Managed hosting is a collection of services and hosted hardware options that managed service provider (MSP) companies supply and support for their customers. The range of services varies widely from provider to provider, but generally cover onboarding services, support personnel, security, maintenance, disaster recovery, monitoring, reporting, periodic software and infrastructure upgrades, and offboarding services. There are several advantages to using managed hosting services. The primary advantage of using a managed hosting provider is cost savings. The largest savings come from your company requiring fewer employees to manage software and infrastructure, from using the provider’s volume licensing discounts, and from leasing hardware rather than purchasing it. Other significant advantages are 24/7/365 support, predictable costs, flexibility to quickly grow or shrink as needed, and access to best available technologies and practices.
Managed Hosting Provides Onboarding Services
For new customers, MSPs provide various onboarding services such as training for their interfaces, connectivity options, and some general introduction to their list of services. The managed service provider assigns a customer support representative or provider primary point-of-contact to the new customer. Customers have access to an online help desk, a support number, and the email address of the customer support representative. Depending on the service level agreement, customer proximity to the data center, and optional services, onboarding activities might also include a data center tour and limited access to the hosted infrastructure.
Once the customer completes the onboarding process, the switch to standard support begins. The definition of standard support differs for each customer depending on service levels purchased by the customer.
Do I Get On-call Support?
Hosting providers have 24/7/365 support to handle break/fix issues. At ColoCrossing.com we will correct physical hardware defects on any dedicated server rentals. These are done cost-free to the client as part of our service guarantee. Other standard support (colocation or software for example) is available 24/7 at $125/hour and billed in 15 minute increments. That covers everything from software configuration assistance to racking a colo server or troubleshooting a customer’s owned hardware. You should verify that your provider has support staff available to serve your needs with terms that coincide with your business model. The service contract between the hosting company and the customer define service level agreements (SLAs), availability, access to support personnel, maintenance agreements, scheduling, and rates for charges outside of any standard contract agreement.
What About Security?
Security means different things to different providers. You need to find out what it means to your provider and then augment your defenses to fill in the gaps. At a minimum, the provider should supply customers with a self-service network firewall portal plus a general network firewall that isolates customer traffic. Additional security services might include one or more of the following:
- Breach detection
- Threat detection and remediation
- Intrusion detection
- Intrusion prevention
- Security information and event management
- Incident response
- Security patching
- Alerting and reporting
Providers can also require customers to enable host-based firewalls and to deploy anti-malware software. Potential customers often ask if managed hosting is secure and if their data will be secure on this remote network that is mostly beyond the customer’s direct control. Security is a primary focus for managed hosting providers because their reputations depend on word-of-mouth, reviews, and current customer recommendations. Security breaches are rare because hosting companies monitor their networks and use state-of-the-art technologies and practices to protect their networks and their customer’s data.
Who Manages Maintenance?
Regular maintenance is a standard managed hosting offering, which includes hardware and software patching, hardware maintenance, and server health monitoring. You can also schedule your own maintenance activities with assistance from hosting personnel. Since the infrastructure and all data center assets belong to the hosting company, it is in its best interest to maintain it for you. Maintenance typically translates into some service downtime or failover to secondary services and falls outside of any service levels, availability, or contractual guarantees because it is necessary for the functional health of all assets and customer data safety.
Managed Hosting and Disaster Recovery
Hosting providers optionally offer backup, restore, replication, and other disaster recovery services. Some providers also extend disaster recovery beyond their own data centers to Azure and AWS. Those companies that want to use a managed hosting provider as a hot failover site will find that they have many options from which to choose, such as dynamic DNS, load balancing, and other services that make it easy to failover from a primary site to a backup site without significant disruption in service. Hosting providers that offer advanced disaster recovery services such as disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) also assist companies with strategic planning for failover/failback, risk management, business continuity, and supply skilled administrators to perform disaster recovery services.
Monitoring and Reporting
Monitoring and reporting services vary so widely that it’s easier for system administrators, CIOs, and CSOs to decide on monitoring and reporting requirements before shopping for a provider. At a minimum, businesses should request bandwidth monitoring, up/down monitoring, service outage reporting, and access to log files. Customers usually have access to a dashboard that shows continuous performance information for systems. The supplied information is often very basic CPU, memory, uptime, network, and disk performance measurements. Custom monitors and alerts can be created for systems either using system tools or capabilities built into the customer portal.
Who Manages Upgrades and Updates?
It is the responsibility of the service provider to manage infrastructure upgrades and updates. These upgrades and updates include firmware, failover configuration maintenance, migration to new hardware, and installing new security patches and adhering to best practices. Similar to maintenance activities, the application of upgrades and updates is in the best interest of the hosting company as well as all of its customers. The customer contract and SLA documentation should outline the responsibilities of the hosting provider. Scheduled downtime for some upgrades and updates is to be expected and will not count against the guaranteed uptime and availability described in the contract.
Do I Need to Worry About Offboarding?
Businesses don’t always consider offboarding at the beginning of a contract agreement, but it’s important to think ahead. How a hosting company offboards customers is a very important aspect to consider when shopping for a provider. Offboarding includes how the hosting company helps the customer transition to a new provider or service host. The hosting provider should supply backups, transfers, virtual machines, and complete data to the customer and new hosting company. Transitions are a part of business and offboarding is a part of that business.
Businesses shopping for a provider should make a selection based on good reviews on all aspects of the hosting experience, including offboarding services and activities.
Should I Use a Managed Hosting Provider?
Selecting a managed hosting provider is not an easy task nor is it one that should be taken lightly. Releasing control of hardware, infrastructure, maintenance, and administration to a third party is difficult for some companies to do. But this perceived lack of control usually subsides during the onboarding process. Hosting company staff members are sensitive to the transition that businesses make when trusting their maintenance, licensing, and support to a remote entity.
Be sure to study the hosting contract and ask a lot of questions before signing a multi-year agreement for services. Check references, reviews, current customer experiences, and history of conflict resolution prior to committing to any agreement. Hosting contracts generally require a one, two, or three-year commitment by the customer and the longer the contract term the better the cost savings.