Managed Service Providers (“MSP”) are becoming increasingly popular. IT departments looking to fix or reduce costs are outsourcing operations to an MSP. Another driver is the need to enable remote access for home and other remote workers, and in some cases, move a business to an online e-commerce platform. Outsourcing helps an organization move normal daily operations to a third party and release its resources to work on the transition.
Formerly, outsourcing was confined to the larger sites, but it is now available to most companies with the VPS environment’s advent.
The number of MSPs has grown due to the increased demand, and a company usually has several to choose from. How do you measure one, and what criteria do you apply to pick the best dedicated server provider?
The first place to start, as always, is to prepare a checklist against which you can assess candidates. Work out what your mandatory, important, and nice-to-have criteria are, and perhaps assign weightings to each, though that is not really necessary.
Mandatory criteria range from the very broad to the very specific.
As an example of the broad category, is their data center local or in another country? Among other things, hosting your applications and data overseas may bring data privacy and security concerns. There is currently a great debate raging about EU based companies storing data on servers in the US, and vice versa because of the different data protection and privacy regulations.
Can you even host outside your own country? Some jurisdictions don’t allow it, and some countries apply embargoes against others. You may need to make it mandatory that they store data locally. Beware, some hosts appear local, but their local data center is only a gateway to the real hosting site elsewhere.
It might sound daft, but take financial advice if you intend using the data center to generate revenue outside your borders. Doing so usually has tax implications in one, if not both countries, and there may be restrictions on moving money between the two locations. The EU has promulgated legislation to improve tax compliance for individuals and companies operating in this way.
You have prepared and agreed to your criteria. The next step is to assess potential MSPs against the requirements. There are two ways to proceed. The first is the long way of using your criteria list as an integral part of a Request for Proposals, which you issue to the general public or a select list of potential suppliers. You then rank responses against your criteria, and the best fit wins. That will take a few months at least.
The second and quicker way is to identify potential suppliers and again assess them against your criteria list without preparing a formal Request to Tender. This is a more informal approach and relies on your knowledge of potential suppliers. However, the news you are out to tender will spread in the market, and you will likely be approached by other potential suppliers.
Either way, you will have a shortlist of potential suppliers at the end of that stage, with a preferred candidate and a backup or two. That is your list of the Best Dedicated Server Providers.
At this stage, you should have a Go/No Go checkpoint. The Tender responses will give you an idea of the capital and recurrent costs of the outsourcing exercise and if it provides the tangible and intangible benefits you expect. See how closely the best response comes to meeting your requirements, financially and technically.
One point to remember is that you are establishing a long-term relationship with the MSO, so you need to be comfortable with them. “a good fit.”
The final stage is to prepare a formal contract between yourselves and the preferred supplier, effectively a Service Level Agreement (‘SLA”). An SLA is vital in protecting both parties’ interests and prevents who is responsible for what confusion and later arguments.
Agreeing an SLA separates the best from the rest.
The candidate may already have a template, or you can download one from the Internet.
In the past, an SLA was mainly concerned with the tangibles, management, and maintenance of the hardware and software. As experience has grown, they now include softer targets, such as problem and change management.
Please bear in mind that the SLA is mutually agreed upon and defines a business relationship between two entities. It sets out a mutually beneficial business partnership that neither unduly enriches nor penalises either party.
If you are not happy, and the MSP won’t compromise, walk away.