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How Can I Be of (Managed) Service?

My background is in academics. The two iterations of Information Technology that I was familiar with are: 1) Professional IT departments that are part of some large organization or 2) The DIY IT that people like me provide to our friends and family. Little did I know that there was a third option somewhere in-between. While I have been into computers for decades,[1] I am brand new to the world of Managed Service Providers.[2]

You Break/Fix It; You Buy IT

To understand what Managed Service Providers are to IT, let’s imagine that you are a professional driver. No, not for Uber or Pizza Hut. No, you are a NASCAR driver. The roar of the engine. The heat on your brow. Now imagine that you treat your car the way most of us treat our computers: We try to buy it for as cheap as we can, we run it hard, and only fix it when something breaks. With this belief system in mind, how well do you think you could do your job?

In the world of computers, this is the philosophy of break/fix, where you buy whatever computer seems to be a good deal and pay a lot of money to some computer technician to repair, restore, or even try to resurrect it when your computer acts out. Since clients turn to a break/fix for whatever computer-related issue occurs, these contractors have to troubleshoot thousands of iterations of hardware and software, meaning they truly have to be jacks of all trades and masters of none. Worst of all, it’s in their best interests that they don’t perform extra maintenance as the more your computer breaks, the more you turn to them. This mindset is an incredibly costly way of doing business.

A Better Way—for Those Who Can Afford IT

Back to our NASCAR example, drivers don’t run their cars into the ground. Instead, they have a pit crew whose entire raison d’être is to manage and maintain these cars. This crew refills the fuel, jacks up the car, changes the tires, measures the car’s performance, and even assesses any weather impact. Their jobs are to ensure that this driver can best perform his or her job. Race teams pay these professionals a flat rate to ensure the cars in their care perform optimally at all times.

While most of us are not professional drivers, most of us require a computer for our profession. As such, why wouldn’t we want a professional crew for our computers, specialists whose job it is to ensure that we can perform optimally at all times and help us recover from a disaster?

Back to our driver example, perhaps if you have enough sponsors, you can afford a crew of half-a-dozen professionals whose entire full-time job is maintaining your car. These are the big businesses with IT departments. However, while big organizations can afford to have dedicated professional staff like this, how do the rest of us afford this level of professional care?

And a Better IT for the Rest of Us

Well, imagine that your pit crew not only maintains your NASCAR car certain times, while at other times managing cars for Formula One and IndyCar, sports car racing, rallying, drag racing, off-roading, and maybe even a little kart racing. Now instead of paying for the entire crew yourself, you share the cost with these other drivers. And, as each of your racing needs is different (an F1 racer costing a lot more than a rally car to upkeep and maintain), each of you pays a scaled amount for these services. Now you don’t need nearly the same amount of money to have the same high-quality support.

While this doesn’t exist in racing (although it really should), this is very much what Managed Service Providers offer to the IT world. Instead of small and medium businesses having to settle for a metaphorical break/fix mechanic, with a Managed Service Provider these companies get the IT versions of gasmen, tire changers, technologists, meteorologists, and more.[3] And, unlike brake/fix which is nearly impossible to budget for, Managed Service Providers typically offer all this at a set rate.


Figure 1: “Ford Racing 2011 sur Crescent” by abdallahh is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Furthermore, instead of these businesses turning to IT only in a break/fix emergency, a Managed Service Provider offers consistent monitoring and managing to avoid problems before they even start. Furthermore, Managed Service Providers typically oversee backups that ensure business continuity and disaster recovery when something horrific occurs, whether it’s theft by man or the wrath of God.

It’s the difference between a car being frequently serviced and maintained on your time versus it being in the shop for days to undo all the damage done.

In his book Managed Services in a Month, Karl Palachuk explains, “Whether you work on cars, work in the garden, or provide managed service, having the right tools makes all the difference.” For small and medium businesses, the right tool is having a Managed Service Provider oversee their computers. There is a reason why professionals turn to financial questions and lawyers for legal work—it’s the same computers:  Let the professionals do their job so that you can be the very best at yours.


[1] I like to claim that I had the very first iMac G3 in all of Colorado back in 1998.

[2] Much as I didn’t know what rhetoric was before I went into a graduate program in it, I had no idea what a Managed Service Provider was before I became one.

[3] In the IT world, these positions are divided into tiers: Tier 1 being help desk resolution and service desk delivery, Tier 2 being in-depth technical support, and Tier 3 being expert product and service support.

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