Free IT automation tool to help managed services

Ottawa-based N-Able Technologies is offering a no-cost tool for software vendors who work with Microsoft and are interested in pursuing the lucrative managed services space.

The company this week said it would provide North American Microsoft partners with a one-year subscription to its hosted N-central Express software, which allows Web-based administration of multiple customers from a single dashboard, automated software updates, script execution and defrags. Its also allows solution providers to remotely monitor and manage up to 10 IP-enabled devices.

N-able said the offer marks the first fruits of a partnership formed with Microsoft to facilitate the integration of N-central and the Redmond giant’s System Center Essentials 2007.

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Why managed services fail

In a Webcast event Tuesday that focused on IT automation in the managed services segment, N-Able manager of partner development Mike Ellison said potential providers are dealing with higher expectations among customers and stiff competition among outsourcers and large vendors such as Best Buy and Dell.

“Customers are not as innocent as they once were,” he said. “It’s not the wild west of managed services anymore.”

Ellison said IT automation among managed service providers ranges from chaotic to highly managed, and quoted Gartner data that suggested more mature organizations pay average monthly fees of anywhere from $1,999 to $7,999. These kind of organizations are also getting a lot better at optimizing their support models and mitigating risk, he added.

“Some providers with lower-value solutions are competing on price,” he said, which can hurt the market overall. “Some services are becoming almost commodities.”

N-Able director of product management Rob Bissett said N-central uses small pieces of software installed on a laptop or other device or probes, a piece of software deployed on a network, to collect network data and send it over the Internet via a SSL encrypted link to the company’s network operations centre. This allows managed service providers to remotely handle problems with their clients, who he said demand very fast responses.

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“In managing services, you have a very strong trust relationship with your customers to really take over a fundamental core of their business,” he said. “You may bill for sitting in traffic, but ultimately you’re less productive.”

Bissett gave the example of managed service providers who have to help out an executive who can’t access his e-mail on a laptop while working in another country. This can be a highly frustrating experience, he noted. “If you can reach out and take control in a dynamic sense, the help desk technician can close that ticket in one quarter of the time.”

N-Able’s clients include New York-based Precision IT Group, which provides a variety of managed services to small and medium-sized businesses. David D’Arcy, the firm’s president, said the company has been working with N-Able for two years, having started as a four-person operation that was experiencing a lot of help desk demand.

“We would constantly get the random phone call saying our server’s down, our Internet’s down,” he said. “We just weren’t able to give that extra level of support.”

D’Arcy said The Precision IT Group has seen server downtime among its clients reduced 90 per cent since deploying N-central, and monthly recurring revenue has been up 45 per cent each year for the past two years. He also praised N-central’s auto-discovery capabilities, which allowed his firm to integrate with ticket management systems such as AutoTask.

N-Able said there would be no obligation for those who try N-central express to move to the regular version of the product.

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