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Lisa Carroll

By: Lisa Carroll on January 08, 2024

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What Managed Service Providers Do

Managed Services | IT Support

Editor’s note: Originally published in 2021, this article has been updated to include new information.

You may or may not have heard the terms “managed IT support,” “managed service provider” or “MSP” before. The terms are basically interchangeable ways to describe proactive IT support.

In this article, we'll define managed service provider support so you'll know exactly what this type of IT support looks like and what managed service providers do and don't do. 

You may be working with a break/fix IT firm and have heard managed IT support floated as an alternative. Perhaps you’re searching for IT and technology support for the first time or maybe you use a managed IT support provider now (but have no idea exactly what they do for you).

Kelser has provided IT support services for businesses since 1981 and we’ve evolved into a managed IT support provider over the past several years. In that time, I’ve explained managed IT support to countless prospects and clients. I understand the questions you have and am ready to answer them

You may be thinking, “Okay, here comes the hard sell.” But at Kelser we know that managed IT support isn’t the right solution for everyone.

While our managed service solution provides comprehensive IT support for our customers, we understand that no one business has the perfect solution for everyone

Having said that, you probably aren’t an IT expert, so how do you decide whether it’s right for you? You need information, right? 

We want to provide all of the information you need to make an informed IT decision. That’s why we publish easy-to-understand, unbiased articles like this one – to provide honest information about the pros and cons of different IT solutions.  

We fully understand that the information we provide may send you in a different direction than Kelser and we are okay with that. Healthy competition is good for us, for our industry, and for you.

Our one goal is to help you find the best IT solution so you can keep your business IT infrastructure safe, efficient, and available

In this article, we’ll define managed IT service provider support so you'll know what it looks like. We know this information is important because we get asked about it almost every day by our friends, relatives, and potential clients. We’ll make it simple and address the question head-on

Here’s the answer people usually expect – “It’s complicated.”

Here’s the truth – it doesn’t have to be.

After reading this article, you’ll have a better understanding of what managed IT service providers do and the types of services provided.

What Managed IT Service Providers Do

Before we dive into the specific services offered, it’s important that we define the overall concept of managed IT service support. 

In the last few years, the IT industry trend has shifted away from reactive support (or fixing something once it breaks) to proactive, holistic, constant management of a customer’s entire IT environment. 

In the same way that an annual medical physical might detect a health problem before it becomes critical, proactive care for your IT environment can detect and remedy small issues before they cause permanent damage to your business.

This approach is a partnership between you and the provider to ensure that your IT infrastructure is prepared to handle the changing demands and priorities of your business

With managed IT support, customers pay one monthly fee for everything included in their contract.

Is There Another Option For IT Support?

The other option for IT support, commonly called “break/fix,” is a pay-as-you-go option in which a provider supports clients on a time and materials basis leading to unpredictable costs. 

Read this article for a comprehensive comparison of break/fix and managed IT support (including the types of organizations that could benefit from each approach). Because honestly, each approach has its place.

What Does Each IT Support Option Look Like In Real Life? 

Let’s look at an example to see the similarities and differences between the two approaches


You owe a client a quote on Monday morning, but your laptop doesn’t boot up. You call your IT provider (because your laptop doesn’t work, so emailing them is out of the question). Time is ticking and you need to get this quote out.

Break/Fix Scenario

In this scenario, your provider may be an independent professional or a small IT company. No one picks up your call (it’s early). You get voicemail.

You leave an urgent message hoping they’ll get it and call back quickly. And they may, depending on how often they check for messages, how many people they have available at any given time, how many calls they’re juggling, and myriad other factors.

Once you connect, troubleshooting will be needed. The provider will either come to your office or you may have to bring your laptop to theirs.

Sometimes the provider can remote into a device to troubleshoot certain issues. In this case, since your laptop isn’t booting, remote troubleshooting isn’t a possibility.

The provider may need to call an OEM or application provider depending on the nature of the problem. After an undetermined period, you may or may not be up and running.

There are companies where this type of agreement works just fine. If your business doesn’t rely heavily on technology, you may be perfectly okay waiting for help. 

But, just as with a home repair, you will likely have no idea of the cost of the repair until the job is finished and you receive an invoice. This uncertainty can make it hard to budget for your IT expenses.

Managed IT Service Support Scenario

Since your laptop won't boot, you submit a ticket to your managed IT support provider’s service desk by calling the dispatcher or emailing the service desk from your smartphone. The service call is included in your monthly fee

A pool of resources is available to troubleshoot your issue and your request is routed to the best available one. The engineer contacts you and begins the troubleshooting process. This is probably over the phone, but the engineer may come to your location.

Since your managed IT support provider is familiar with your entire IT infrastructure, they’ll have a better idea of where to begin troubleshooting. They also have established relationships with OEMs and vendors to expedite things if necessary.

Your ticket will be resolved within a set timeframe spelled out in the service level agreement (SLA) in your contract. If your ticket is urgent, a ticket prioritization process (spelled out in your agreement) would move your request to the front of the line.

Your managed IT support provider handles things and keeps you in the loop. Between their updates and your contract, you know whether you’ll have that quote comfortably delivered on time. 

And, they may even have loaner hardware or a virtual machine option available.

Will there be issues even with managed IT service support? Yes. Will there be fewer issues because your infrastructure is proactively monitored, patched, and updated? You bet!

Neither of these choices is the right one for everyone. Businesses are all different, they have unique needs, challenges, and budgets. But now you have a clear understanding of the differences. Learn which organizations need managed IT support.

How Do Managed IT Services Providers Work? 

Managed IT support providers generally have two ways of supporting clients.

1. Working Alongside Your Internal IT Team

One way is to work alongside your internal team if you already have in-house IT staff.

Some ways we’ve seen that arrangement work include:

      • providing specific expertise or a specialty (like compliance or cybersecurity) that isn’t covered by your in-house team,
      • offering different levels of support than you have on staff - maybe you have level 1-2 technicians but need more advanced support,
      • freeing your internal IT team to focus on more strategic or large-scale IT initiatives while the provider handles the daily tech support, or
      • allowing your internal team to handle the day-to-day fires, while providing the strategic direction and planning to keep your infrastructure operating efficiently and in shape for what your organization will need next.

2. Handling Your Entire Infrastructure

If you don't currently have an internal IT team, a managed service provider can handle all of your technology needs from the day-to-day keeping the lights on activities to providing strategic consulting with higher-ups.

What Services Are Included In Managed IT Support? 

The tricky thing about managed service providers is that when they’re operating the way they should be, everything just works. That can make it difficult to recognize what your provider is doing to ensure that happens.

As we’ve been building and refining our own managed IT practice over the last decade, we’ve found that there are some components of a managed IT support agreement that merit highlighting. 

First, we’ll explore some of the core, essential functions that almost every managed IT support provider should be offering. Then we’ll cover some premium services that providers with more focused specialties may provide.

This will provide a look behind the scenes so you can see how managed IT support keeps your business moving forward

8 Essential Core Managed IT Support Services 

These must-have services are essential to any managed IT support offering. Be sure they are included in your current or future managed support agreement.

      • Service Desk Technical Support

When done correctly, the providers support team (sometimes know as the service or help desk) will address technical issues in a way that makes you feel like they are an extension of your internal team.

There should be multiple ways to reach out for support (for instance, if your laptop isn't working, you’ll want to be able to call for help). You should never feel like your service request vanished into a black hole.

Your agreement should spell out the expectations for acceptable response and resolution times as well as whether you are paying by the call, covered up to a certain number of hours (block hours), or can make unlimited service calls for no extra charge.

      • Managed Workstations

When your workstations are managed, they are secure, up-to-date, and working efficiently.

Some providers may patch and update manually, which can create downtime. Others will automate updates and patches to minimize (if not fully eliminate) downtime.

While managing your workstations, the provider can keep an eye on the health of your devices and help you plan for system upgrades or replacements before devices fail.

      • Managed Network

Your network is the most critical piece of IT infrastructure. When it goes down, you can’t help clients or generate profits.

A managed IT support services provider will include network services that keep your network available, fast, secure, and up to the task of supporting your entire technology environment. They will eliminate bottlenecks, congestion, performance issues, and failures.

      • Employee Security Awareness Training

When it comes to cybersecurity, users can be the weakest link.

Security awareness training is a cost-effective way to teach employees how to identify and recognize common threats, protect your company’s information, and understand the role they play in securing your business and data.

Studies show awareness training significantly reduces the possibility of your business becoming a victim of phishing or other social engineering incidents.

Typically, this service includes managed training modules and performance reports. Providers handle this training differently in terms of type, frequency, and delivery.

We’ve found that a combination of monthly learning modules, customized simulated phishing attacks, and custom reporting is the most effective way to get the most out of your training.

      • DNS-Based Protection

Domain Name Services (DNS) are the addresses used by the internet to locate different websites. DNS-based protection ensures that the address you think you are going to is legitimate and has not been compromised before you get there.

This service helps protect against phishing and other malicious activities. When it is centrally managed by your provider, you and your employees won’t even know that it’s silently working in the background to keep your data and systems safe.

Managed IT support service providers often use a version of DNS-based protection to protect mobile users on and off your local network. That way, the network is protected no matter what device they use or where they are working.

      • Email & Messaging Support

Could you imagine your business without email or instant messaging applications?

A managed IT support services provider makes sure your email systems are efficient, available, and meeting the needs of your business.

      • Spam Filtering & Protection

Another part of email and messaging support involves protecting your business from spam and malicious messages.

A managed IT support service provider will set up, configure, and adjust your email spam controls to match your security and usability needs.

Anti-spam filters check inbound and outbound email against industry-standard criteria as well as specific criteria you define for spam and virus controls.

Items failing these checks are quarantined and not delivered, reducing dangerous and unnecessary email, and preventing the distribution of malware, spam, and viruses to your contacts.

Related article: What Is Proofpoint? 5 Essential Things End Users Need To Know

      • Managed Servers (Including Disaster Recovery)

Keeping your servers continually patched, updated, and efficient might sound simple, but it’s a task that should not be overlooked.

Managed disaster recovery means that there are systems in place to ensure that your data is backed up properly, verified, and can be restored within a timeframe that meets your recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO).

A managed IT support service provider can help you define those recovery goals so you only experience as much downtime as your business can handle.

Some providers will also help you develop and regularly test your disaster recovery plan to ensure that everything acts the way it’s supposed to. Giving you the opportunity to address any hiccups before your organization is in a crisis.

5 Premium Managed IT Support Services

Beyond the essential managed services above, some managed IT support providers will offer additional premium features either included with their service or as an add-on.

    • Technical Alignment Manager (TAM)

A technical alignment manager or TAM is a dedicated resource that learns and maintains detailed knowledge of your specific IT environment. They perform regular proactive services to keep your IT environment secure and efficient as well as identify potential technical risks.

    • Virtual Chief Information Officer (vCIO)

A virtual chief information officer or vCIO blends the findings of a TAM along with their industry knowledge to align your technology strategy with your business goals.

They translate that information into actionable, strategic guidance and budgeting to keep your business heading in the right direction to support future growth.

    • Automated Maintenance

Some managed IT support providers use the information gathered from your managed services to proactively address technical issues before they have a chance to cause downtime.

    • Incident Remediation

This service is not always included in managed services. Most managed IT support providers will monitor and alert you about issues but may not include the actual remediation of certain issues in the service.

Some providers will charge an additional fee depending on the type of incident and the remediation needed. Others will take an all-inclusive approach to incident remediation and handle it regardless of the situation.

    • Centralized Anti-Virus/Anti-Malware

Many managed IT support providers will include anti-virus or anti-malware protection in their managed services as it’s an important layer of any defense-in-depth strategy

However, this protection isn’t always centralized and managed by the provider, so it’s worth checking when it’s mentioned.

Some managed IT support providers will also handle the licensing of these products for you and roll the cost into your single managed services subscription payment.

Is A Managed IT Service Provider The  Right Solution For You? 

After reading this article, you have a better understanding of managed IT support. You understand the difference between managed and break/fix support.

You understand how the partnership might look if you have an internal team or if you don’t. You also know the essential services to look for and the premium solutions that may be available. 

You may or may not have been nodding your head along while reading through this article. You may have found yourself saying, “That sounds great, we need that at our company!”

If so, you might be a good fit for a managed IT support provider. 

If not, you might not be or you might just need more information. Read this article to find out more:  “Is Managed IT Support A Good Solution For Small & Medium Businesses?”

Or, if you are ready to learn more about remedying  gaps in your IT support with a proactive single subscription service, reach out to several managed IT support providers to see what they have to offer. This article will walk you through some best practices for choosing a managed IT support provider.

If you want to talk to a human about managed service providers or want to explore whether Kelser might be a good fit for your organization, click the button below, and we’ll contact you to arrange a 15-minute phone call to explore your business, your goals and your technology pain points.

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About Lisa Carroll

Lisa is Kelser's VP of Revenue who works at the intersection of business and technology to help Kelser’s clients jump on growth opportunities.

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