Many IT professionals believe that working for a managed service provider (MSP) can be a sort of boot camp. You'll learn much more at an MSP in just a few months than spending years in an internal IT department.
But the thing is, just like in boot camp, MSPs also hire many green IT techs that are bound to make mistakes, just like raw army recruits.
And while most of these errors are easily corrected and forgotten, there are always a few that stand out – the ones that make you scratch your head, not just because they happened, but because they are perfect examples of improvised fixes that become disasters waiting to happen.
Let's explore some real-life mistakes with their respective improvised fixes that are better avoided by professional IT techs who want their MSP to succeed.
1. FIREFOX PROFILES FOR CUSTOMER MANAGEMENT
Someone's boss at an MSP created more than 80 profiles in Firefox, each with a different set of bookmarks and plugins for the various customers they managed. While it's not the most elegant solution, it actually worked – until someone accidentally deleted one of the profiles and they lost all customer data in the profile.
When reviewing this case, IT pros noted that a Firefox Multi-Account Container plugin could make this a somewhat effective (if completely unscalable) fix. Our take. Don't do it!
2. CUSTOMER PASSWORDS IN A SHARED XLS FILE
This one is a big no-no, but apparently, it happens more often than you'd think. In fact, several IT Pros we consulted confirmed they did this very thing when they worked for MSPs. The passwords were hopefully hashed, but they were still stored in an Excel spreadsheet on a shared drive. And while the IT Pros we asked didn't go into the details of what kind of hashing algorithm they used, we can only assume it wasn't anything too serious.
The crazy part? It's still a more secure solution than everyone having a sticky note on their monitor. Still, don't do it. Settle for nothing less than a robust and secure password solution, always.
3. PLAINTEXT PASSWORDS IN A BATCH FILE
But wait, that won't be the only password incident on our list. Another IT Pro told us how a company he worked with was authenticating NetLogon with a batch file that used the actual password in plaintext. That means no one even needed passwords. Everything would just "work" as intended, regardless of who logged in. This is the epitome of the "well, it hasn't caused a problem yet" kind of IT management. How do these things even happen? Have you checked your NetLogon setup lately?
4. MISALIGNED MONITORS
Okay, this one is inexcusable, but it's not the MSP's fault. A tech went to fix a monitor issue for a client and noticed they had them set up so that you had to scroll off the left side of the left monitor to get to the right one. After realigning them, the customer complained until they reset it because they were "used to it." If you've ever worked in an MSP, you probably have a story or two like this, where a simple fix is possible but turned down because change is hard. Work on educating your customers and having them on board with your IT strategy, so issues like these don't happen.
Ever heard of the sneakernet? That's when instead of properly setting up a network for file sharing, you just… well, you just copy the files to a USB drive and physically walk them to where they need to go.
This happens more than you think in poorly managed companies, but this one takes the cake. An MSP booked a client with three separate networks for three different business applications. Each one had its own AD server, a pfsense box, and an application server. Instead of being interconnected, end users would just be attached to the one they used the most and then sent communications out through the internet to reach the other two. Nothing made sense here, but it had "grown organically," so no one saw it as a problem. That is actually how most of these issues happen. It starts with several minor problems and temporary fixes that slowly grow into a monster. It may still work, but it isn't the right way.
6. PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE
Sounds fancy, doesn't it? Want to know who is an expert in the percussive maintenance field? Fonzie from Happy Days. Yep, this is the practice of physically knocking or hitting a device to make it work. The worst part is that sometimes it does work, and then some techs or end users think it was actually because of them banging on the hardware. No, threatening a stack with a screwdriver will not make it function correctly, no matter how many times you say it has in the past!
7. VIRTUAL BACKUPS
Okay, follow me here. A virtual machine (VM) was backed up to a drive on the same Hyper-V host. That host was the domain controller (DC), and the second DC was a VM on that original host. Yes, that means what you think it means. The entire ship sinks if that single machine goes down. It hadn't yet, so it "worked," right? Insert the "he can't keep getting away with it" gif here. Don't do it, kids!
8. NET START FWSRV
Okay, this one is kind of brilliant in its laziness. An IT Pro that has been in the industry for a while related a story about a Microsoft ISA firewall issue. It would often crash if there was an issue with storage latency, but instead of fixing the actual problem, his boss just set a repeating batch script with "net start fwsrv" to run every second. This is the kind of fix that gets you out of there in time for happy hour at the bar, but not exactly the one you want to be paying for if you're a client.
9. EXECUTIVE EXEMPTION
Ever been asked to set up a comprehensive security protocol - but then leave the executives exempt? It's widespread and almost always seems to be the reason for a high-profile data leak. It's the "Do as I say, not as I do" of the IT world, and it almost always comes back to bite the company in the end. But in the meantime, those executives enjoy exemption from what is otherwise a sound security policy. To them - it works great! To the customers who have their data leaked - not so much. The moral of the story: Never allow for executive security exceptions.
10. JUST TURN IT UPSIDE DOWN
It would be easy to dismiss this one as fake if only it didn't feel so familiar. A tech goes out to a company owned by a parent organization with its own MSP. When he boots up the machine in question, the display is upside down. When they ask why an employee walks over and just flips the monitor around and lies it on the tower. The other tech didn't know how to fix it or didn't want to and had left them with this "fix." You can't make this stuff up.
Don't Be Part Of The Problem
Not every MSP customer is a minefield of mistakes like this. Remember that all the issues above were eventually fixed by a competent tech, even if it probably took them a little longer because of all the headaches. If you are an IT professional or entrepreneur looking to launch your own MSP, here are a few things you should keep in mind when launching your business and during the interview process to weed out techs with bad IT habits that would be prone to deploying these "solutions."
PRACTICE PROACTIVE MAINTENANCE
A good MSP will always look for potential problems in their customer's systems and take steps to prevent them before they happen. This proactive approach will save you time, money, and headaches. For example, let's say a customer's server shows signs of instability. A good MSP will spot the problem and work to fix it before it causes any downtime for your business. This proactive philosophy will save you a lot of money in lost productivity and revenue and create a lot of brand loyalty for your MSP business. An excellent remote monitoring system like NinjaRMM with SherpaDesk integration is the perfect duo your MSP needs to stay on top of remote server alerts.
HELP DESK SUPPORT & KNOWLEDGE BASE
Someone should always be available to help your MSP customers with tech problems, whether via phone, email, or chat. But a good MSP should also offer a robust knowledge base so their customers can quickly find answers to common problems.
An MSP should be able to give customers regular reports on the state of their IT infrastructure. This includes things like uptime, performance, and security. These reports can help spot potential problems early and ensure that their customer's systems run as efficiently as possible. These reports should also be specifically tailored to their client's needs. For example, if the client is a retailer, your goal as an MSP is to be able to offer reports on things like transaction times and customer satisfaction. If the customer is a law firm, MSPs should be able to produce reports on case management and document storage safety.
SOUND IT STRATEGY
So many of the mistakes listed above could have been avoided by having a comprehensive IT strategy for your MSP instead of just reacting to a problem with the quickest fix.
A good MSP will work with their customers to create an IT strategy that meets the customer's specific IT business needs, including things like designing an IT security plan and choosing the right software and hardware for their business needs.
Avoid scenarios like executive security exemptions by addressing them ahead of time. Good MSPs should be able to choose the right mix of on-premises and cloud-based security solutions for their customers, including hybrid or multi-cloud strategies.
A good MSP will be flexible and able to adapt to their customer's changing needs and should be able to scale up or down without disrupting their client's business. That doesn't mean adding new hardware onto an existing system that's already strained. Sometimes a redesign is required, but that should have been considered long before it is necessary by deploying a sound IT strategy.
For example, an eCommerce site may spike traffic during the holiday season. A good MSP can scale up its systems to handle the increased demand without crashing.
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