With companies always looking for ways to save money, many are turning to managed service providers (MSPs) to outsource their IT needs. For companies that are considering this move, it can greatly increase both productivity and profit. Read on to find out how.
What Is Remote Management Software?
Remote monitoring and management (RMM) software, as the name implies, is a software package put together for the purpose of remotely monitoring and managing servers, workstations and other network devices. Most RMM software uses a device called a "dashboard," which provides an instant overview of the systems being monitored. Some remote systems require a specialized software package for their dashboard, while other systems are built to be used in a web browser.
The two main types of RMM platforms use either active monitoring, passive monitoring or a combination of both. In a passive environment, the dashboard monitors the external traffic from a workstation or server to get a picture of its overall health. Using this measurement, RMM software takes into account such tests as ping, HTTP and network SNMP traffic. Active monitoring also requires the installation of a small software package called an "agent" onto the host machine. (For more on SNMP, check out SNMP: The Little Protocol That Could.)
Although this installation process is slightly more involved than passive monitoring, active monitoring gives the monitor access to a whole new set of health checks for the target computer, including CPU use, memory overages, disk space and a host of other features.
Remote Software: Why It Works
If you’ve ever tried to talk a user through a computer configuration or event log over the phone, the advantages of remote management software will be immediately obvious. This software provides firsthand insight into a computer's health and any problems that might crop up. One of the biggest advantages of remote management software is the ability to see potential problems and take care of them before they can do any damage. An example of this would be a hard drive that continuously underperforms or seems sluggish. This could be an indication of a drive that is about to fail, and for which corrective measures could be taken before data is lost.
Another key advantage of many remote management software packages is the ability to schedule automated tasks and maintenance. You could, for example, schedule a cleanup of temporary files from users' directories in the middle of the night. Many remote management packages are also frequently being bundled with anti-virus and anti-malware packages. These packages can be updated automatically and scans can be set to run at prescribed intervals to keep the entire network safe.
… And When It Doesn't
The main disadvantage to this type of software is that, in order to get a thorough knowledge of the computers being monitored, IT support staff have to install an active agent. This requires access to the computers in question. Another major disadvantage to this type of software is network access. Because most remote management programs require internet access to monitor the target computers, when a connection or any other network link between the dashboard and the target computer goes down, IT will be looking at a blank dashboard. Most remote management programs operate within a policy-type permission model, similar to the Microsoft Windows Active Directory environment. If the operator is unfamiliar with this type of setup, deploying a remote management solution might prove difficult. (To learn more about Active Directory, see 5 Things You Didn't Know about Group Policy and Active Directory.)
What can be seen as an advantage of remote management can also be one of its weaknesses. Because customers' computers are being managed remotely and proactively, customers might begin to wonder exactly what they’re paying for.
Remote Management Software Strategies
One of the best ways to implement remote management software is for IT to move away from a break/fix model to a managed services model. Break/fix is typically what most people think of when the words "computer technician" come up. Your computer breaks, you call a technician out to come and fix it. That technician charges a fixed price for a service, whether it’s changing a hard drive, installing a new video card or performing an anti-virus check.
With managed services, on the other hand, the customer pays a fixed price, usually per month, on each workstation or server for monitoring. The managed service provider uses a remote management program to keep an eye on customers' computers and solve any problems as they arise. This type of management eliminates the feast-or-famine revenue that most break/fix operators face. A managed service model and remote management software can help provide recurring revenue for computer technicians.
The remote management software model also provides the provider with opportunities to make additional cash revenue through hardware or software sales. As in our example above, the managed service provider was able to spot a potential hard drive failure and take action before anything was lost.
Most remote management software packages also provide a number of different reports. This allows a software provider to prove its worth and show customers exactly what type of service they’re getting with their monthly fee.
Remote Management Software Providers
There are a number of different types of remote management software providers on the market today. Providers tend to gear themselves toward a specific market size, with some providers aiming toward the small/medium business market share, while others opt to chase enterprise-level deployments. In any case, the majority of RMM providers offer some type of free trial or free version that allows businesses to try the product before purchase. For IT support staff, this can be a great way to ensure the software is a good fit for the company.