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Outsource IT support without losing control

Secure a highly available IT platform by ensuring you have the best data center support. Without precautions, you may suffer from greedy resellers and vendors.

When looking at how to offer high availability for your IT platform, get the best possible data center support...

in place so you don't fall victim to greedy providers.

There are several outsourcing options for enterprise IT shops, with varying degrees of control and flexibility.

Many pitfalls await companies that decide hastily to outsource IT support to resellers, integrators or equipment vendors, but the right contract and knowledgeable refresh planning make it beneficial for both parties.

Resellers: the good and the bad

For many IT shops -- particularly at small- and medium-sized enterprises -- the first call is to the reseller. The reseller provides ongoing equipment support, which makes the customer unlikely to move away from them. Even resellers who aren't well-liked find that contracts get renewed automatically.

A minority of resellers in the outsourced IT support business overly extend the life of IT hardware, charge exorbitantly for any change requests and for break/fixes and updates, and charge list price when any new hardware is brought in, with professional services layered on top. The supplier maximizes its margins with little risk. If the outsourcing customer raises issues, a reseller can offer some incentives to save the deal.

Other resellers make money from a high turnover of hardware at smaller margins. By getting IT organizations to regularly buy next-gen hardware, such as the latest servers or ultra-high-performance storage arrays, the reseller makes money on the hardware and professional services needed to implement them and also acquires excess hardware to sell to other customers.

Good resellers want to be part of your business. As a trusted IT outsourcing partner, they should be advising you on the setup that your business needs, leaving plenty of time to make a considered decision.

Ensure that your contract covers known costs for updates and upgrades to areas such as firmware and operating systems. Lifecycle management approaches must be covered: State how long you expect different classes of hardware to last in the data center. Set a frequency of meetings with the reseller, and define expectations for these meetings.

To the vendor

Another option is to go directly to your primary technology vendor.

Vendors such as IBM, HP, Dell and Fujitsu offer various levels of IT support -- and will take care of any hardware even if it isn't from their company. Watch out for highly proprietary systems, however.

Although large vendors can afford to bring in skill sets to cover the majority of IT scenarios, you may end up sharing a skilled support staffer with other customers. If a problem arises and affects one type of hardware specifically, you could be fighting for access to them.

Outsource IT support; keep the strategy in-house

In meetings with the support provider, direct them on what the business needs, and task them with finding ways to deal with your needs in terms of value to the business, at what cost and what risk. It should always be your final decision on what is implemented into the IT platform.

Also watch out when it comes to a hardware refresh: Is what the vendor tells you the best idea for your business, or best for the vendor's remuneration? A vendor's bias could prevent you from getting sufficient performance at a lower cost in a competitor's system, for example. Outsource support but not decision making. 

Contracts with main equipment vendors should be along the same lines as when dealing with a reseller. You are building a document that creates a trusted relationship on both sides that avoids all surprises.

Systems integrators

Some organizations turn to the systems integrator for outsourced IT support. This is a broad category that includes professional services companies, value-added resellers and even some IT consultants.

Professional services groups like Accenture, Atos and even higher-end resellers like Computacenter offer a range of services to help manage your data center and IT platform. Aimed at larger enterprises, these services tend to cover the full strategic outsourcing of IT, rather than break/fix and basic support service.

The biggest issue here is that organizations do not retain much control. A large systems integrator is not just looking after your business's interests -- they owe a duty of care to their shareholders.

Off-site support

Off-site support vendors provide systems management as a service, and include vendors such as CA Technologies, BMC, ServiceNow, Fujitsu, Entrada, ScaleXtreme (now a part of Citrix) and Site24x7. These tools alert in-house IT staff of issues, with a high degree of automated fixing.

These smaller providers are ideal for many small- and medium-sized enterprises, as costs are lower than dedicated support, and there aren't a number of employees on your site at any time. Don't expect highly personalized service offerings unless you are willing to pay for them -- it generally means having a provider's representative on-site most of the time.

Of course, complete IT outsourcing is possible via public cloud services and software as a service.

About the author:
Clive Longbottom is the co-founder and service director of IT research and analysis firm Quocirca, based in the U.K. Longbottom has more than 15 years of experience in the field. With a background in chemical engineering, he's worked on automation, control of hazardous substances, document management and knowledge management projects.

Next Steps

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This was last published in March 2015

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What method do you use for outsourcing IT support?
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We don't. At least, not for our internal systems - off-site databases have their own IT support, and I don't care what their setup is as long as it works and doesn't raise our costs much.

I've always believed that it's best to have operations that are as self-contained as possible... and having our own employees understand the technology they're using means they can also help troubleshoot problems that customers might have. It's a win-win setup.
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The issue that IT departments need to accept, regardless of the level of outsourcing they choose, is that outsourcing will involve less direct control, period.
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