Managed IT Services Pricing: Are You Overpaying?

With companies more dependent than ever on complex networks, mobile devices and electronic solutions for everything from bookkeeping to compliance, managed IT services are looking increasingly attractive. But choosing a provider can be an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. Some managed IT services companies set their prices based purely on how many devices you use. Others let you pick and choose from a variety of services on an a la carte basis. And still others have a tiered system where “gold” level clients get quicker service and more total hours of support than their “bronze” counterparts.

The key to choosing wisely is that there’s no one perfect managed IT services package. What you need is the best package for your business. And that means you need to have a clear idea of your specific needs going into the process. How many networks do you use? If your IT is hosted on site, do you want to move it to the cloud, and, if so, how will the transition and continuing network management fit into your overall plans? Do you have employees who work from home, or who use mobile devices on the road?

If you take a look at your use of IT service over the past few months, you can probably get a sense of your needs. How many tickets have come in from employees, and what issues did they reflect? Do you need frequent hands-on help at your office, or can remote assistance typically handle the problem?

It’s also a good idea to go through worst-case scenarios. If your network suddenly went down on a Sunday at 4 p.m., would it be an emergency that had to be handled immediately or a minor inconvenience that could wait until Monday morning? If one of your field reps working on the other side of the country couldn’t get help logging a new phone onto your network, how bad would that be?

There’s a reason people say time is money. If a long wait time for help from your managed IT services provider would keep your workers twiddling their thumbs, that’s just as much of a problem as overpaying for services you don’t need.

Of course, what you really want is to avoid both those problems. So before you go shopping for managed IT services, make sure you know just what your needs really are.

Giant In The Clouds: AWS

If you use the internet, you almost certainly use Amazon Web Services.

The cloud computing arm of the dot-com dynamo is such a large presence online that an in-depth analysis by DeepField Networks this spring found that more than 1 percent of consumer online traffic goes through Amazon services, and a third of internet users access the company’s servers every day.

As those numbers might suggest, AWS is the dominant player in cloud computing. Big-name brands like Netflix, Dropbox, Instagram and Pinterest all use AWS for their streaming services.

In the relatively new world of cloud computing, AWS is also a veteran player that has been providing virtual computing power to businesses since 2006. Much of what it offers is raw processing and storage power of its huge data centers, provided through an Amazon service known as Elastic Compute Cloud, or EC2. That  model is often referred to as “infrastructure as a service,” as opposed to “platform as a service” or “software as a service,” which describe models that require less IT work from customers but provide them with less flexibility. Many of the companies that do business through AWS use intermediary vendors to turn that infrastructure into something they can easily use.

AWS offers the use of its servers in various ways.  Users can pay only a set hourly fee for each the processing power or storage space they use, or they can pay some amount up front and then spend less per hour, with tiers based on how heavy their usage will be.

Beyond EC2, AWS offers a variety of services for managing databases, billing, and so on, often in partnership with other companies. It also runs a marketplace site for cloud software sold by a variety of vendors that can run on its virtual servers.

In recent months, Google and Microsoft, which now mostly offer more structured cloud products rather than pure raw power, have both been working hard at competing infrastructure products. Still, most analysts say they’ll have their work cut out for them going up against the well-established AWS.

This is the first in a series of blog posts on major cloud computing players.

Photo of Amazon data center courtesy of xcorex/Flickr