About 15 years ago, I had another Managed Services Provider (MSP) practice in another state. Our primary offering was Small Business Server 2003. This might sound familiar to you if you were in business then because almost everybody got on that ‘SBS train’.

The server would provide email services, as well as it would act as the file server. It did a lot more, but these two were the most common uses. The client would buy hardware, software, and client-access licenses, and we would be hired as the MSP to maintain all of that on a proactive basis, including an on-premises backup system set up to back up the on-premises data.

All that has changed. The 2019 version of that on-premises server scenario is now a bundle of cloud-based services, mostly consisting of Office 365 or some other version of it, such as Microsoft 365 Business. The email services are still Microsoft Exchange, but the Exchange server sits in a data center somewhere. The company documents still sit on a server, but that also sits in the data center. Backup still happens, but it’s a cloud-based service.

Microsoft is still the big vendor that it was then, but they’ve turned the small business technology paradigm on its head. For example:

  • As mentioned, Exchange is still the king of email services. Just like in the old days, the server synchronizes your email from server to devices. Whatever is deleted on the server gets removed from your devices and vice versa. The same goes for contacts, calendar items and tasks within Outlook.
  • In some cases, you were provided a space on the server for personal documents – those that were ‘works in progress’ before sharing them to the company repository. Now we have OneDrive for Business as our personal document storage and SharePoint as the common library for published documents.
  • Identity and security services were another function of the on-premises solution in the form of Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS). Your password was verified on the local server, which determined your access to specified files or folders.
  • Now it’s Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) that authenticates your identity, but there’s a new kid on the block for data protection, and that is Azure Information Protection (AIP).
  • AIP secures your documents at the document level; each document is unique to its creator and abides by the way that it’s been classified or labeled. It doesn’t matter where your document is stored (OneDrive, SharePoint, DropBox, or thumb drive) because the permissions of the document travel with the document. Whenever there’s an attempt to open a document, it ‘calls home’ to find out who has the rights that have been specified. But ‘calling home’ now means the Azure AD server and the integrated AIP services, not a local AD server.
  • Backup still happens from one disk to another, but now those disks sit in separate data centers. And as much as Office 365 inherently backs itself up, there is purging that happens on a regular basis at Microsoft, so if the version of a document is needed from 11 months ago, then our third-party cloud-backup service can be there for restoration functionality from archives.

In most cases and depending upon your unique needs, we provide a bundle of monthly services that includes your Office 365 licensing, as well as the backup seats. Of course, there is 24/7 helpdesk available and we will manage your devices, too. But ongoing training is also part of the deal.

At Resolute IT, we are resolute – we are not just there for you in the times of emergency, but we are on your side and acting on your behalf to ensure that you’re leveraging your technology most effectively.

 

The RMM software agent runs on desktops, laptops, and servers. While it’s running in the background and invisibly, it collects generic information about your hardware, software, network, updates/patches, security concerns, and user accounts. No confidential data is observed in the process.

Here are the must-haves for any RMM according to the long-standing PSA and RMM vendor, ConnectWise:

  1. Automate any IT process or task
  2. Work on multiple machines at once
  3. Solve issues without interrupting clients
  4. Integrate smoothly into a professional services automation (PSA) tool
  5. Manage everything from one control center

 *I’m using Solarwinds MSP RMM & PSA

Some clients have concerns about possible tech scams, which are valid. There have been too many unsolicited calls from people claiming to represent “Microsoft”, but instead plant malware into your computer and then charge to have them take it out. It’s a big scam and it still happens today.

One key component of the Remote Monitoring and Management solution is remote control software. With a single click, a technician can sit with you virtually to visually examine your problem situation. Other key functions include automated tasks (such as running disk utilities), automatic patching with only approved Microsoft updates, and general network health reporting about your devices and their connectivity.

When the RMM is integrated with a Professional Services and Automation (PSA) tool such as Solarwinds MSP also provides, these tools can powerful insight and capabilities for your IT support team. Sending an email to [email protected]creates a new ticket request to be approved by Resolute IT Support in its ticketing system.

In short, where we’ve been putting out fires as needed (break/fix), we can now be more proactive and take measures to prevent problems that would otherwise be likely for the future (managed services). The RMM agent and its integration with the PSA management module enable us to look at new billing methods that mean a win/win scenario for provider/client.

Managed ServicesMy first experience with a computer was when I was a building contractor in Connecticut around 1990. The Department of Consumer Protection had mandated that all construction contracts, large and small, contain specifically prescribed content provided by the state, which resulted in a 6-page document, at the least. To remedy the situation, I went out and purchased a DOS computer and a word processor program. I took the computer out of the box and didn’t move until about 4am. When I finally made it into bed and shut the lights, there were two big blue dots (one for each eye) where the monitor had been. I was infatuated.

My career in construction evolved from building to selling real estate. Of course, real estate meant more contracts and eventually a digital MLS system – I found myself immersed in a world of computers again. I always helped the other agents that didn’t ‘get it’ when it came to the computers, so they all said, “Scott, you should become a computer guy!” The rest is history.

In 1998, I went back to school. From seemingly unrelated courses, I created my own curriculum at a community college to study and then pass a new certification offered by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). I was among the first to receive the A+ Certification, and my designation is grandfathered and honored to this day.

CompTIA A+ Certified

My first job in the computer-related field was at the 2000 US Census during 1999, of course. My job was to sit at my desk and wait until Friday to change the server backup tapes and then ship the tapes from Cape Cod to Boston by FedEx. I needed more of a challenge – I was bored to death, so I left and went into business for myself.

pleasantbay.NET was the name of the company I launched on January 1st, 2000, the day after the Y2K bug was supposed to end the world. I was doing a lot of web design back then and formed a group called Cape Web Weavers, which eventually merged with the Cape Cod eCommerce Society. Meanwhile, I was volunteering for three Unitarian Universalist churches on Cape Cod, maintaining their computers and training those in need. My reputation got around, parishioners hired me, and the money started flowing.

By 2002, I’d become involved with a local company that primarily performed computer network services for small businesses, specializing in Novell servers and networks. The owner was having health issues and was in the process of retiring, so I was there to learn, substitute, and eventually take over some of his small accounts before he sold the remaining business to a competitor of ours.

I moved into my first office space in 2003. Another member of that web design group I’d formed had leased too much commercial space just for himself, so we split it. Within six months, I’d outgrown his half-office space and moved into another unit in the same commercial complex with 750 square feet all to myself – and my new technician.

First Office

In late 2004, we purchased 250 licenses of Kaseya, the Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool. Kaseya remains today to be one of the most highly respected technologies in the managed services arena. But Kaseya created a problem – not a technical problem, but a business problem. I’d installed the Kaseya software agent on all of our clients’ computers and servers. And it was configured to automatically remediate problems when failures were detected or updates were required, so all of a sudden the phone stopped ringing!

I was able to regroup and put everyone onto monthly Managed Services Provider (MSP) contracts in early 2005 after setting the business up with ConnectWise, the Professional Service Automation (PSA) tool. One of my clients was a semi-retired law professor who felt indebted to me for the good work we’d done for him on his systems, so he put together a legal document for me that went on to become the boilerplate contract for many emerging MSPs during the mid-2000s.

But there was one client that was reluctant to sign on. “Nah,” he said. “Everything works, so I’ll call when I need you.” Of course, everything worked because I’d put Kaseya onto all his machines. But one day, Kaseya sent us an alarm that the single hard drive in his company’s server was about to fail. To make a long story short, the proverbial baby died in our arms. We backed up the data (there was no previous backup!) and then the drive kicked over dead. Whew… The workers were able to resume on Monday morning as if nothing had ever happened. After learning what had transpired over the weekend, the client paid the hefty emergency repair costs and subscribed to an ongoing and proactive contract.

Managed services became popular around 2005. In fact, I was on Wikipedia reading about managed services and recognized many of the other pioneers cited in the article, such as Karl Palachuk, Amy Luby and Erick Simpson. I met them all and even bought Karl’s first book about documenting a network for $20.

During this time period, I was attending conferences almost every other month: Intel Roadshows; Microsoft Partner product events and hands-on-labs; ASCII Group Success Summits; Harry Brelsford’s SMB Nation; and the very first ConnectWise Summit that’s now called IT Nation, the premier event in our industry.

After that first ConnectWise shindig, a group of us from the northeastern US formed a peer group called the “New England ConnectWise Users Group” (NECWUG). All of those guys went on to become very successful MSPs and sold their businesses for a handsome price each. I’m proud to say that I was among them at one time.

In 2008, I retired my on-premise servers and moved to the cloud. I also moved to the Caribbean. And then I moved to Sarasota in 2009. Now I’ve become established in the Clearwater St Petersburg area. So working remotely became the norm for me, especially as my Cape Cod flock needed to be tended. They’ve been a loyal bunch and I still service several with annual contracts today.

As much as I’d like to say that we’ve transitioned from MSP to CSP (Cloud Services Provider), I would quote Karl Palachuk who said, “There are still going to be wires in the walls.” True to a point, but the most innovative modern workplaces of today are filled with beanbag chairs, millennials, sofas and wireless Internet. So yes, there are stand-up desks and kiosks and shared co-working spaces, but the network remains. And there’s an enormous mass-migration ahead from traditional on-premise servers, workstations and cubicles to the massive disorder of the mobile world. Migration to the cloud is a present-day exodus. Microsoft now has over 120 million monthly subscribers to Office 365 and this trend is growing exponentially. The servers that were formerly housed in our offices are finding new homes in data centers. And the Windows Server Active Directory that was required to authenticate users within the confines of the workplace has now moved to the Microsoft Azure cloud – Azure Active Directory – to provide the same identity protection anywhere a user opens a file or accesses other company data.

And with this paradigm shift comes innovation from the old vendors, such as Microsoft and Intel. We have Microsoft Teams for anywhere-teamwork and instant collaboration using featherweight laptops powered by Intel chips that have evolved according to Moore’s Law, that is, doubling in power every two years and shrinking in such size that confounds the mind.

And we are still human. Even some computer-weaned millennials are challenged by the latest technology, getting locked out of their social media accounts with multi-step authentication and clicking on anything fearlessly, only to find themselves victim to ransomware. There is still a reason to be called a Managed Services Provider – we still have to protect the data, the privacy and the security of people while enabling them with the technology to remain productive and innovative in their own right.

Scott Abbotts | https://resolute-it.com | https://office365techguy.com

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