The Small and Medium Business (SMB) market has been such a big part of my life for the past 12 years that sometimes I forget the stark contrast between it and the enterprise world. Desktop monitoring is one of those topics where opinions differ.

Desktop Monitoring?

I asked a question of some of my peers online last week in relation to desktop monitoring. Their responses were the equivalent of a virtual blank stare. Sure, they look after desktops and sure, they monitor their IT environments, but putting these two concepts together in a sentence was totally foreign. It hit me – I never monitored desktops in an enterprise environment either.

But in the SMB space, desktop monitoring is essential. Companies providing outsourced IT services as a “Managed Services Provider” (MSP) agonize over the right tool to do Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM). There are plenty to choose from, some more SMB “price-friendly” than others.

Although those tools provide other services like patch management and third party updates, desktop monitoring is seen as a key piece of the MSP capability. In fact, many support contract prices are based on a “per Server, per Network, per Desktop/Seat” calculation, even if the MSP doesn’t reveal that’s how it’s calculated

Like any infrastructure monitoring, the art is in fine tuning thresholds so you don’t get swamped with “alert fatigue”, then acting on those alerts. But why bother for desktops?

Desktop Monitoring; Money – Money – Money:

For some smaller MSPs (or the cheaper support contracts), acting on alerts can literally bring more money in the door as additional reactive remediation work is billed on a time and materials basis. At the other end of the scale, gaining efficiencies to reduce remediation work can mean a more productive, leaner response that chews up less hours in an “all you can eat” support plan, ultimately making it more profitable.

Lack of Replacement Units:

SMBs operate on tight hardware budgets and rarely have spare, unused replacement desktops. Downtime is not just a case of during a swap-out, it sometimes can mean waiting for replacement parts too. Both replacement units and replacement parts get complicated in environments where hardware is often mixed (vendor types as well as models) and/or out of warranty. Early warnings of disk failures, for example, can help minimise that downtime.

No Standard Desktop Image:

It’s common for SMBs to not have a standard desktop “image”. This is fuelled by a lack of Enterprise tools, an ad-hoc approach to hardware purchasing (on an as-needed basis, without a standard refresh cycle) and again, a mix of hardware types. It adds up to a longer rebuild time even if the operating system is scripted, so again the downtime impact is greater. To mitigate this, application and operating system errors are often captured and remediated, before the whole machine goes down in a blue screen of death and requires a wipe and reload.

Lack of desktop lockdown policies:

Even if Group Policy is being utilized, small businesses don’t take kindly to dramatically locked down desktops. That’s often seen as overkill and too restrictive. Unfortunately, that can also lead to more customization and the installation of any application (from wherever they’ve found it on the internet). As well as alerting on errors, desktop monitoring can also provide you with installed application information, giving you a quick check on what music streaming or file sharing programs are now on your network.

Lack of Enterprise infrastructure tools:

Again, a lack of control and leads to the potential for more errors and a slower remediate time, and SMBs often live without SCCM to manage their environment. In some cases, even WSUS is under-utilised or not utilised at all.

It really got me thinking about whether MSPs are focussing their efforts on the wrong thing. Desktop monitoring and remediation is easy work, that can also be an income generator. But if the enterprise has better things to do, should the SMB IT Pros be focussing on improving their control over the environment and the speed of desktop replacements? Or is it simply that the cost benefit doesn’t stack up across multiple, smaller clients, especially while tools like SCCM can’t be multi-tenanted?

It’s a good question, but it would certainly mean a big shift in the traditional MSP model.