Are you sure you want this?
If you’re a fledgling in managed support and managed services, congratulations on your choice to work 24/7 and spend approximately half of that time banging your head on your keyboard.
You think I’m joking, but that’s what some workweeks have looked like for me.
So I’m assuming you could use a quick and dirty cheat sheet to backend services from an old *Nix system administrator. 😉
VPS or Cloud?
I started on the cloud as a beta tester for AWS, so I probably have some bias when I recommend cloud hosting over VPS hosting. It’s so much more than that, though. Ultimately, cloud hosting is way more flexible, easier to manage, and lighter (as well as lightning) on system resources. Its pricing model is cheaper than VPS as well, and some providers offer single monthly priced plans, which are ideal for providing support services to clients.
That being said, if you prefer the convenience of VPS, by all means, use VPS. But I guarantee it will wind up being a giant waste of time at some point in the future. 🙂
What Cloud Service Provider Should I Choose?
AWS is worth looking into if you are a developer or otherwise engaged in dev-ops. Amazon has built the most robust and terminal-ready platform of them all in Web Services. There is a free tier available for playing around. The paid stories are vastly affordable, billed by operating hours and level of hardware, along with other fees depending on what you implement.
If you’re looking for something a little more pared down and simple, there’s Google Cloud. It costs slightly more than AWS and doesn’t come with a free tier, but it has vastly simplified the complicated world of cloud computing in that neat, clean whitespace kind of way only Google can pull off.
Finally, Digital Ocean is another cloud service provider worth considering instead of shared hosting plans and VPS. Their $5 droplets are the perfect size for spinning off small websites and web apps, and their selection of curated images makes software installation dead simple. Furthermore, they host a vast knowledge base that provides solutions to almost any support question you could have.
Basic Managed Service Provider Tools
Hosting Control Panels
There are quite a few hosting control panels out there to help manage individual servers. WHM with CPanel is a crowd-pleaser, but it also costs (just a few dollars, but if you’re starting up, you may want to eliminate this cost to focus on other tools and services). Compared to CPanel, my top favorites are Froxlor and VistaCP. Froxlor for its simple menus and installation; VistaCP for its advanced server management tools, multi-user and package management, and Softcalculous app installer support.
Filezilla is probably the most undisputed champion among FTP clients. In fact, other FTP clients often just copy Filezilla’s interfacing. The UI is perfect: simple and intuitive, with advanced tools available for all kinds of file management actions.
Putty is my favorite client for SSH in Windows, although Powershell has pretty much eliminated the need for a third-party SSH client. Still, Putty offers some tools in an easy GUI interface that may be inaccessible to anyone unfamiliar with scripting. Namely, its ability to create and store user credentials such as PIM files.
You’ve basically got two choices: Windows Server or any number of flavors of Linux. Most web administrators will warn you that Linux is often far more stable and secure than Windows Server. However, Linux comes with a steeper learning curve as it’s an operating system designed by programmers for programmers to a large extent. I highly recommend Ubuntu as your first Linux distro on server: they’ve made software installations dead simple in their package management system.
Content Management Platforms
WordPress seems to be the crowd-pleaser on both dev’s and client’s sides. SMB clients may prefer Blogger to WordPress though if they are not tech-savvy. Blogger comes with fewer options, but that may make it easier for clients who are overwhelmed by WP menus and plugins.
Graphic Design Software
My best advice in this category is to MIX THEM UP. Don’t grow dependent on one editing/design tool like Photoshop, but expand your skillset into as many editing/design programs as you can to keep your horizons broad. GIMP makes a great compliment to Photoshop. For mobile editing, check out apps like Snapseed, Photoshop Express, Pixlr, and Fotogenic.
The best text editor is as follows: ANY TEXT EDITOR YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH. Forget the senseless debates!
What Are Best Practices To Use In IT Support Services?
Redundancy. Redundancy. Redundancy.
Be lazy. Make a script for everything that is the least bit redundant. String them all together into one superscript if you want. The hours you will save make doing so priceless.
Strategize. Organize. Get systematic.
Develop the best possible procedures and systems for doing things. Streamline them, then practice them until they become second nature. Keep your data thorough and organized, too – you will need it far more often than you may initially anticipate you will.
Security should be the #1 priority – not an afterthought.
The biggest mistake seen today with managed service providers is that they will often put cybersecurity at the bottom of their priorities. Don’t be one of these people! It doesn’t pay off: clients will get hacked and immediately point the finger at you for blame.
YOU NEED AN INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY BACKGROUND.
It isn’t optional. You need a strong background in IT to support even to have any hope of becoming a successful MSP. While Communications and Marketing degrees help communicate with clients and spread the word, IT is the bread and butter of what you’ll be doing. While there are many tools out there now to make IT more accessible to laypeople, you still need to know what to do when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to: that’s the literal reason the client hired you.
Homemade from scratch will always perform better than automated third-party tools.
If you build the server from scratch, you’ll know everything about it and be able to configure it with the minimal software and settings needed for it to perform its duties. This is why servers baked from scratch will consistently outperform ready-made images, and it’s true for just about any software, as well: if you can build it yourself, it will do better… and cost the client a LOT less money.
Communication is the key to retaining clients.
Sometimes MSPs get so focused on doing it all for the client that they forget the client still needs regular updates and questions asked to ensure the job is getting done right. Furthermore, a lack of communication skills can ruin the project from the start if the managed service provider fails to gather all the details needed from the client to complete the project successfully. Finally, failure to maintain communication with clients after the initial project is finished can easily lead to clients forgetting about the significance of your work and moving on to a different managed service provider once they need another project done.
Fortunately, you don’t need a communications degree or certificate to improve in this area. There are a lot of resources online that will teach you to foster better communication skills with clients. Here are a few to get you started: