are maintained and are kept functioning. Typical services include maintaining firewalls and network security, data backups, onsite and offsite storage, website maintenance and hosting, email service, and helpdesk support.

For small to medium-sized businesses this is frequently the preferred route, because establishing an in-house IT department is usually expensive, and in any event, the range of skills required to fully support a company’s IT needs will exceed the team’s capacity (especially if the IT department is simply one person).

The big question becomes, “What should you look for in a potential partner?”

What To Look For In A Managed Services Provider

We’ve laid out some of the major issues, both from experience working with our customers, but also based upon over 15 years of experience as a company working in this arena:

1. Cost

Cost is always a major issue, not least because you want value-for-money, however when you are comparing quotes between different providers it is essential you are comparing like for like. Ensure any proposals you receive are broken down into line items with the technical specifications and statement of work/service to be provided – if it is not clear from the proposal, always seek clarification;

2. Technical Resources

Technical resources covers the simple ability of the Managed Services Provider to actually deliver what you need. For instance, managed hosting is a commonly requested service, but the issue is where will the server actually reside: within a data center owned and operated by the provider, or will it sit somewhere else with another company? Does the provider have the breadth and depth of experience working with a variety of platforms and network areas, such as the ability to install and manage a firewall, and then bring specialist expertise to bear on managing and improving network speed and performance?

3. Adequate Staffing Levels

A major issue for setting up an in-house IT team is the number of staff actually required to be able to manage a business network, and tackle the multitude of other IT issues which may arise, for instance, setting up a Disaster Recovery plan and ensuring it will work if required.

It is crucial that your chosen provider has the staffing to not only allow for diversification of skills and experience, but also to physically allow them to schedule work on a recurring basis for maintenance. Even more important, is the ability to deploy staff during a non-routine event, such as an emergency or when your network or business-critical service crashes for whatever reason.

If your provider cannot field the staff to deliver the services you need when you need them, they are unlikely to be a suitable provider to partner with.

4. Training & Certifications

As we’ve already mentioned, technical resources and adequate staffing levels are important, however it is also important that the provider has the breadth and depth of experience to bring to bear too. This is demonstrated by the level of training which staff receive on a continuing basis, as well as the certifications they and the provider have earned. Typical certifications will include use of Microsoft, Citrix, Cisco, VMWare, 3CX, NexSan and Ruckus.

Typical service offerings will include not only network management, but also VoIP (telecommunications), Disaster Recovery, Virtualization, Data Center/Colocation, Internet Access & Hosting, Cloud Services, Application Hosting, Email Management & Anti-Spam and also be able to source and support the hardware and software you will need to maintain and operate.

Janet Ford writes extensively on IT and business related issues. She is currently writing a Whitepaper on network management risk factors for Swift Systems, a managed services provider based in Frederick MD.