What is availability reporting? Ask this question to five different managed service providers (MSPs) and you’ll hear five different answers. These differing opinions come as a result of what constitutes availability—what’s important to one client isn’t important to another.
Monitoring and measuring the IT services that MSPs provide is an important activity to ensure availability levels are being consistently met. In a very competitive market, process automation is key for MSPs. Cloud may be a buzzword today, but MSPs have been slicing up systems and renting out partitions to various clients for years. Even so, with some of big public cloud players arriving on the scene in recent years, it’s more important than ever for MSPs to differentiate based on the value of the software (SaaS) and platforms (PaaS) you provide, going well beyond just the infrastructure (IaaS).
The more you can streamline and improve efficiencies, the more productive you become, keeping staff levels to a minimum, while making services affordable and competitive, fueling the possibilities to increase the number of service offerings to the client base.
How Do I Show Service Availability?
With MSPs offering both hosted and RMM (remote monitoring and management) services, the underlying reason why clients engage with MSPs can vary widely from not having their own staff to wanting fixed-cost monthly management to separating legacy from core business applications.
If you’re a managed service provider, how can you best prove that you’re managing—or exceeding—client expectations?
This proof comes in the form of regular service reviews. To facilitate this discussion, an availability report is normally compiled and discussed. This report provides management with timely and accurate information illustrating the services that the MSP provides to the client.
The report should be made up of four sections:
- Management summary
This provides a high-level preview of the services provided, along with clear indicators of service-level agreements (SLAs) and whether they were met over the measured period.
- Visual aid
Straight-forward graphs and tables that illustrate the management summary and are easy to interpret. They may indicate why a service level may not have been met.
- Service improvement
This section provides service details from the measured period, depicting how the MSP can work with the client to make improvements to the service, ultimately benefiting the business.
- Breakdown of details
These are the nuts and bolts that would be used at a technical level.
Availability reports form the foundation for the next measurement period. By following this versatile, four-tiered approach, the report also becomes more useful to a broader range of staff.
Availability reporting should clearly state the measurement period and provide the basis for all calculations shown. Additionally, it should translate specific IT availability into a language that the business can understand. This is measured under the heading of service-level agreements, so any report produced should clearly indicate these SLAs and, more importantly, show where service availability deviates from agreed services levels.
For example, clients are not normally interested if the CPU on a server has been running at 99 percent busy for 60 minutes, but they do care if this impacts their response times, or worse, causes an application to be inaccessible to the user community. In addition, clients are not overly interested in positive notifications; they want and need the exceptions to be highlighted.
What Are the Benefits of Availability Reporting?
So, what benefits can managed service providers expect from well-implemented availability reporting?
- Centralized, automated management reporting
Regular availability reports should be able to be produced automatically within minutes and should not consume hours of time for technicians or management—this is dead time.
- Optional, self-service reporting to the client base
Helping clients to self-serve not only saves time but also gives a powerful impression that MSPs are fully transparent.
- Increased client satisfaction
Increased visibility paired with reports that are easy to read and understand leads to a closer working relationship with clients. Well-produced reporting should act as a reason to get around the table with clients—the more you talk to clients, the closer the working relationship you will have with them.
- A way to analyze past trends in order to illustrate continuous improvements
MSPs often neglect a continuous improvement process. By reporting on what has happened, which action was subsequently taken, and what has been put in place to ensure that similar future outages impacting SLAs don’t happen again, MSPs can demonstrate a strong proactive approach.
- Custom-made, ready-to-use templates
Even with differing client requirements and services being provided, they are all still variations on a theme. It’s far easier and faster to change an existing report than to reinvent the wheel from the beginning each time.
- Proof of added value
In response to ongoing subscription costs, clients have been known to question MSPs about what you’re actually doing on a month-by-month basis. Being able to provide evidence of the number of alerts that have been handled—along with the time it’s taken to both respond to and close alerts—is of increasingly valuable to clients and MSPs alike.
Can I Automate Availability Reporting?
With MSPs looking after many different clients in disparate sectors, running a variety of applications across a mixed set of platforms, consistent and concise availability reporting can be hard to put together. Availability reporting, and therefore availability monitoring, needs to be flexible in order to meet diverse client requirements. Having the ability to tag any piece of hardware, operating system, or application metric and use it as part of a measured SLA is important as MSPs strive to create individually tailored client availability reporting.
Outside of the regular, structured availability reporting comes real-time exception reporting, normally directly from installed performance management and monitoring solutions. These solutions should help minimize—or in some cases completely eliminate—manual monitoring checks. Studies have shown that as much as 80 percent of manual checks are actually checking things where the results turn out to be positive.
MSP support staff manage hundreds—even thousands—of alerts managed each day, so keeping this number to an absolute minimum should be the goal. Effectively managing real-time notifications can help you quickly identify situations that could potentially break service-level agreements.
By reporting today’s performance metrics and analyzing past trends, availability reporting connects MSP and client goals to ensure optimal availability.
Availability Reporting with Advanced Reporting Suite
Specifically designed for managed service providers, Advanced Reporting Suite is an affordable, high-end reporting solution that doesn’t require scripting or a dedicated, in-house expert.
It continuously and automatically collects customizable data choices from disparate technologies— including IBM i, Windows, AIX, Linux, and SNMP devices—in order to produce canned or custom reports on performance and SLAs, or to perform alert trend analysis across servers, platforms, or even clients.
Advanced Reporting Suite has a unique methodology for managing and reporting on SLAs, making it extremely easy for MSPs to manage the demands and requirements of each client and prove you are achieving or exceeding your SLA targets. Using SLA tags, you can quickly identify which aspects of the SLA are not being met, investigate, and solve before clients feel the impact.
Perhaps best of all, you can choose to produce your reports in a web portal or allow your clients to serve themselves through the same portal to maximize transparency.