How MSPs Automate, Monitor, Manage, and Backup Client Networks

How MSPs Automate, Monitor, Manage, and Backup Client Networks


As a Managed Service Provider (MSP), you understand the importance of automating, monitoring, managing,
and backing up your clients’ networks.

Through partnerships with data centers, MSPs can easily achieve automation, manage their clients’ networks, and perform other services without having to be physically present. Data centers employ an expert staff ready to address an assortment of needs and conditions.

Data centers use a variety of resources to ensure their facilities are engaged in the latest technologies. Managing and monitoring equipment allows data centers to keep servers online, run as efficiently as possible, and remove any bottleneck.

The following is a list of common programs used by data centers to optimize and manage servers.

Automation Resources

“Ansible is one of many different configuration management tools,” says Jay Sudowski, Co-Founder and CEO of Handy Networks. “We prefer it over alternatives such as Puppet because it’s agentless. It’s very lightweight and free to use—you don’t need an enterprise version.”

Ansible’s free version integrates well with Linux to manage baseline configurations such as firewall settings. Ansible is a diverse program, able to automatically deploy Windows updates to systems when they come online on a regular basis.

“What is great about Ansible is you don’t need to be a programmer to use it,” says Jeff Shotnik, Systems Engineer at Handy Networks. “Those other automation tools are usually Ruby-based, so you need to have a familiarity with Ruby. With Ansible, you do not. If you know a programming language, you can use whatever you want.”

The Ansible playbooks are in a format that is easy to write, but you can call separate scripts as well. If you already have automation tools setup, you can use Ansible to coordinate and orchestrate them.

Monitoring Resources

A challenge many hosting companies face is most true enterprise-class monitoring systems are not free, and products incorporating things like solar winds are going to run up a high tab.

Zabbix software is a free enterprise-class and open source monitoring/alerting solution many data centers use to monitor switches, routers, and servers. Because Zabbix is an open source, people can contribute to it.

“Someone who knows how to monitor MS SQL well can create a Zabbix template and share it on the Zabbix community website,” says Shotnik. “Then people like us—who need to monitor MS SQL—can go and grab that template and throw it on our Zabbix server and all of a sudden we have a very robust SQL server monitoring solution.”

Though a bit complex to learn at first, Zabbix has proven itself to be a useful and powerful tool for hosting companies.

“I think Zabbix is great because we’re leveraging a free solution and can pass those savings along as well,” says Sudowski.

Management Resources

ELK Stack is a combination of three different open source products:

  • Elasticsearch
  • Logstash
  • Kibana

“Logstash is a log aggregation platform,” explains Sudowski.” We ingress or ingest all of our logs into our Logstash server from Linux servers, Event logs, and Windows servers. Then we’re able to leverage Elasticsearch to implement very native language search capabilities onto these log entries.”

Logstash also allows configuration of automatic alerts and thresholds; “It’s akin to Splunk,” says Sudowski. “But again, one of the benefits is it’s free and open source.”

Kibana works as a data visualization tool, holding onto Elasticsearch and Logstash so the user can make graphs or data visuals, proving to be a useful resource when communicating with end users about the severity of issues.

“ELK Stack works well for us because it integrates back into Zabbix,” says Shotnik. “With Kibana you can send alerts out to your team. We try to keep everything centralized—especially when we are monitoring and alerting—so Kibana can then turn around if it notices an issue and reports it to Zabbix. Zabbix then throws an alert which is sent to our team.”

Backup Resources

R1Soft CDP and Veeam are two products useful for backing up storage.

“We’ve been using CDP for about eight years now and are very partial to it because of its versatility,” says Sudowski. “It supports bare metal, Linux and Windows environments, virtualized Linux and Windows environments, and certain containerized environments. If you have something that needs to be backed up, CDP can probably back it up.”

CDP also has a self-service web interface, allowing clients to download files from the backup servers and/or restore them directly to the device they were originally backed up from.

Veeam is useful for backing up VMware and Hyper-V virtualized environments. “Veeam leverages VMWare API and Hyper-V API to generate snapshots of virtual machines, and we store those snapshots off site,” explains Shotnik.