Early users give MSPs thumbs up

By Michael Martin, Network World |  Business

Systems and network management platforms are key to controlling networks and the devices attached to them. Unfortunately, these platforms are typically expensive and require a small army of IT staff to install, putting systems and network management out of reach of all but the largest companies.

During the past couple of years, though, a group of companies known as management service providers (MSP) has sprung up to offer small, midsize and, in some cases, large companies a variety of management services, including systems and network management, on a monthly subscription basis. So instead of paying a fortune for a software package and the salaries of the well-trained IT personnel required to run the software, enterprise customers can turn to an MSP and rent the software and expertise necessary to install and maintain it.

Some early MSP adopters say while it's too soon to measure the long-term impact of MSP services on their networks, MSPs are allowing them to be more proactive in solving problems and managing network devices, servers and workstations.

Daniel Cohen-Dumani, chief technology officer of On Campus Marketing, a Bethesda, Md., firm specializing in direct mail and endorsement programs targeted at college students, began using MSP Triactive to monitor his assets, help-desk functions and servers.

When Cohen-Dumani joined On Campus, which has 125 employees in three U.S. sites, this year, the company was handling its asset management manually. Given that the company had about 110 workstations and 18 servers, a manual system wasn't practical, he says.

"One of my main concerns was to find out what systems and software we had," he says.

Instead of trying to implement a systems management platform in-house, Cohen-Dumani turned to Triactive, an MSP that uses software from a variety of vendors, including Tivoli and BMC, to gather information on systems.

Triactive deployed a server at On Campus' main site with a VPN connection back to the MSP's network operations center (NOC). Triactive also installed microagents on On Campus' workstations and servers. Cohen-Dumani says the entire process took two weeks.

"With a limited staff like we had, it wouldn't have been possible to deploy in two months," he notes. He adds the price is reasonable -- about $1,000 per month.

The Triactive server collects data from the microagents installed on workstations and servers at all On Campus sites and sends the data back over the VPN to Triactive's NOC. Triactive customers are then able to view the data through an online portal.

Because of Triactive, Cohen-Dumani is now able to track the hardware and software installed on his network and monitor his servers' performance. He also uses Triactive to monitor help-desk information, something On Campus didn't do before.

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