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Outsourcing network management

If Network Management seemed like a headache that never seemed to go away, outsourcing Management Services may be just the antidote. Local systems integrators, hosting providers, and facilities management companies are fast getting into this area. Here's a sampling of what's available today

‘With rising costs of maintaining and managing support departments in-house, there is an increasing openness to the idea of outsourcing the support function’ -- Ravindra Datar, Principal Analyst (India)-IT Services, AMCPL, research partner for Gartner in India.

TAKE a closer look at a recent network layout diagram and you'll notice the complexity. For various reasons (See 'Management Services: The next wave in facilities management') today's networks need to be scalable and upgraded periodically. Now think about the exponential costs of doing this, every year, or every six months. And would you leave your complex network in the hands of inexperienced engineers?

Send for the Piper, enter Management Services Providers (MSP).

They'll monitor your network, analyze traffic, identify bottlenecks, alert and protect you from impending dangers, and, ensure over 99 percent uptime for your network.

Traditionally, we've seen IT monoliths like IBM, NCR, Compaq and HP offering something similar, albeit to a lesser degree, under the banner 'Services.' But today, there are players from another field who are entering the MSP business.

Hosting providers, systems integrators, network consultants, connectivity service providers, facilities management companies, and even telecom specialists are all getting into the act. They're investing heavily in infrastructure, systems, and connectivity for the control centers they call Network Operations Centers (NOCs). Some players (like the ISP and Data Center businesses) are modifying existing infrastructure for management services.

Take Bangalore Labs, regarded as the first serious local player in Management Services. The company has invested close to $1.5 million and 36 man months in setting up an NOC, which is on par with international standards. Bangalore Labs now provides network management services to L&T Information Technology; systems & application management services to Skumars.com; managed security to Hathway and Cyquator.

HCL Comnet, traditionally a leading player in VSAT connectivity solutions, has set up a 10,000 sq. ft. NOC at Noida. It is providing management services to Philips, Sanmar, Bajaj, IOCL, SBI, 3M, TVS-Suzuki, HomeTrade, IndiaTimes, CitibankOnline, HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Fabmart, India Cements and others.

CMS Computers, traditionally a systems integrator, is also planning to set up an NOC in Mumbai, with support from call centers.

Datacraft India is gearing up to offer its STARtrac management services here by the end of this year.

Others like Wipro.Net, Microland-Innerframe, Satyam Infoway, and Global Telesystems have already added Management Services to their portfolio of existing services, or are making elaborate modifications to existing infrastructure in preparation for the MSP business.

But will Indian corporates, who are known to keep tight control over their resources, operations, processes and data, choose to outsource their network management to local MSPs?

EXTENT

Traditionally, companies had separate EDP (electronic data processing) departments with teams of IS (Information Systems) personnel. Today, the number of staff in the Infotech division, of say, a major financial institution, could exceed the number of employees in a small to mid-sized company.

"With rising costs of maintaining and managing such support departments in-house, there is an increasing openness to the idea of outsourcing the support functions," says Ravindra Datar, Principal Analyst (India)-IT Services, AMCPL, research partner for Gartner in India.

Agrees Joy Nandi, executive VP-Marketing & Alliances, Bangalore Labs," Customers with fairly large and complex IT infrastructure have come to terms with the fact that the effective answer to manage the growing complexities of IT infrastructure is Comprehensive Management, which can only be delivered using world-class processes, tools and technologies."

Broadly, outsourcing management services can take place in two ways On-site and Remotely. With the former, the MSP will send their engineers to your company to manage the network on a day-to-day basis. With Remote Management, the MSP will monitor your network from their NOC. Typically, a leased-line link or VPN connects your network to the MSPs operations center.

Depending on the nature of business, companies choose On-site or Remote Management Services or both.

Financial institutions for instance, may be interested in outsourcing facilities management but may be averse to the idea of outsourcing information security.

"On-site management may be preferable for large centrally located, mission critical sites. Off-site (remote) management is suited to businesses spread over remote locations, with branch offices etc," says Sharad Heda, President-Strategy & Projects, Microland. "In India, companies prefer on-site or a mix of on-site and off-site management, unlike our international customers who are driving the remote services model aggressively."

But Indian companies are slow to latch on to the concept of outsourcing due to key concerns like giving up control, confidentiality, reliability, technical expertise, etc.

"Though we are expecting a significant growth in IT management services here, the size of the market is presently very small. A lot of psychological, legal/regulatory and managerial barriers need to be broken down before the industry reaches a respectable size," says AMCPL's Datar.

In India, Management Services is still an emerging market. Market researchers and industry bodies like NASSCOM and Gartner Research are currently in the process of gathering data and preparing estimates for the local MSP market.

CIOs may be lying low, waiting for the market to develop rather than rushing in to outsource IT infrastructure management.

But proven expertise in management services and Service Level Agreements may change the mindset of the skeptical CIO, and when that happens, watch how management services take off in the country.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@rediffmail.com

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