Yet, while more and more businesses look to third-party providers for everything from network monitoring to full-on IT outsourcing engagements, the definition of just what is a managed service is getting increasingly murky.
Is it software-as-a-service where you subscribe to a solution not owned or hosted by your company? IT outsourcing where you offload personnel to a big player like IBM or HP? On demand compute cycles from Sun Microsystems?
While the answer may not clear, what is clear is there is a new and increasing interest in having someone else provide you with functionalityeither IT or business-process centeredso you don't have to deal with it. And this is especially true for the small-to-mid-sized business (SMB) space, said Jeff Jernigan, an analyst with the market research firm In-Stat.
"It's easier to scale services now so you don't need the 'feet-on-the-street' to serve however many small-and-mediums businesses there are in the U.S. and the world, for that matter," he said.
In research into the managed services space In-Stat recently completed, what they found was complexity was a driving factor in deciding to off-load IT functions traditionally performed in-house.
In-Stat looked at network security, storage and data back up, LAN and WAN management, routing management, hosting, PBX and phone system management, and telecom expense management; to name just a few of the areas managed service providers are now offering services.
"The results were pretty overwhelming because even those who didn't currently employ a managed service, or plan to, even they were pretty likely to admit complexity would have a factor on them in the future," said Jernigan.
The $64,000 (or million) Question
So the question becomes: If the market for managed IT services is taking off because of complexity, is this really a good way to lessen that complexity or does it simply introduce a new set of problems in the place of old ones?
The answer, as you can imagine, is not straight forward, said Lou Washington, the "Master of MIPS" and a senior business analyst at software and services provider Cincom Systems.
"To me it's a natural opportunity to concentrate on your core-competency, and hiring somebody who is certainly more adept at whatever technical requirements you might have in terms of your infrastructure," he said.
But "It's not a particularly easy thing to do, to manage multiple service providers ," said Forrester's Martorelli. "I believe that calculus is going to be different. Some people may find it pretty much a God send, others will find it not to be."