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The Future Role of the IT Organization in Mid-Market Companies

“Big Data” has been on most IT folks’ radar screens for some time but new data suggests the time has come for mid-market companies to do some serious thinking about the implications.

It’s over 400 years since Galileo, hearing of the invention of the telescope, rushed to create his own version to sell to the commanders of the Venetian navy. He immediately understood the value of being able to more quickly recognize distant ships coming into harbor or gain advance information about the capabilities of enemy craft at sea.

Galileo's Map

The desire to gain advantage by acquiring and processing information more quickly has arguably been one of the biggest drivers behind the evolution of “IT” throughout the time since Galileo’s first x10 telescope. Obviously a significant business or military advantage comes from having better knowledge and insight than your adversaries. Knowing what your customer’s want and being able to more quickly satisfy them also creates competitive advantage. Processing orders, handling inventory, raw materials purchasing, invoicing and payments…..all garner greater benefit by being done faster.

Why is this important to today’s mid-market IT organizations? And what’s it got to do with “big data”? The latest research from EMA* suggests that the early adopters of big data technologies are moving their projects into production – over half of the projects studied are either in a full or pilot production phase. Survey respondents are finding that big data programs are able to aid real-time decision making. Big data is enabling these companies to mine information from previously hard to analyze data sets (like ships a long way off at sea) and to use it for better outcomes and, ultimately, competitive advantage.

One example is the healthcare organization that analyzed patient medical records in real time to reduce the risk of prescribing harmful medications to inpatients, based on their histories and current symptoms. Another is the restaurant loyalty and rewards program operator who provides real-time program analysis data to restaurant chain customers so they can replicate successful marketing programs quickly and identify poorly performing restaurant locations at the earliest juncture.

The list of industries and use cases for big data is large and growing and the days of pure experimentation are beginning to wane. The inference is that big data will be the next wave of competitive development that speeds the availability of critical business data, disrupts business models and changes the competitive landscape.

The implications for mid-market IT organizations are immense. A key imperative in resource constrained businesses is to free up time to allow for the necessary big data discussions, explorations and innovations. Big data projects cannot be defined or driven by IT alone. It’ll take extra time to develop the business knowledge and relationships required for success. IT must find ways to reduce the time spent on day-to-day operations in order to deliver on both operational excellence and business innovation expectations. To succeed IT must:

  • Look to third parties to help with basic tasks and cloud-based services.
  • Reduce the number of different tools and systems used – pick the best and most comprehensive – to reduce the burden of dealing with multiple vendors, upgrades, trainings and support efforts.
  • Optimize for business growth not just around the IT budget.

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Here are 6 responsibilities that tomorrow’s IT department must make time for:
  1. Identifying opportunities. In the EMA study over 40% of funding came from finance, sales and marketing. The finance department was a major sponsor in the retail, healthcare and manufacturing segments while IT was the largest sponsor in the Public Services sector. Discussions with other functions will help identify key big data opportunities.
  2. Obtaining funding. Obtaining funding means developing an implementable strategy and cost effective plan that leverages current infrastructure investments and outside capabilities. Funding for projects that truly have a strong business impact will likely come from senior management as well as other functions.
  3. Defining and developing applications. Big Data initiatives require complex processing. To derive the most from large volumes of “unstructured” or “incomplete” data requires more complex rules and advanced predictive analytics, possibly even the use of natural language processing. In addition, analytical results will need to be built in to existing processes and workloads in order to meet the requirement for speedier decision making and competitive advantage.
  4. Manage pilot programs. Despite the fact that big data approaches are maturing, for those who have yet to start, the challenges are considerable. Early adopters spent more time on data management issues than analytics and adjusting existing business processes. Later adoptees may be able to learn from the early experience and move more quickly by piloting in unfamiliar areas.
  5. Design “big data” architecture. Adding new data to a traditional structured database is quite simple in comparison to creating an architecture that enables consistent real-time analysis of data from multiple sources, each potentially with a different structure, format, update frequency etc. Ultimately IT will need to redesign the current IT infrastructure. Regardless of where the resultant systems reside, big data represents a major activity for IT going forward.
  6. Prepare to take a leadership role. As has been indicated big data programs are complex. Opportunities might be identified from across the organization but it’s clear that IT needs to take the leadership role when it comes to strategy, planning, design, development and implementation.

Just as the telescope had a profound impact on the speed with which information became available when it first appeared, big data is starting to have a similar, if not greater, impact. And while large enterprises may have deeper pockets to leverage the capabilities it is mid-sized businesses that are at greater risk, if they ignore the possibilities.

By helping the IT departments of mid-sized companies meet their SLA mandates, Kaseya’s advanced monitoring solution, Traverse, helps free in-house IT staff to better respond to business requests and provides detailed intelligence that IT can use to add strong value in conversations regarding business innovation.

Learn more about how Kaseya technology can help. Read our whitepaper, Solving the Virtualized Infrastructure and Private Cloud Monitoring Challenge.

References:

Operationalizing the Buzz: Big Data 2013

Author: Ray Wright

IT Automation: For the Harried Yet Innovative IT Administrator

Are you a harried, yet innovative IT Administrator? With increased IT complexity, driven by cloud, mobility, and big data, it is no wonder that IT administrators are working harder than ever, but still having trouble keeping up. Yet, I hear story after story about the creative, innovative approaches that IT admins are taking to address these new challenges. Usually these approaches involve automation. In fact, IT automation needs to be part of every MSP and IT organizations’ plans to deal with the increased IT complexity, greater workloads, and flat budgets faced by every organization in every industry, in every part of the world.

But I still encounter resistance to IT automation by those who feel that IT automation is a path to “I don’t have a job.” Many IT administrators have become expert at maintaining systems with SW updates, patches, new security releases, etc., and some believe the automation of these functions would negatively impact their job. In reality, automation frees up good IT administrators to attack new, challenging, high impact opportunities to help support the business.

Others look at IT automation as a replacement for homegrown scripts, created to automate certain functions. These home grown scripts are a source of pride and job security. Unfortunately, they are usually not well documented, need regular maintenance and only cover a subset of the many functions that could and should be automated. It is hard to implement extensive automation of the many repetitive, manual IT tasks, by creating script after script.

Fortunately, there are solutions today that provide out-of-the-box automation for the many routine, repetitive, manual core functions that most IT administrators would gladly stop doing, while at the same time provide the flexibility, interfaces and tools needed for more creative and innovative IT automation. A simple search will reveal the key vendors, however, not all automation solutions are created equally. When evaluating these automation solutions, there are five key items you should consider:

1. Out-of-the-box

Tasks such as scheduled backups, software deployments, patches and security updates are automation capabilities that should be ready to go straight out-of-the-box.  Experienced vendors will have distilled these built-in capabilities from years of working with IT service providers and corporate IT departments to understand good practice areas such as routine maintenance, software deployment, security and compliance.

2. Policy-based

Ensuring that every user and every system is being managed consistently is critical. However, with thousands of systems logging onto and off various networks in multiple—sometimes global—networks, it isn’t feasible for the IT department to manually touch every machine, ensuring it is in compliance with all of the organization’s IT policies. With policy-based automation, IT administrators can define, manage, apply and enforce IT policies across groups of machines without human intervention.

3. Flexibility and Interfaces to be Creative

Once the core, “out-of-the-box” automation has been implemented, IT administrators can now differentiate themselves and their MSP businesses or IT organizations with creative, innovative automation capabilities. Examples I have seen include problem remediation, isolation of viruses, and stolen laptop recovery. In all cases, the automation solution provided easy-to-use, flexible tools to allow the creative IT administrator to be creative.

4. Proven

Look for a solution with proven automation capabilities, which have been implemented successfully in a large number of customers. Successful implementation of both core and innovative automation solutions across many customers (ideally thousands), will mean that IT administrators in your organization will likely be successful as well. But be sure to speak to a few references.

5. Community

A broad customer base with an active community who share automation use cases and implementations is very helpful. Look at the vendor’s community, see how it functions, and talk to community leaders to understand how the community works. IT administrators generally like to have “community” ties, and a strong community can enhance the work environment and speed automation results.

IT automation is a must for any MSP or IT organization trying to keep up with the complexity and challenges posed by cloud, mobility and big data. Choosing a proven solution with the right capabilities and community support can make the move to automation much easier, especially for the harried, but innovative IT administrator.

For more information on Kaseya automation capabilities, visit our IT Automation website: http://www.kaseya.com/features/kaseya-platform/it-automation

IT Best Practice: Driving Innovation in the Mid-Market

Kaseya Driving Innovation

According to CIO magazine’s 2014 State of the CIO Survey* results over two thirds of CIO’s have a hard time balancing the time and resources needed to drive both business innovation and operational excellence. Of course, for many mid-sized businesses this is not even an issue. They simply do not have spare IT resources and instead rely on business leadership to drive innovation. Yet, as the National center for the Middle Market – Blueprint for Growth** shows, higher growth mid-market companies do have a strong innovation focus. The Blueprint indicates that companies in this segment can increase growth incrementally by developing a strong company-wide growth strategy.

The challenge for IT services teams in mid-sized firms is that there is already too much to do! Maintaining existing operational effectiveness takes a significant portion of the available resources. Add to that new IT projects and upgrades, to increase organizational effectiveness and satisfy the needs of business and functional groups, and the ability to participate in business innovation efforts begins to dwindle. Throw supporting new technologies such as cloud services, mobile device management and BYOD as well as the ever present security threats into the mix and it quickly becomes clear why it’s hard to find any balance between operational excellence and innovation.

Budget and resource optimization is an ongoing discipline and not a one-off exercise but IT must also address the continuously growing demand for IT services. On top of that, it’s vital to retain existing staff by providing challenging work and good career opportunities. IT skill shortages are likely to get worse as the economy rebounds and replacing skilled and knowledgeable team members with new recruits will be not be easy or efficient.

One approach to addressing the myriad issues caused by tight budgets is to create a business growth strategy in which IT can take a leading role. With growth, budgets are more likely to expand. Growth also creates individual opportunities. Yet with constrained resources is it realistic to suppose that IT can take a leadership role on business innovation? Do IT team members know enough about the business?

Here are 5 best practice factors that mid-market CIOs need to consider before taking on innovation responsibilities.

  1. Innovation is a process not an event. Look at any growing start-up and you’ll find an innovation process. Successful start-ups invest in innovation by funding both customer research and engineering teams. At a minimum they have product management resources to focus on customer needs and project management and design and development resources that focus on product creation. For new business innovation strategies to work senior management must similarly resource and finance them. Boot-strapping from existing budgets is unlikely to deliver the focus needed for success. Innovation participants will come from existing functions, such as IT, but they must be able to dedicate an appropriate portion of their time without impacting their other duties.
  1. Success requires an innovation strategy. Occasionally new ideas are created in a single “Eurika!” moment, but that’s rare. More likely ideas come from an unbiased examination of existing approaches which may become inadequate or uncompetitive as customer needs evolve, new technologies emerge or the marketplace environment changes, such as when competitors with new approaches or business models appear. Like other company processes, innovation needs careful management to foster continuous improvement, focus, rigor and success. Process management is an area where IT can play a leading role.
  1. Innovation requires a team approach. In today’s complex business world it’s unlikely that a single person or function can provide all the knowledge necessary for success, certainly in any sizeable endeavor. Many innovation ideas are generated by marketing and sales or by business functions themselves. But IT has a wealth of knowledge to contribute too. Security, integration, compliance, education, support, project and vendor management, risk management, usability, information quality and management….the list goes on. By making positive contributions about how innovations can be successfully developed, introduced and managed, IT can play a significant role.
  1. Be innovative about innovation! According to PWC’s 2013 Innovation Survey*** the most innovative companies go well beyond thinking simply about new products and services. They look for breakthrough ideas that can set them apart from competition or create new markets or new business models with new and different dynamics. In this kind of environment IT management’s broad understanding of business processes across the organization together with its nonpartisan view of the business can be distinct advantages. Getting to know more about the competition and the customers – from the data that IT stewards – might be more valuable than seeking expertise in how the business currently functions.
  1. Optimize for growth. It goes without saying that IT is good at resource optimization. However, many of the actions that IT takes – standardization, protection, limitation – are made precisely because of resource constraints and can be a drag on innovation and growth potential. Start-ups favor lean development approaches where agility, flexibility and nimbleness are key. IT must both support and enable similar approaches. In addition, The IT team should review its own operations to identify where changes can free-up human resources to participate in growth and innovation strategy work. For example by:
    • Investing in fewer more robust and comprehensive management tools versus a myriad of discrete point products
    • Developing self-service cloud options and/or using public cloud services
    • Leveraging 3rd party resources to off-load routine tasks such as upgrades.

IT budgets in mid-size enterprises will likely always be constrained but continuous innovation is necessary for long term viability and survival and IT has a key role to play. CIOs can help drive innovation strategies and can use their teams to enable success.

By helping the IT departments of mid-sized companies meet their SLA mandates, Kaseya’s advanced monitoring solution Traverse helps free in-house IT staff to better respond to business requests and provides detailed intelligence that IT can use to add strong value in conversations regarding business innovation.

Learn more about how Kaseya technology can help. Read our whitepaper, Solving the Virtualized Infrastructure and Private Cloud Monitoring Challenge.

References:

* State of the CIO Survey 2014, CIO Magazine – slides in InfoWorld

** Blueprint for Growth: Middle Market Growth Champions Reveal a Framework for Success

*** Breakthrough innovation and growth, PWC Innovation Survey, 2013-2014

What strategies does IT adopt in your organization to bolster innovation?

Author: Ray Wright

Leveraging Policy Management for Device Compliance

Policy Management

Kaseya Professional Services Consultant, one of the most common questions I hear is “What are the best practices for agent machine configuration with respect to device/machine monitoring, Microsoft patch management, access and security and many other areas?” Within Kaseya Virtual System Administrator (VSA) end-point device management is achieved via a software “agent” that is installed on each managed device. My usual answer to the agent configuration question is to ask what policies are in place in these areas and what software and versions must be deployed? During these conversations we come to realize that agreeing on a best practice is a task in itself!

In the process of managing end-point devices there are numerous configuration steps and modifications that span multiple modules within VSA – for example, patch management, security, performance monitoring and so on. Making and adjusting configurations manually, via each of these modules, can be time consuming, and manual configuration is definitely error prone. Consequently, after changes are made, it’s important to run reports on all devices to locate any deficiencies. Before troubleshooting and remediating any subsequent issues we need to ensure we have a level playing field. That is, uniformity of configuration and compliance with organization policies across all devices. Running reports can be time consuming especially when you support a number of organizations or departments. In larger organizations this becomes a monumental task.

What’s needed is a tool that can configure settings all in one place. In Kaseya VSA the IT Policy Management module plays this role and can be a vital capability when creating an efficient working environment. The VSA Policy Management module greatly simplifies the task of managing user desktops for compliance to a set of policies. Compliance policies can include which software is allowed to run on the machine, which version, which software configurations, who has authorized access – to name just a few.

The VSA Policy Management module controls all agent configuration settings under a single pane of glass. The VSA Policy Management can be used to create:

  1. A uniform set of agent configurations across the infrastructure
  2. Policies that target specific functions of agent configuration, i.e. Monitoring, Patch Management, Maintenance, Software Deployment, etc…
  3. Policies for different operating systems and applications
  4. Policies for different organizations and group of machines

Policy Management Module: Policies are applied hierarchically.

Policies Applied

Once policy rules are defined, the next step is to apply them to the associated devices via the installed agents. Policies can be applied:

  1. Manually, using the Apply Policy functions under “Policies” – used when policies are stable and not constantly modified.
  2. Automatically, by setting the deployment interval under “Settings” – remember to set the deployment interval to 30 minutes or higher to ensure settings are fully deployed before the next deployment interval is started.

Leveraging policy management in this way is very powerful. It not only provides a single location to manage your configuration compliance, it also greatly assists automation processes and saves time and effort when you need to check configurations.

If you’d like to learn more please review the Kaseya VSA documentation on Policy Assignment Rules.

(http://help.kaseya.com/WebHelp/EN/KPM/1010000/index.asp#8140.htm)

Author: Wilki Budiwarman

How Remote Management Turns IT Professionals into Heroes

Kaseya Remote ManagementOr be prepared for “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

Two days before Thanksgiving, marketing consultant Neal Page (Steve Martin) races to catch a plane home to Chicago, only to find that his flight has been delayed. Hours later, he boards the plane and ends up next to an eternally optimistic, overly talkative, and clumsy shower curtain ring salesman, Del Griffith (the late, great John Candy). When the flight is detoured to Wichita, the mismatched pair is forced to find their own way to Chicago, by any means necessary. A must-see movie, loaded with many funny lines and situations; the “Those aren’t pillows!” line is a classic.

“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” was produced over 25 years ago, and though travel may have improved (yes, it is debatable), what we do while traveling has changed dramatically. Today, most people on planes, trains or automobiles (assuming you are NOT flying, conducting or driving!), want to be connected to send texts, do email, play “Words with Friends” (though I think Alec Baldwin has stopped doing this), or if you are a pig, check your Geico app. And they want to be connected using any device – laptop, tablet, phone, anything with any kind of a connection. When they have issues, IT managers are given the opportunity to become “heroes,” stepping in to resolve the problem, often times by remotely accessing the offending device. This leads to our “IT hero” story.

A few weeks ago, I was presenting a webinar on IT challenges and how companies are addressing these with innovative solutions. Patrick Magee, Manager of IT Infrastructure and Desktop Support for The Howard Hughes Corporation, was our guest speaker. The Howard Hughes Corporation, a major real estate development and management company which was founded by Howard Hughes, is headquartered in Dallas, TX. But at the time of the story Patrick was working from the Café Du Monde in New Orleans (I know, sounds like tough duty).

Kaseya Remote Management

The Howard Hughes CEO was in the air trying to complete critical work for an upcoming meeting, when he encountered an issue. The issue was such that Patrick could not simply send a command or walk the CEO through a series of configuration steps. The only way Patrick could resolve the issue was to take control of the device. Patrick was able to set up a remote control session from his location in the New Orleans café to the laptop on the plane, and in a few short minutes, Patrick had his CEO working again. Instantly Patrick became an IT hero. As Patrick says, the “anytime, anywhere” technology to establish the remote control session was crucial; without it, it is unlikely he could have resolved the issue.

The remote control example is just one of many insightful stories Patrick told during the webinar. He talked about the challenges of managing new cloud services, mobility and big data. Howard Hughes Corporation is taking advantage of all of these, and Patrick needs to ensure that these new services deliver as promised. For example, Howard Hughes is now using cloud apps for expense reporting, travel, and HR. With their increased comfort in security, reduced TCO, and access to broader, richer cloud applications, cloud-based applications has become the first option for Howard Hughes.

Patrick also talked about his integrated management solution to centrally command his IT environment. He is able to see and manage all of his IT assets from a single dashboard (network, servers, clients, applications), and knows that any issue will be presented in this one place, normally before any of the Howard Hughes’ 1000+ employees notice a problem. From the same dashboard, he is then able to take immediate action to keep them all working and productive.

Finally, Patrick talked about automation and how he is using it to substantially improve efficiency. Only with IT automation is he able to support company growth, and address new IT challenges with existing IT staff. He uses client clean-up (bloatware removal) as an example, which has reduced helpdesk calls by 50%!

As you might have suspected, Patrick is using the Kaseya IT management solution to achieve these excellent results. The Kaseya solution is helping many MSPs and IT organizations such as Patrick’s deliver improved services to their users and do more with their existing staff. Kaseya is helping them to:

  • Command Centrally: See and manage everything from a single integrated dashboard, to ensure the availability, performance, and security of the entire IT environment – on-premise, cloud, and mobile.
  • Manage Remotely: Discover, manage, and control widely distributed environments, extending management reach, and maximizing efficiency and service-level performance.
  • Automate Everything: Deploy policy-based automation with proactive remediation, to increase productivity and do more with existing staff.

Listen to Patrick share his insights directly in the webinar: “How to Dramatically Improve IT Efficiency and Exceed Service Level Expectations”

Other material you may find useful:

Managing the Complexity of Today’s Hybrid Cloud Environments

Seconds Matter: Resolve Issues Quickly with the World’s Fastest Remote Desktop Management

3 Keys to Managing Today’s Complex IT Infrastructures

Author: Tom Hayes

The Significant Value of MSP Advanced Monitoring Services

Kaseya Monitor

There’s no doubt that server virtualization has had a tremendous impact on the IT operations of many small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). For example, the benefits* have included:

  • Reduced administrative costs
  • Improved data resiliency
  • Better application availability
  • Greater business agility, e.g. faster time to market
  • Increased disaster recovery readiness, and even
  • Higher profitability and business growth

However, a recent survey report from VMWare and Forrester** suggests that SMBs may not be achieving the ROI they originally expected from virtualization. It also points to the fact that while the majority of SMBs expect their virtualized environments to grow, they are not able to optimize their server installations and are experiencing difficulties in meeting agreed-to IT service levels.

In particular, many SMBs are challenged to optimize the use of their existing servers. A major problem is lack of skilled resources. Partly this is due to the tight budget constraints that prevail in small and mid-sized companies. Partly it’s due to the difficulty of finding and hiring personnel with the right IT skills. The result is that there is a significant opportunity for MSPs to step into the breach and help.

The Forrester report indicates that the average SMB operates a hybrid-cloud environment. About half of their workloads are virtualized and Forrester expects further virtualization to occur, including the virtualization of strategic applications. Other research suggests that a majority of SMBs are now using public cloud services as well as private cloud services, including significant up-take of software-as-as-service (SaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings. Coupled with these changes operating budgets have been moving from IT to line-of-business managers over time.

Together these factors amount to a considerable set of challenges, particularly for IT in mid-sized organizations. For example:

  • In virtualized environments applications share the processing, memory, storage and bandwidth resources made available by the host server. When one application begins to hog any of these resources performance can be impacted for the other applications. To overcome this, virtualized server loads need to be rebalanced on a frequent basis e.g. monthly. As installations grow this can be time consuming and impose unbudgeted costs for IT departments with constrained resources.
  • To provide for IT service continuity during maintenance, critical applications performance, and rapid disaster recovery, many virtualized environments support the dynamic switching of applications between servers. The benefits are significant but there is also a substantial impact on visibility. In the past when each application ran on its own server, troubleshooting was comparatively easy. With dynamic switching, knowing where an application was running at the exact instant of a fault so that root cause can be determined, can be difficult to identify.
  • Managing the performance of public cloud services is also challenging. While IaaS services, such as Amazon EC2, offer management APIs, most SaaS offerings do not provide management capabilities. The best that customers can expect from many of these services is availability guarantees. However, many SaaS applications run in the same kind of virtualized environments as their on-premise counterparts, which means they can be subject to the same kind of co-resident application instance interference. Yes they are available but the performance can definitely degrade during peak usage periods.
  • One of the expectations from virtualization was that it would free IT resources to assist business counterparts make better informed technology decisions. However, judging by the results so far, this has been hard for many SMBs to achieve. IT resources have been reduced during the economic downturn. Plus there’s an expectation that virtualization and self-service private cloud capabilities should significantly improve IT productivity. Lacking resources, IT is now often placed in a position where it’s easier to decline a request than to support it. The result is that line-of-business managers may view IT as the department of “no” versus the department of “know”.

MSPs who offer advanced monitoring services and can take on the risk of providing availability (up-time)-based SLAs are in a great position to help. Firstly, they have the skilled resources that can quickly support the virtualization growth plans of SMBs and to help them optimize their server farm installations. Secondly, they have tools which enable them to track, monitor and manage critical application service levels across the entire infrastructure, including being able to keep track of applications as they migrate dynamically between different virtual machines and different servers. Thirdly, they can provide detailed reporting and analyses to aid discussions about the infrastructure investments needed to maintain SLAs and to inform business/IT decision making.

Tools such as Kaseya Traverse support proactive service-level monitoring, enabling MSPs (and enterprise customers) to get advance warning of pending issues (such as memory/storage/bandwidth constraints) so that they can remediate potential problems before they impact service levels. In addition, by tracking business services (such as supply chain applications) at the highest level, while still being able to drill-down to the appropriate server or virtual machine, Traverse allows MSPs to quickly and accurately identify route causes even in the most complex of environments. Add to that support for public cloud APIs, predictive analytics and a powerful reporting capability, and Traverse-equipped MSPs are primed to provide valuable support for today’s mid-sized companies and their hybrid-cloud environments.

By helping the IT departments of mid-sized companies meet their SLA mandates, MSPs can help free in-house IT staff to better respond to business requests, can bolster the reputation of IT within their own organizations, and can help provide the detailed intelligence needed for IT to add strong value in conversations regarding business innovation.

Learn more about how Kaseya technology can help you create advanced managed services.
Read our whitepaper, Proactive Service Level Monitoring: A Must Have for Advanced MSPs.

What tools are you using to manage your IT services?

Author: Ray Wright

References:

* The Benefits of Virtualization for Small and Medium Businesses

** Expand Your Virtual Infrastructure With Confidence And Control

Remotely Manage and Control Your Ever-Widening IT Environment

Big Bang Theory
According to the “Big Bang” cosmological theory, and the latest calculations from NASA, the universe is expanding at a rate of 46.2 miles (plus or minus 1.3 miles) per second per megaparsec (a megaparsec is roughly 3 million light-years). If those numbers are a little too much to contemplate, rest assured that’s really, really fast. And it’s getting faster all the time.

Does this sound a bit like the world of IT management? So maybe IT environments aren’t expanding at 46.2 miles per second per megaparsec, but with cloud services, mobile devices, and increasingly distributed IT environments, it feels like it. Things that need to be managed are further away and in motion, which means that the ability to manage remotely is crucial. IT operations teams must be able to connect to anything, anywhere to perform a full range of management tasks.

The list of things that need to be managed remotely continues to grow. Cloud services, mobile devices, new things (as in the “Internet of Things”) all need to be managed and controlled. To maximize effectiveness, remote management of this comprehensive set should be done within a single command center. Beyond central command, several core functions are needed to successfully manage remotely:

Discovery: Virtually every management vendor offers discovery, but all discovery is not created equal. The discovery capability must be able to reach every device, no matter where it is located – office, home, on-the-road, anywhere in the world. It must also be an in-depth discovery, providing the device details needed for proper management.

Audit and Inventory: It is important to know all the applications that are running on servers, clients, and mobile devices. Are they at the right version level? And for corporately controlled devices (that is, not BYOD devices), are the applications allowed at all? Enforcing standards helps reduce trouble tickets generated when problems are caused by untested/unauthorized applications. A strong auditing and inventory capability informs the operations team so the correct information can be shared and the right actions taken.

Deploy, Patch and Manage Applications: Software deployment, patch, and application management for all clients is key to ensuring users have access to the applications they need, with a consistent and positive experience. With the significant growth in mobility, the capability to remotely manage mobile devices to ensure secure access to chosen business applications, with either company-owned devices or BYOD devices, is also important. Arguably mobile devices are more promiscuous in their use of unsecure networks in coffee shops and airports etc., so it’s even more important to keep up with mobile device patch management to ensure security fixes are put in place as soon as possible.

Security: Protecting the outer layer network, the endpoints, is an important component to a complete security solution. Endpoint protection starts with a strong endpoint security and malware detection and prevention engine. Combine security with patch management to automatically keep servers, workstations and remote computers up-to-date with the latest, important security patches and updates.

Monitor: Remote monitoring of servers, workstations, remote computers, Windows Event Logs, and applications is critical to security, network performance and the overall operations of the organization. Proactive, user defined monitoring with instant notification of problems or changes — when critical servers go down, when users alter their configuration or when a possible security threat occurs — is key to keeping systems working well and the organization running efficiently.

Remote Control: IT professionals frequently need directand rapid access to servers, workstations and mobile devices securely and without impacting the productivity of the users in order to quickly remediate issues . Remote control capability must deliver a complete, fast and secure remote access and control solution even behind firewalls or from machines at home. Because seconds matter, remote control should provide near instantaneous connect times with excellent reliability, even over high latency networks.

Automation: As the world of IT becomes more and more complex, it is impossible to achieve required service levels and efficiency when repetitive, manual, error-prone tasks are still part of the process. IT managers need to automate everything that can be automated! From software deployment and patch management to client provisioning and clean-up, automation must be an integral part of a remote management solution.

Choosing management tools with strong remote management capabilities is important to achieving customer satisfaction goals, and doing more with the existing IT operations staff. Learn more about how Kaseya technology can help you remotely manage your increasingly complex IT services. Read our whitepaper, Managing the Complexity of Today’s Hybrid IT Environments.

Author: Tom Hayes

MSP Best Practice: 4 Keys to Automation

Creating Automation

The benefits of automation were lauded as far back as 1908 when Henry Ford created the assembly line to manufacture his famous “any color you like as long as it’s black” Model T. Before assembly lines were introduced, cars were built by skilled teams of engineers, carpenters and upholsterers who worked to build vehicles individually. Yes, these vehicles were “hand crafted” but the time needed and the resultant costs were both high. Ford’s assembly line stood this traditional paradigm on its end. Instead of a team of people going to each car, cars now came to a series of specialized workers. Each worker would repeat a set number of tasks over and over again, becoming increasingly proficient, reducing both production time and cost. By implementing and refining the process, Ford was able to reduce the assembly time by over 50% and reduce the price of the Model T from $825 to $575 in just four years.

Fast forward a hundred years (or so) and think about the way your support capabilities work now. Does your MSP operation function like the teams of pre-assembly line car manufacturers or have you implemented automated processes? Some service providers and many in-house IT services groups still function like the early car manufacturers. The remediation process kicks off when an order (trouble ticket) arrives. Depending on the size (severity) of the order one or more “engineers” are allocated to solving the problem. Simple issues may be dealt with by individual support staff but more complex issues – typically those relating to poor system performance or security vs. device failures – can require the skills of several people – specialists in VMware, networking, databases, applications etc. Unfortunately, unlike the hand-crafted car manufactures who sold to wealthy customers, MSPs can’t charge more for more complex issues. Typically you receive a fixed monthly fee based on the number of devices or seats you support.

So how can you “bring the car to the worker” rather than vice-versa? Automation for sure, but how does it work? What are the key steps you need to take?

  1. Be proactive – the first and most important step is to be proactive. Like Ford with Model T manufacturing, you already know what it takes to keep a customer’s IT infrastructure running. If you didn’t you wouldn’t be in the MSP business. Use that knowledge to plan out all the proactive actions that need to take place in order to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. A simple example is patch management. Is it automated? If not, as the population of supported devices grows it’s going to take you longer and longer to complete each update. The days immediately after a patch is released are often the most crucial. If the release eliminates a security vulnerability the patch announcement can alert hackers to the fact and spur them to attack systems before the patch gets installed. If that happens, now there’s much more to do to eliminate the malware and clean up whatever mess it caused. Automating patch management saves time and gets patches installed as quickly as possible.
  1. Standardize – develop a check list of technology standards that you can apply to every similar device and throughout each customer’s infrastructure. Standards such as common anti-virus and back-up processes; common lists of recommended standard applications and utilities; recommended amounts of memory and standard configurations, particularly of network devices. By developing standards you’ll take a lot of guess work out of trouble-shooting. You’ll know if something is incorrectly configured or if a rogue application is running. And by automating the set-up of new users, for example, you can ensure that they at least start out meeting the desired standards. You can even establish an automated process to audit the status of each device and report back when compliance is contravened. The benefit to your customers is fewer problems and faster time to problem resolution. Don’t set your standards so tightly that you can meet customers’ needs but do set their expectations during the sales process so that they know why you have standards and how they help you deliver better services.
  1. Policy management – beyond standards are policies. These are most likely concerned with the governance of IT usage. Policy covers areas such as access security, password refresh, allowable downloads, application usage, who can action updates etc. Ensuring that users comply with the policies required by your customers and implied by your standards is another way to reduce the number of trouble tickets that get generated. Downloading unauthorized applications or even unveted updates to authorized applications can expose systems to “bloatware”. At best this puts a drain on system resources and can impact productivity, storage capacity and performance. At worst, users may be inadvertently downloading malware, with all of its repercussions. Setting up proactive policy management can prevent the unwanted actions from the outset. Use policy management to continuously check compliance.
  1. Continuously review – even when you have completed the prior three steps there is still much more that can be done. Being proactive will have made a significant impact on the number of trouble tickets being generated. But they will never get to zero – the IT world is just far too complex. However, by reviewing the tickets you can discover further areas where automation may help. Are there particular applications that cause problems, particular configurations, particular user habits etc.? By continuously reviewing and adjusting your standards, policy management and automation scripts you will be able to further decrease the workload on your professional staff and more more easily be able to “bring the car (problem)” to the right specialist.

As Henry Ford knew, automation is a powerful tool that will help you to reduce the number of trouble tickets generated and, more importantly the number of staff needed to deal with them. By reducing the volume and narrowing the scope, together with the right management tools, you’ll be able to free up staff time to help improve drive new business, improve customer satisfaction and ultimately increase your sales. By 1914 – 6 years after he started – Henry had an estimated 48% of the US automobile market!

What tools are you using to manage your IT services?

Author: Ray Wright

Three Key Monitoring Capabilities for VMware Virtualized Servers

VMware Virtualized ServersThe percentage of servers which are virtualized continues to grow, but management visibility continues to be a challenge. In this blog post we look at the three key monitoring capabilities – full metal, datastore, and performance – to give you the visibility and control you need to keep your virtualized applications performing well.

Before we start, below is a description of the information models which are important to hypervisor management:

Common Information Model

Common Information Model or CIM is an open standard that defines management and monitoring of devices and elements of devices in a datacenter.

VMWare infrastructure API

The VI API is a proprietary implementation of CIM provided by VMWare for management and monitoring of components related to the VMWare hypervisor.

Full metal monitoring

Fan status

The fan is essential for proper server function. When rack density goes up, server volume shrinks and fans need to work at higher speeds, which mean more wear and tear. A broken fan in a server can quickly cause major heat build up that affects the server and possibly neighbouring servers. The good thing is that it’s relatively easy to monitor the state of the fans. The CIM_fan class exposes a property called HealthState that contains information about the health of a fan: OK, degraded state, or failed.

PSU health

Power supply health is important to monitor. Most enterprise servers can be configured to have redundant power supplies. In addition, its good to have a spare in backup. OMC_Powersupply is a class the exposes the “HealthState” property for each PSU in your server. Just like the fan health, the PSU is determined to be OK, degraded, or failed.

Power usage

VI API can be used to measure average power usage, which gives an indication of the server utility cost. More power usage means more heat, which equals even more utility costs in the form of heat dissipation.The VI API counter power.power.average results looks like this:

VMware Virtualized Servers

Raid controller, storage volume and battery backup

Three key storage elements that you should monitor are the raid controller, storage volumes and the battery. The controller and disks seems obvious, but the battery? In many cases a high performance raid controller will have a battery to backup the onboard memory incase of a power outage. The memory on the controller is most commonly used for write back caching and when the server loses power, the battery ensures that the cache remains consistent until you restore power to the server and its content can be written to disk.

Datastore monitoring

Utilization, IOPs and latency are metrics that should be monitored and analyzed together. When you have performance problems in a disk subsystem, an “ok” latency can tell you to go and look for problems with IOPs. High utilization can tell you why you may not get the expected IOPs out of the system and so on.

Utilization

The utilization can be calculated using the capacity and freespace properties of the DatastoreSummary object.

IOPs

IO operations per second can be monitored using a VI API datastore.datastoreIops.average counter; which provides an average of read and write io operations.

Latency

Latency can be measured using datastore.totalWriteLatency.average and datastore.totalReadLatency.average counters. They will show you average read and write latency for the whole chain, which includes both kernel and device latency.

Performance monitoring

CPU

Threads scheduled to run on a CPU can either be in two states: waiting or ready. Both of these states can tell a story about resource shortage. The lesser evil of the two is the wait state, which indicates that the thread is waiting for an IO operation to complete. This can be as simple as waiting for a answer on a host external resource, or waiting on disk time. The more serious state is the so called “ready state” which indicate that the thread is ready to run, but there is no CPU free to server it.

VMware Virtualized Servers 3

Memory ballooning and IOPS

Memory ballooning is a process that can happen when a host experiences a low memory condition and probes the virtual machines for memory to free up. The balloon driver in each VM tries to allocate as much memory as possible within the VM (up to 65% of the available VM memory), and the host will free this memory to add to the host memory pool.

The memory ballooning counter, mem.vmmemctl.average, can show when this happens. So how can memory ballooning make a dent in your IO graph you may ask? After the host reconciles memory from VMs, these VMs can start to use their own virtual memory and start page memory blocks to disk, which is why memory ballooning may proceed a higher than normal IO operation.

Memory swapping

Ballooning may happen even if there is no issue; its a strategy for the host to make sure there is free memory for any VM to consume. Host swapping however is always a sign of trouble. There are a number of counters that you want to monitor:

mem.swapin.average
mem.swapout.average
mem.swapinRate.average
mem.swapoutRate.average

These counters show, both in cumulative and in rate, how much memory is swapped in/out. Host memory swapping is double trouble. No only does it indicate that you have a low host memory situation, it is also going to affect IO performance.

Final words

Monitoring, reporting and notification on all these metrics can be a challenge. The good news for Kaseya customers is that you can implement the monitoring described in this article using the new network monitor module in VSA 7.0, available now.

References:

Author: Robert Walker

Using Marketing and IT Automation with the Cloud to build really cool marketing campaigns

IT Automation

Marketing and IT are moving closer and closer in this current era of digital marketing. The amount of IT systems a marketer has to work with has grown exponentially. This also means the job of a marketer involves more and more close collaboration with the IT department. In this blog I’d like to share a bit of my experience as marketing automation expert for Kaseya and hopefully interest more people in joining the marketing automation movement.

Marketing automation leverages IT systems for marketing efforts in a similar way as Kaseya does for IT systems management. The idea is to automate process with the goal of reducing the manual efforts required to run marketing campaigns. There are many levels at which this can be achieved and I am proud to say that here at Kaseya, we have made immense steps over the past years in achieving higher levels of marketing automation.

It seems like ages ago (but actually isn’t) that marketing methodology was to send out manually printed batches of letters. Nowadays we have completely automated our marketing efforts. A good example of this is that we at Kaseya are constantly nurturing our customer database in our Netsuite CRM system (yes there is the first bit of cloud based IT) with our marketing automation solution, Marketo (and there is another one). Some of these marketing activities involve inviting customers for online webinars (another cloud based IT solution) or promoting the fact that we have a free cloud trial of our products available. I think that an important point to make here is that we believe that the future is in the cloud-based solutions and Kaseya is leading the industry in offering IT management cloud solutions. So we are not just promoting cloud-based IT solutions, we are also implementing them.

One of the interesting things is that this digital invasion into the marketing department has shown us that we cannot do without good IT support. Our jobs rely on the systems to be running, whether they are cloud based offerings that need to be online 24/7 or personal devices such as laptops and tablets that are used to create even more interesting campaigns. Also strong automation is making our lives much easier and as marketing automation expert, I always feel there is nothing cooler than a completely automated campaign that actually starts to live its one life and actually improves our service offering to prospects and customers. Also aspects of IT systems management such as reporting are things we as a marketing department also run into. Because just as IT wants to know what assets are being managed and how they are performing, so does marketing want insight into the running of campaigns and performance of these. Also, as with IT departments, we as marketers are also continuing to improve our process and to adapt to the changing business environment and resulting new opportunities.

Overall, the link between automated marketing, IT and the new cloud services can help marketing drive really cool marketing campaigns.

If you have any questions or would like to share your personal experiences either as a marketer or as an IT manager about marketing automation I’d love to read your comments.

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