I’ve written before about my belief that more IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers (MSPs) should embrace outsourcing. In fact, I’ve asked the question Why do IT outsourcers not outsource more?
Given that the role of most MSPs is essentially a provider of outsourced IT support to their clients, it surprises me that they don’t look to outsource more of their own tasks. When done well, outsourcing can be a great way to reduce costs, deliver services well and increase profits.
For most MSPs, nowhere is outsourcing more effective than outsourcing their Network Operation Centre.
What is an MSP NOC?
Most MSPs provide 24x7x365 monitoring and maintenance of their clients’ IT infrastructure. The vast majority of MSPs provide this service by using Remote Monitoring and Maintenance (RMM) software to do this. They deploy RMM software to their various clients, and the RMM software monitors the clients’ servers, PCs, printers and network equipment and reports back to the MSPs central dashboard with information on performance, plus alerts to any current issues or potential issues.
The MSP’s Service Desk staff then resolve any alerts they’ve received from the RMM software (such as a backup failure, a disk running out of space, or a printer server going offline) and pro-actively resolve any potential issues the RMM software highlights (such as a PC running slowly, anti-virus software going out of date, or a backup taking a long time to complete).
This is all fundamental work to an MSP, who wants to minimise (and eliminate) downtime for their client. It’s a necessity in the proactive management of a client’s infrastructure.
I’ve seen engineers who are ready to gouge their own eyes out if they have to tackle another failed Datto backup, or manually update a PC’s Anti-Virus definitions.
Don’t get me wrong, some engineers love NOC work. They take pride in it. If you’ve found an engineer who likes that work and is content doing that work, then happy days! However, the majority of engineers see NOC work as a necessary evil and if they can avoid this work, they will.
What if you could outsource that laborious, boring NOC work to an organisation who offered to do this work cost-effectively and with expertise? That’s where an NOC provider comes in.
What is an MSP NOC provider?
Put simply, an MSP NOC provider is a 3rd party who will look after the monitoring and maintenance of your clients on your behalf — typically for a fixed fee based on the number of clients, endpoints (servers and workstations) and/or network equipment across your client base.
When I used to run an MSP business, we used an NOC provider based out of the USA. They had staff based in India who delivered a high quality of service in keeping our clients’ IT infrastructure running, leaving me and my engineers to get on with helping clients with their pressing problems.
Most NOC providers run to a similar model, with the NOC staff themselves being based in India or another developing economy. This means they can use globalisation to provide high-quality work for a lower cost than MSPs in countries like the UK, USA or Australia.
Here in the UK, there are three NOC providers I’m familiar with – although others are undoubtedly available. They are (in alphabetical order):-
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that I used an NOC provider for back-office monitoring and maintenance. Most NOC providers also provide Service Desk services (i.e. they deal with client telephone calls for you) — but if you’re new to the idea of outsourced service, this might be a step too far for you. I know plenty of MSPs who use outsourced Service Desks very successfully, but I’ve no experience doing so myself.
So, if you’re looking to explore the idea of working with an MSP NOC provider, where do you begin?
The most important aspect of choosing an MSP NOC provider
When I spoke to Inbay Managing Director Kristian Wright about this, he shared “The team you work with will become an extension of your in-house team, so there has to be a level of trust there from the start.”
You might go about doing your research by asking the NOC provider to introduce you to some of their other MSP clients and asking those MSPs how they find the NOC team to work with on a day to day basis.
Ed Bodiam of FTS Managed Service sees many MSP/NOC relationships fail because the MSP tries to shoehorn what the NOC provider delivers into their existing services. “They try to force the NOC provider to change how they do things to fit in with their own process. This is a recipe for disaster. Most NOC providers have a set way of doing things that are repeatable and give the consistency of service. If you try to force them to change that process, mistakes will happen.”
When I spoke to Paul Balkwell and Bob Kocis of Continuum, they also confirmed that internal attitude towards the NOC is key. Listen to the excerpt from our upcoming Podcast interview below.
Most NOC providers will be technically competent and have great processes, but what are the team really like to work with? You’ll only find this out through asking existing partners of the NOC provider.
I can’t underestimate this aspect enough. Most NOC partner relationships that I’ve seen fail is because the MSP’s Service Delivery team and the NOC partner team aren’t on the same wavelength. Tread carefully!
Find an MSP NOC partner with a Security first approach
It’s scary enough for most MSPs to give up control of their clients’ networks to a 3rd party — you’re going to want to make sure that the partner you are working with deserves that immense trust you are placing with them.
Security standards such as Cyber Essentials, ISO 27001 and HIPPA (in North America) are important, but is the NOC partner merely ticking boxes or are they really dedicated to security? You can usually tell from the attitudes of staff, not just the NOC team but the Senior Management team too.
Inbay MD Kristian Wright shared this advice “I would also look at their contractual provisions for privacy and security, along with insurances and ensure that it at least matches the provisions that you have in your client contracts; this may also be a condition required by your customers.”
Ed Bodiam of FTS Managed Services offered specific advice “Ask about door entry systems to premises, whether technicians are allowed to have their mobile devices near workstations, and whether NOC staff have provable audit trails.”
Doing the financial calculations for outsourcing
For most MSPs, it will be. When I was first growing my MSP business, the cost of outsourcing the low-value but high importance tasks like monitoring and maintenance paled in comparison to hiring employees to do the same work.
There is an argument that there comes a tipping point where it may be better to bring the NOC services in-house rather than outsource, but for most Small & Medium sized MSPs reading this blog — I believe that won’t be the case.
Check with your NOC provider on the terms of their contract. Paul Balkwell of Continuum shares this advice “Make sure you’re not tied into a long-term contract, and that you have flexibility.” Continuum offers a “Pay as you grow” model.
The final stage of selecting an NOC partner
“Are we a good match for you?”
Kristian Wright, MD of Inbay, explains “Whilst you will have been busy evaluating potential partners, you may be surprised to learn that they are probably doing the same for you!”
Some MSPs are ready to embrace outsourcing and partnering with an NOC provider — others not so much. If you’ve read this article this far and like the idea of outsourcing, then I’d suggest you explore it further. However, if the idea of expanding your business through outsourcing scares the wits out of you — an NOC partner isn’t for you.
I know that most NOC providers are looking for a willingness to go into a deep partnership rather than dipping their toe into the water. A good NOC partnership can help your MSP to scale its business without taking on lots of new staff — but it often means a change in attitude towards growth.
Because some MSPs are more suited to partnering than others – and some partners’ business models more relevant to a specific type of MSP. When I meet with an MSP, I’m looking mainly for willingness to partner and an understanding of what that really means. We can help MSPs to scale up their business without increasing their in-house resources. But this often requires them to look again at the way they deliver their services – from the ground up.
As Ed Bodiam of FTS and Kristian Wright on Inbay reveal in this very open and honest interview “Partnering for NOC and Service Desk: making sure it’s a match made in heaven, not hell!” a less-than-ideal partnership can turn into a nightmare for both parties. Nobody wants that, most of all your NOC partner.
By all means, explore whether an NOC provider will be able to help your business — but above all remember that this is a partnership you’re entering into, not a cure-all for your monitoring and maintenance issues.
Managing your Network Operations Centre (NOC) services, such as monitoring and maintenance of your clients’ IT infrastructure, is an essential task for any IT Solution Provider or Managed Service Provider (MSP) — but it can be one that’s a thankless, unrewarding task for most engineers.
An outsourced NOC provider will help your business by delivering a high-quality service for monitoring, maintenance and more while meaning your business can grow without needing to hire as many employees to service client requirements.
Choosing an NOC partner is a step you should make very carefully. Make sure that the NOC provider is one that can become a long-term partner for you. A partner who treats the security of your clients with the highest of priority. A partner who is on the same wavelength as you. A partner who is committed to helping your MSP business grow alongside their own business.
Do you use an NOC partner? What have your experiences been? If you’re undecided whether an NOC partner is for you, what are your concerns? Please, leave a comment below or get in touch with me. Helping MSP clients find the right NOC partner is something I can help you with.
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
- Thanks to Kristian Wright of Inbay, Bob Kocis & Paul Balkwell of Continuum and Ed Bodiam of FTS Managed Services for their valuable contributions to this article.
- Keep an eye on upcoming episodes of the TubbTalk Podcast for a really good long-form interview with Bob Kocis of Continuum, and listen in full to the conversation I had with Bob Kocis and Paul Balkwell on their open and honest thoughts on choosing an NOC provider.
- For more on choosing an NOC provider and other ways to lower your MSP business costs, join IT Glue and myself for a free webinar entitled “A New Employee: What Is The Cost To Your MSP?”
- Read my article on Is Your Service Desk losing money because of Bulldog Engineers?
- Watch my interview with Ed Bodiam on “How to Outsource your NOC & Service Desk”