Tag Archives: RMM

PSA Tools for IT Service Providers

Professional Services AutomationAmong the key software tools used by MSP’s and IT service providers is an application known as a PSA which means Professional Services Automation.

There are a number of PSA tools around such as PacketTrap from Dell. Some PSA’s are aimed at certain types of service providers and some are more generic in nature, while others such as CommitCRM are more focused specifically on the IT services market. PSA software can be desktop or server based or sometimes even in the so called ‘cloud’ and in either case a mobile front end is a popular feature these days.

But what exactly is a PSA? What does it do? The precise feature set does in fact vary somewhat between the different PSA applications out there but core features typically found will include the likes of customer accounts/contacts (CRM), support ticket management and email handling, employee time logging and calculating labor utilization, an alerts/notification system, calendar/scheduling, contracts, billing, reporting, project management, asset tracking and more.

Another important feature in a PSA is integration with external systems which are commonly used in the industry.  For example integration with accounting software (ie. QuickBooks), remote monitoring and management  systems, etc. Such integration is often done using an API on one or both sides. An API in the PSA application also allows users to build custom add-ons and tightly integrate the PSA with their existing or custom systems, providing even more value and efficiency in workflows and business processes for those that choose to go down that path.

Using a PSA allows a service provider to work more efficiently, automatically assigning tickets and tasks to technicians, responding to client support requests in a timely manner, keeping tracking of billing,  generating complex reports on all aspects of the business, while having all relevant information easily to hand,  which combines to produce more billable hours for the company and also happier customers who are getting a better level of service.

Once a PSA tool has been properly implemented in a business it quickly becomes the core application or hub around which all others are built and integrate with. Customers, vendors, employees and even sub-contractors all interact with it in symbiosis. In effect it is the nerve center of the service providers business without which the company simply isn’t able to function to anywhere near capacity.

 

Deployment Tools

Deployment ToolsIn the IT services business there is one concept which stands above all else – automation. Nobody wants to be manually working on hundreds or even thousands of computers in a network or across multiple networks and regions  when the very thing which computers are perfectly designed for is automating repetitive processes. Realistically the only viable way to manage a large number of computers is with deployment tools which can automate the process.

In a small network it may well be possible to rely on manual updates, it may not be advisable but still it is doable. However it is not at all scalable and on a large network or collection of assets, whether they be desktop PC’s or Internet Servers and Appliances of various kinds, smart deployment systems are pretty much an essential requirement, not just for the business but also for the sanity of the IT staff responsible for rolling out the updates.

Using automated deployment tools significantly reduces maintenance times and allows a single person at a centralized and often remote location to manage extremely large numbers of assets which of course leads to much lower costs. However the cost reductions are not just as a result of less salaries to pay per assets managed but also in terms of reduced or (hopefully) eliminated losses due to malfunctions, downtime or even data loss caused by human error.

Humans are not machines and it is easy to forget to install something or configure correctly or update on time. An unpatched system is basically an open door with an invitation to passing hackers to come in and take what they want or generally wreak havoc, so timely deployment of security updates is critical.

Using deployment tools makes it much simpler to build and maintain standardized systems so instead of a crazy mix of software and configurations with every computer being different, they can all be kept the same,  or at least have a small number of standard configurations to work with, further reducing system management time and costs.

Thus by employing suitable deployment automation tools, the potential for human error is vastly reduced, IT efficiency is increased dramatically, security is maximized and reliability of all systems managed is much improved.

There are quite a few deployment solutions out there, from the RMM services such as GFIMAX  to the powerful configuration management and deployment systems like Ansible and which one is best is down to your specific requirements , experiences and of course personal preferences.

Needless to say, automated deployment of software updates to 10,000 computers is potentially risky so it is important to test deployments thoroughly before unleashing!

 

 

Monitoring Tools

Monitoring ToolsIt pretty much goes without saying that if you want to fix something you have to know that it is broken and if you want to prevent something ‘breaking bad’ it helps to know in advance that things are starting to go wrong. This is where monitoring tools come in to the picture.

There are various types of monitoring tools around which perform different tasks in different ways. Some will monitor your hardware or networks internally while others do remote monitoring of your web sites or public facing internet services. There are also some which do a combination of both and more such as SolarWinds.

For example if a disk fails in your RAID5 array it is not usually catastrophic because the RAID system is designed for such a situation, however if a second disk fails in that RAID5 array you could be in big trouble, depending on your setup. So knowing that a disk in your RAID array has failed allows you to replace it before the situation becomes critical and data is lost. A popular and well established tool for infrastructure monitoring is Nagios which is open source and has an active user and developer community around it.

Another example is when your website crashes or some part of it fails, a remote monitoring tool like ServerMojo can alert you via SMS, Email or sometimes even Twitter. A common situation is when a server or component of a web site is malfunctioning but still responding to requests on port 80 (or whichever port your service runs on) and so in such a case the basic test to see if a server is ‘alive’ is not enough, but fortunately monitoring tools can go further and check for specific text which should appear on a page, something that might be pulled from a database perhaps, and so if that text is not found then you will get an alert.

Some remote monitoring systems, Pingdom for example,  go further still and do what is known as transaction monitoring which means they will actually perform actions on a site, interacting with it and emulating a real visitor, not just clicking links but even filling in and submitting forms then logging response times and other data along the way which you can then use to easily locate and diagnose problems in complex applications.

Yet another type of monitoring tool is known as an RMM which means Remote Monitoring and Management and not only monitors your servers and other IT assets but allows you to manage them remotely. Obviously you can’t replace hardware remotely (with some exceptions) but you can certainly perform software and operating system installs and upgrades and keep track of the status of IT assets down to the individual component if required, such as monitoring disk space, memory usage, system load or checking for errors and warnings in logs.

RMM tools are popular with MSP‘s which depend on the ability to monitor and manage a large array of assets across many customer locations which could be anywhere in the world . Having advance or timely notification of problems or potential issues with clients systems is invaluable for the MSP and of course the client whose systems need to be kept functioning. Popular RMM tools these days include GFIMax and Continuum, amongst others.

Choosing the right tool for your needs can be a difficult task with so many to choose from, but in this interconnected age it is worth looking for those tools which provide an API for integrating with various other systems which an IT Services business often depends on so your data can be more easily moved around between systems and effectively managed to ensure maximum efficiency in workflows and ultimately profitability.

 

Welcome to Tools for IT Services

Tools for IT ServicesWelcome to the Tools for IT Services blog where we will talk about and review many of the essential tools of the trade. Everything from software to hardware to services and online communities and resources which many in the industry find invaluable whether they be technicians for MSP’s or computer repair shops or running their own IT services business.

Needless to say, software for the busy IT shop or MSP includes the likes of professional services automation (PSA), accounting (such as the ubiquitous Quickbooks) and Outlook (or something of that ilk) amongst others and we will write about several.

Hardware used by IT people these days naturally includes smartphones and increasingly popular tablets of one kind or another combined with handy apps for testing, diagnosis, research and even PDF signing. But there’s more which can usually be found in a techs toolbox such as a multimeter, cable testers, screwdrivers and spanners and of course a few spare cables.

Web based services or “SaaS” to use the buzzword du jour, cloud based or otherwise, are all the rage these days and there are many which are used in this industry which offer such things as accounting, time tracking, monitoring/RMM and more. Which are the best? We’ll give you our opinions soon..

The web is all about communities and there are millions out there covering every imaginable interest from the narrowest niche for a specific app or component to the broadest general IT related community. Such communities can be based on forums or social network groups or even email lists and over time they become a vast treasure trove of knowledge from previous discussions and answers but also from existing active members who respond to requests for help or advice.

We will also cover industry news and events as well as discuss trends and changes in the IT services world.

Hopefully you will stick around or come back again to read our articles as we continue to update this site over time and if there’s anything you’d like us to cover – give us a shout!