Do you have standard refresh policies on hardware? What about a disposal policy? The life of a hardware device is more than just how long it remains in service. From budgeting and planning to final disposal, there are financial, productivity, and security concerns to address throughout the device’s lifecycle.
Here are some of the areas you need to think about when it comes to managing and accounting for that lifecycle.
Every customer should have a plan in place for refreshing their hardware, no matter who they are or what they do. Industry norms suggest replacing workstations and servers every three to five years and network hardware every five to eight years.
I know many will argue those ranges, and some customers may be perfectly willing to limp along on older devices for an extra couple of years. However, as a managed services provider (MSP) you will find yourself spending extra time on those aging devices, and they will progressively eat into your profits. You should have it set out in your contract that the customer either pays for new equipment or they pay extra for you to service older equipment. In either case, they pay!
If your customer agrees to a hardware refresh program, your quarterly business reviews are the perfect time to let them know what devices will be coming up for refresh in the next three quarters. This way they can budget appropriately. It is also not insignificant to state that planned migrations to new equipment are much less disruptive than unplanned incidents.
While perhaps the briefest stage in the hardware lifecycle, a properly documented process for deploying new hardware should be in place for each client. What is their standard software configuration? How are their ports configured in the firewall? When possible, automation should be used to image systems or automate deployment of software and configurations. If automation is not possible, accurate documentation is essential to maintaining standards for your client. These processes lead to faster, more efficient deployments with less follow-up tickets after the user receives their device. There is also a security component around proper deployment. Make sure that users, permissions, and security software are setup properly for servers and workstations. Network devices should never be left with default passwords in place.
This is where the device will spend most of its life. During this part of the lifecycle the MSP’s job is to keep the device protected and running as efficiently as possible. Using a remote monitoring and management tool can automate much of the day-to-day monitoring and maintenance tasks required to keep systems running at optimal performance. It will also help identify devices that may be headed for obsolescence early or have issues that need to be addressed by the manufacturer. I would also recommend that devices under management remain covered under the manufacturer’s warranty for the entire time they are under a managed services contract.
Also note that if a client has an old piece of software that can only run on Windows 95 and is critical to their operations, then this is a case for virtualization. If you have customers on legacy software that will not run on newer operating systems, it is critical to get that system virtualized as soon as possible. Not doing so puts you and your customer at risk. By doing this, the underlying hardware can then be swapped out regularly in accordance with your standard refresh policy without affecting the application.
How you get rid of your equipment is, in some ways, more important than how you acquire it. From an environmental angle, you cannot just throw out used electronic equipment. It must be recycled properly. From a security point of view, you must securely erase all data and configurations from the devices so that they cannot be breached or otherwise used to compromise the rest of your infrastructure.
Addressing the lifecycle of hardware devices in your managed services agreements sets the proper expectations with your clients. These policies add value to your services because they show the customer that, rather than just fixing their problems, you own the entire process. Providing these comprehensive services also allows you to have higher rates than other MSPs who do not provide the same level of service. Managing device lifecycles reduces risk for both you and your client and is just part of the win–win relationship you are aiming for through managed services.
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Eric Anthony is principal of customer experience at SolarWinds MSP. Before joining SolarWinds, Eric ran his own managed services provider business for over six years.
You can follow Eric on Twitter at @EricAnthonyMSP
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