Managed Services Pretenders
This customer was in extreme pain. It was hard to understand how they were so patient – for the last year! The Exchange Server was recently down for 4 days. Now there was a new Exchange server with a fallout of a myriad other issues. Apparently, a new hire was made and a request submitted for user credentials and a mailbox 30 days prior. After the fact, it was disclosed that there was some issue preventing the creation of the user account and mailbox. Rather than tell the customer immediately and work proactively to resolve the problem, the big hardware sales company wanting to be a managed service provider did nothing until the system crashed. The customer looked very inept as the new hire couldn’t do their job the first week, not to mention no employee could communicate with their customers or the outside world. Since the system was virtualized, it’s still not understood what the 4 day delay was as no additional hardware was required and any new software could quickly be downloaded.
It seems the managed services pretender had promised the customer a lot and delivered very poorly. When asked what type of system and how it was configured, the customer complained that the documentation they were promised was non-existent. The remote monitoring and alerting that was promised last year was supposedly just coming online, so the pretender would know surely know ahead of time on the next problem. Things had been so bad that the customer met weekly with the management of the pretender – and had done so for a year! When asked what kind of non-critical issues the customer had last month, all they could do was forward the e-mail requests. Apparently, the pretender didn’t use a case management system or didn’t provide any feedback about it. 25% of the cases were repeat requests on a previous issue that had been left languishing. 35% of cases were lacking or misconfigured connector issues on the new mail server. The remainders were 15 minute tasks that seemed to take days to add an icon or printer or unblock this site on the firewall. Clearly, no one else had categorized the problems or begin to analyze how to reduce or eliminate these issues in the future. However, the pretender promised this too was soon coming. For certain, the pretender that was still driven by product sales, just threw in some new servers and software with offbrand or third-party virtualization and remote access software to increase licensing and maintenance costs. No plan had been conceived and the experts the customer trusted to help simply pushed more product as the answer to everything at higher margin than their ill-conceived managed services. You just know the whole system is under-sized to ensure a required refresh or additional equipment in three years or less.
The following weekend after this meeting, we had our own hurdles. Insight Remote Monitoring, alerted us that several virtual servers had stopped responding late Sunday afternoon for one of our Guardian Managed Services accounts. Some virtual temporary files had grown suddenly leaving limited disk space on the host. A save state on the virtual servers corrected the space problem, but because space was temporarily limited deleted some required snapshots for the current state of the server. As best practice, data was separated from the virtual machines on a Storage Area Network (SAN), so two of the servers were simply rejoined to the domain in a few minutes with no further issues. However, a domain controller and the Exchange 2010 mail server were damaged and would not start. The second DC was handling logon and DHCP request with the other half of the scope, so the domain controller could be temporarily ignored.
Unfortunately, mail was down. We contacted the customer notifying them of the situation and related that it will likely best to simply rebuild the mail server than try to restore over the Internet using online backup. We used Insight again, which also had current statistics on IP address, OS version and Service Pack, Exchange version and Service Pack, and hard drive size. The customer was texted each hour as we built an exact duplicate of the previous mail server and then performed an Exchange 2010 Server Recovery, that automatically put back the previous Exchange software configuration from Active Directory. Again, since the mail database was separate from the virtual server on the SAN, databases started right up and mail was flowing. Using our System Plan for the client, we activated Exchange with the recorded software key and updated some custom settings per the Exchange Configuration table. By Monday morning, it was business as usual for the customer with only the main contact ever knowing there was a problem. The case was closed overnight, with the customer receiving a detailed follow-up e-mail on the problem and resolution, along with the phone call first thing in the morning to verify with the primary contact that everything was functioning satisfactorily.
It would have been a vastly different story without the System Plan for configuration, Insight for alerting and inventory, and over 30 years of best practice Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). Review of the previous year of cases for Exchange from our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) showed some significant growth and an upgrade was likely looming in the next 12-24 months. The customer was further advised that moving Exchange to cloud computing could lower their monthly maintenance cost, and escape server upgrade service projects and related hardware/software costs in the future. A win-win for us and the customer with less stuff to worry about at less cost.
Talk is cheap, statistics can be manipulated, and anything you say positive about your company can be taken as bragging and may be parraoted by pretenders. So far, we’ve simply shown the customer in pain our secret sauce and proprietary methodology, Delta. They’ve seen a System Plan, Insight, CRM, and SOPs. They know they would have documentation, real-time inventory and alerting status, and most importantly an unbiased and service motivated analysis of cases and strategy. So beware of pretenders and evaluate upfront their processes, business acumen, and motivations.