Do you actually need an RMM tool?

Remote Monitoring and Management tools enable managed service providers to do their work. You can’t take over the responsibility for supporting the IT systems of other companies without the ability to monitor and manage them remotely. So, right now we can say yes, you do actually need remote monitoring and management tools; let’s move on.

However, saying that you need to be able to monitor and manage a system remotely is not exactly the same as saying you need an RMM. So, let’s fire up the computer again. An RMM is a specific package of tools rather than a category of utilities. We should start with a definition of what an RMM is.

What is an RMM?

There are a number of RMM packages available, and they don’t all include the same facilities. In short, there isn’t a single definition of what you get with an off-the-shelf RMM. There are two broad categories of tools in an RMM package:

  • Remote system monitoring
  • Remote system management

One of the important characteristics of an RMM component is that it should be automated and time-saving. The purpose of an RMM is to improve the profitability of an MSP by reducing its costs. One of the greatest costs of an MSP’s budget is its wage bill, so removing mundane tasks from the shoulders of technicians is a major aim for RMM systems.

You will see that many RMM systems advertise their benefits by calculating the number of endpoints that each technician can support with the package. This is a little misleading because each technician will not actually be working on the stated number of endpoints. Instead, the RMM does all the work; technicians are reserved for ad-hoc tasks that require ingenuity, such as troubleshooting and calming irate users.

Remote system monitoring

The majority of the utilities in an RMM package fall into the monitoring category. These tools really do provide a high degree of automation and increase productivity. Once upon a time, IT support staff used to have to literally visit every endpoint and device in order to set it up and then again to investigate and fix any problems that arose. Remote monitoring changed all that.

The “remote” aspect of a remote monitoring package doesn’t have to mean that the technician is far, far away in a different country to the equipment that is being supported. It just means that the technician doesn’t have to walk over to the device and touch it in order to check on its status. The device can even be within sight of the technician’s desk and within the same office space; if the system can monitor that computer or switch without requiring the technician to walk over to it, it is a remote monitoring tool.

Of course, remote monitoring services are particularly important to MSPs that may well be far, far away – those businesses wouldn’t be able to operate without remote monitoring tools. However, even if system operations are not outsourced, an RMM provides businesses with a lot of scope for cost savings.

Remote system management

An often overlooked advantage of remote system management tools is that they keep IT support technicians physically separated from the user community. A technician who has to roam around the building can be subject to abuse or attempts to influence in order to jump the service queue. A remote office forces everyone to log an issue and wait in turn.

Making users list their problems and join a queue makes tracking the amount of work performed by a team of technicians quantifiable and chargeable. The IT Department can feasibly become a cost center and charge per service, thus justifying its budget. If it can perform all of its tasks efficiently, the department is less likely to be replaced by outsourcing.

So, RMMs aren’t just for MSPs. However, if IT departments have access to these automated productivity-enhancing tools, MSPs stand little chance of beating in-house teams on price without them.

Some functions of an RMM cross the boundaries of remote monitoring and remote management. For example, most RMMs provide a system discovery service. This is clearly a monitoring task, but it is also a requirement of asset management. One of the first tasks any MSP has to perform when bidding for a contract is to discover how many of each type of device is to be managed. It is surprising how many businesses don’t actually know what equipment they own. This is another accountability advantage of remote management.

Network inventory documentation extends to network topology mapping. This is a nice-to-have feature for monitoring but an essential tool for network management. The network layout is an important aid when planning access control lists, and it is also useful to see whether there is path redundancy in the event of specific links being overloaded. Security planning and capacity analysis are two examples of manual tasks that you would expect your technicians to be working on instead of the low-level, mundane tasks that an automated maintenance system could handle.

What’s in an RMM?

Here is a list of the functions that are typically encountered in the remote monitoring section of an RMM:

  • Autodiscovery for all equipment
  • Network device monitoring with the Simple Network Management Protocol
  • Network traffic monitoring with NetFlow or similar
  • An endpoint scanner
  • A process monitor

Here are the management functions that you can expect to find in an RMM:

  • The creation and maintenance of a hardware inventory
  • An automatically generated network topology map
  • An IP address manager with a DNS server and a DHCP server (DDI)
  • A software inventory
  • A software license manager
  • A patch manager
  • A script scheduler
  • A script library

Not all of the above features are included in every RMM. There are a number of extra utilities that are often included in an RMM package that aren’t actual requirements for an RMM. These are:

  • A Help Desk ticketing system
  • A remote desktop utility
  • Mobile device manager
  • Network configuration manager

RMMs focus on system performance. They aren’t expected to cover security monitoring.

Who needs an RMM?

So, we have established that remote operations tools are essential for supporting IT systems. Remote tools fall into two categories: remote monitoring and remote management systems. These are needed. Is a package of remote monitoring and management tools required?

The people who require RMM packages most are the sales team of an IT systems support tools provider. If you’ve attracted a customer for one of your company’s products, don’t let them get away before you’ve sold them a whole suite of tools.

The words “suite” and “suit” are similar, and the two types of sets are also very similar – they are a package deal. If you operate a clothes shop and someone comes in for a jacket, you are going to want to try to sell them a pair of trousers as well. Many retailers will have a section of the store for suits that are only sold as a unit, rather than a mix-and-match jacket and separate pair of trousers. To encourage customers to go for the suit, retailers will make that bundle a little cheaper than the price of any combination of jacket and trousers that are sold separately. The sales staff of SolarWinds and ManageEngine think in exactly the same way.

What is a PSA?

While an IT department would be happy with an RMM, an MSP needs a little extra – it needs a PSA as well. A PSA is a Professional Services Automation package. This bundle includes the system that the managers of an MSP need to run the business. That is everything other than the tools that a technician requires in order to support the IT systems of a client. So, the technicians run the remote assets with RMM tools and the MSP managers run the MSP with PSA tools.

Typically, PSAs include contract management along with service level agreement (SLA) definitions and storage of signed commitments. The ongoing performance of the MSP for each action the company’s technician implements needs to be measured against SLAs. Failure to respond to a request within a defined limit or provide a solution within time can trigger a fine or even enable the client to terminate the contract.

The best way to enforce SLA goals is to integrate SLA management into the team management and task management systems. PSAs include a Help Desk ticketing system that will route tickets to technicians according to an algorithm, which can be adjusted. This system will also provide a technician console with a list of assigned tasks with deadlines.

The technician console can prioritize tasks according to urgency and even switch priorities as deadlines approach. The system can raise an alert to draw the technician’s attention to an expiring task and alerts can also be sent to the team manager. These ticket management systems usually allow a manual override, so the team manager can reassign, merge, or split tickets. Many ticketing systems can interface with monitoring services and convert system alerts into tickets.

These ticketing systems are very useful, and MSPs can sometimes decide that they can do without all the rest of the PSA. IT departments need the ticketing system, but not the contract management features of the PSA. Thus, it is possible to buy independent ticketing tools and save money on the price of a full PSA package. In order to lure more clients, some RMM producers include a ticketing system in with their RMM package. This makes the bundle appealing to a wider market because it will attract IT departments as well as MSPs.

Alternatives to an RMM tool

Undoubtedly, MSPs and IT departments require remote monitoring tools and remote management systems. However, they don’t necessarily need an RMM. As in the gentleman’s tailors, a customer can just as easily select individual elements rather than buying a whole suite.

In the article, Can you “build your own RMM tool”? we look at ways that an IT department can assemble an RMM for individual tools or even create a customized system. MSPs have fewer options because they need to get systems that provide multi-tenant architecture. This is necessary so that the MSP can pay for one master account and then create subaccounts for clients that keep their data separate.

MSP-specific remote monitoring tools do exist. Two examples are Zabbix for those who want an on-premises package and Site24x7 MSP for those who want a cloud-based system. In those cases, and with most RMM substitute strategies, what you get is a monitoring system. The Site24x7 plan provides a network configuration manager and a log manager, and the Zabbix tool enables scheduled script execution and log management. However, both lack a patch manager. However, whichever system you choose as a base in your alternative strategy, you will always need to add on other tools – otherwise, you would be starting with an RMM package.

Choose your own strategy

You do actually need remote monitoring and management tools but whether you need an RMM comes down to your choice of tools. You might look at all the RMMs on the market and find that none of them meet your needs. In that case, you could select one RMM and add on a few extra tools from elsewhere.

Some RMM providers don’t offer the package’s components individually: Syncro, NinjaRMM, and Atera are three examples. However, other providers run both RMMs and individual tools alongside each other. ManageEngine is a good example of this. That company actually offers three RMM systems: RMM Central, Endpoint Central, and Endpoint Central MSP. RMM Central and Endpoint Central MSP both have a multi-tenant architecture for managed service providers. Compare the price of those plans with the equivalent individual system monitoring and management tools available from ManageEngine.

To fully explore all the leading RMM packages available at the moment, check out our The Best RMM Software post.