Friday, October 26, 2012

SOP Friday: The Monthly Maintenance Checklist


Okay. This is what everyone keeps asking about. Today we will provide an actual sample of a Monthly Maintenance Checklist. Last time we talked about Why We Do Monthly Maintenance. Before that we covered Monthly Maintenance Scheduling and On Site Visits. Below is a sample Monthly Maintenance Checklist.

Of course you will customize this for each client. Of course some of your processes and procedures are different. Of course some of this is automated by your RMM (remote monitoring and maintenance) tool. But if you have nothing, this is a great place to start!

As a general practice, we keep all the client monthly maintenance checklists in one folder on the company SharePoint. The main reason for this is that it is much easier to update them all if there's a big change. We could store them in the PSA (professional services automation) tool, but that's only convenient if you are updating checklists one at a time.

Please note, as you read through this, that many of these tasks are much easier if you are on site. We can do everything remotely. And for a few clients we do that. But for all of our local clients, we go on site. That way we can make a personal contact. We can talk about issues and point to the notes. We can verify that all those things that say "make sure the client contact does this" are done. And we can see if they've plugged a laser printer into the UPS or piled boxes on top of the server. :-)

Other than section titles, each line begins with a small box suitable for entering a check mark or X. It is critical that everyone understand that the task must be completed before the box is checked.


- - - - -

Sample Monthly Maintenance Checklist

Client: Dewey, Cheatum and Howe
123 4th Street
Sacramento, CA  95814

Date: __________

Technician: __________

Contact: John Dewey
916-555-1010

Checklist updated: October 24, 2012


--> Check each box only after it is done.
- If an item cannot be done, circle it and write a note to explain.
- If an item does not apply, put an X in the box and write a note to explain.
- If an item needs to be updated, deleted, etc. put edit notes in the left page border and an arrow to the item.

1) Client Check In and Monthly Single*
- Check with the client contact for any new or outstanding issues and enter them in the “Issues” section of this checklist. (Last page)
- Check PSA (e.g., Connectwise, Autotask, PacketTrap) for all outstanding Service Requests that are Not assigned to Back Office.
     Print out a prioritized list if necessary.
- Print out the Monthly Single for this month and attach it to this monthly maintenance checklist.
- Complete all steps detailed in the Monthly Single before continuing on unless specifically noted otherwise in the Monthly Single.

2) Primary Domain Controller/SBS Server Status and Health
- Make a time stamp entry for the Monthly Maintenance in the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made this entry in the NDB.**
- Check Windows Event Logs: System, Security, etc.  (Record significant errors in Tech Notes)
- Investigate significant findings from the Event Logs and if necessary add them to the “Issues” section.
- Print out the Tech Notes file and put it into the Network Documentation Binder.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has printed,stapled, punched and put the notes into the NDB.
- (with older Exchange servers) Check incoming and outgoing messages in the Exchange queue to verify there are no spam issues.
- Check system drive space availability.
 - - C: = _____ Used / _____ Free out of _____ GB
 - - D: = _____ Used / _____ Free out of _____ GB

- Check system drive fragmentation status.
- Analysis on C: _____ Setting changes / Problems (if any): _______________________________
- Analysis on D: _____ Setting changes / Problems (if any): _______________________________

- If any drive is over 1.25 fragmented, schedule a one-time defragmentation of that drive for 5:00 pm.
- For any system requiring defragmentation, create an SR to check on the status of the defragmentation.
Note: Set the required date of the SR to be the next business days
- Check UPS logs, UPS run time and if required run any UPS maintenance.
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.

3) System Backup
- Check the Backup Exec Job Monitor and Alerts sections, evaluate and clean up as needed.
- Record the number of good backups in the last 30 days: _______ - Note: 20 successful is ideal.
- Identify the oldest tape(s) in rotation that are indicated to contain a successful backup since the last day of the previous month.
- Verify that each full server OS backup contained in the target backup set has the complete System State for that server.
- Verify backup of critical OS files, Data files and Exchange Mailboxes by restoring the following items;
 - - %System root%\repair directory
 - - C:\Program Files\Veritas\backup Exec\NT\Catalogs directory
 - - A sample of files from the clients data directory
Note: All data is redirected to temp\Backup Test

- Select mailbox items from any active user
Note: All email is redirected to Administrator
- Log into the Administrator email account and verify the emails targeted for restore were in fact restored.
- Clean up the Administrator's inbox by moving important company info to the “Keep This” folder in the Inbox and deleting all useless items.
- Move the media going off site for the End-of-Month Backup to the Retired Media set.
- If performing the Monthly remotely, perform an Eject Tape function now.
- Verify that the End-of-Month Tape(s) have been write protected.
- Record the tapes going off site here: _______________________
- Record the number of [tape format and size] Backup Tapes available: _________
- If there are fewer than 6 tapes available (12 for a two tape scheme, etc.) include this information in the Monthly Maintenance Follow Up Email.
- Verify the tape drive has been cleaned – Three times for a DAT and once for DLT or SLR.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely have the on site contact perform the operation and verify they have marked the tape for the number of uses.
- Cleaning cartridge needed  Y  /  N
- If a Cleaning Cartridge is needed, include this information in the Monthly Maintenance Follow Up Email.
- If there is an SR to deliver and label a box of tapes and or a cleaning cartridge, perform the work necessary to complete that SR now.
Note: Be certain to enter the product into the SR immediately.
- Verify the Backup Log has been updated with notes on:
 - - Tape cleaning
 - - Restore verification
 - - End-of-Month tape(s) going off site
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with other relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.

4) Primary Server Anti-Virus / Anti-Spyware / Spam Filter
- Verify that the Anti-Virus client on the server is running and scanning on a scheduled basis and that there are no issues to be addressed.
- Verify that the Server's Anti-Virus client application and definitions are up to date.
- Verify the Server Anti-Virus client quarantine is empty.
- Verify that the Network Anti-Virus solution is providing the latest virus definitions.
- Verify that all Anti-Virus clients are accepting and using the latest virus definitions.
- Verify that the Anti-Spyware client / solution on the server is running and scanning on a scheduled basis and that there are no issues to be addressed.
- Verify that any network Spam Filter device is up to date. (firmware or software)
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.

5) Primary Server System Updates
- If important patches or updates have been released and approved, apply them to:
 - - Windows OS
 - - Exchange Server
 - - Backup Exec
 - - Other:  
 - - Other:  
- Run Microsoft Windows Update repeatedly until all Critical System and Hardware updates are applied.
NOTE: The only hardware updates we do NOT install are Tape Drivers.
NOTE: If rebooting the server is required to continue with the update process or if a NIC driver is being updated, coordinate it with the Client Contact and or users for minimal impact. Use "Golden Hours" for reboots.

Update Notes: _______________________________________________________________________

- Run the latest version of Baseline Security Analyzer.  Down load and apply all missing updates indicated.

BSA Notes: _________________________________________________________________________

- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.

6) Second Server Server Status and Health
- Make a time stamp entry for the Monthly Maintenance in the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made this entry in the NDB.
- Check Windows Event Logs: System, Security, etc.  (Record significant errors in Tech Notes)
- Investigate significant findings from the Event Logs and if necessary add them to the “Issues” section.
- Print out the Tech Notes file and put it into the Network Documentation Binder.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has printed, stapled, punched and put the notes into the NDB.
- Check system drive space availability.
 - - C: = _____ Used / _____ Free out of _____ GB
 - - D: = _____ Used / _____ Free out of _____ GB

- Check system drive fragmentation status.
- Analysis on C: _____ Setting changes / Problems (if any): _______________________________
- Analysis on D: _____ Setting changes / Problems (if any): _______________________________

- If any drive is over 1.25 fragmented, schedule a one time defragmentation of that drive for 5:00 pm.
- For any system requiring defragmentation, create an SR to check on the status of the defragmentation.
Note: Set the required date of the SR to be the next business days
- Check UPS logs, UPS run time and if required run any UPS maintenance.
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.

7) Second Server System Backup
 Note: Server2 does a simple backup to the D drive on Server1. Backup Exec is used to so we can backup the live database.
- Check the Backup Exec Job Monitor and Alerts sections, evaluate and clean up as needed.
- Check the job completion time. Verify that Server1 backup starts after Server2 backup finishes.
- Record the number of good backups in the last 30 days: _______ - Note: 20 successful is ideal.
- Verify that each full server OS backup contained in the target backup set has the complete System State for this server.
- Verify backup of critical OS files and Data files by restoring the following items;
- %System root%\repair directory
- C:\Program Files\Veritas\backup Exec\NT\Catalogs directory
- A sample of files from the data directory
Note: All data is redirected to temp\Backup Test
- Verify the Backup Log has been updated with notes on:
 - - Tape cleaning
 - - Restore verification
 - - End-of-Month tape(s) going off site
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with other relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.

8) Second Server Anti-Virus / Anti-Spyware
- Verify that the Anti-Virus client on the server is running and scanning on a scheduled basis and that there are no issues to be addressed.
- Verify that the Servers Anti-Virus client application and definitions are up to date.
- Verify the Server Anti-Virus client quarantine is empty.
- Verify that the Network Anti-Virus solution is providing the latest virus definitions.
- Verify that all Anti-Virus clients are accepting and using the latest virus definitions.
- Verify that the Anti-Spyware client / solution on the server is running and scanning on a scheduled basis and that there are no issues to be addressed.
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.

9) Second Server System Updates
- If important patches or updates have been released and approved, apply them to:
 - - Windows OS
 - - Backup Exec
 - - Other:  
 - - Other:  
- Run Microsoft Windows Update repeatedly until all Critical System and Hardware updates are applied.
NOTE: The only hardware updates we do NOT install are Tape Drivers.
NOTE: If rebooting the server is required to continue with the update process or if a NIC driver is being updated, coordinate it with the Client Contact and or users for minimal impact. Use "Golden Hours" for reboots.

Update Notes: _______________________________________________________________________

- Run the latest version of Baseline Security Analyzer.  Down load and apply all missing updates indicated.

BSA Notes: _________________________________________________________________________

- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.


10) Other Network, Company and User Specific Items
- Bandwidth Test via [www.speakeasy.net/speedtest] or [Other __________]
- 1st = Download __________ kb/s Upload __________ kb/s
- 2nd = Download __________ kb/s Upload __________ kb/s
- (If needed) Cycle the power on the firewall to be sure the maximum number of IP’s are free at all times.
- Update the Network Documentation Binder Tech Notes with relevant information from this section.
- Note all unresolved problems from this section in the “Issues” section.
Note: When performing the Monthly Maintenance remotely, verify the on site contact has made these entries in the NDB.
- Log into the CDP and verify continuous copy of data is functioning correctly and there are no flags or alerts.
- Purge all old versions of files.
- DO NOT DELETE OLD FILES

11) Issues - New and Outstanding (Client Contact, Update section, Users, etc.)
- _________________________
- _________________________
- _________________________
- _________________________
- _________________________

12) Client Check Out
- Deliver tape(s) to client contact to be placed offsite.
- Check with Client Contact and convey status on all outstanding issues.
- Discuss any recommendations based on this monthly maintenance with the Client Contact.
- Draft a reminder Email to the Client Contact with the recommendations. Note: You must CC the Service Manager and "Service" mailbox.
- Make a final round check with all users especially those who had issues to be resolved.

13) Service Requests and Products
- If required, create Service Requests for all unresolved issues.
- Update the client's Monthly Maintenance Service request with all of the following;
 - - Travel Time
 - - Mileage
 - - Expenses (e.g., parking)
 - - Time
 - - Product delivered to the client.  Billable or Not (Tapes, Cleaning cartridges, cables, etc.)
 - - Detailed work documentation including Internal Analysis notes

--> Monthly Maintenance Complete  

14) Monthly Maintenance Checklist Update
- Update this Monthly Maintenance Checklist document with all necessary revisions.

Notes:
- _________________________
- _________________________
- _________________________

- - - - -


After the Monthly Maintenance Checklist


Note that there are two critical items that need attention after the Monthly Maintenance is complete. One is a follow-up email to the client. You can draft this and save it as an .oft file. That way, the tech only makes minor changes, addresses the email, and ends it.

1. Sample Followup Email:

Hello ,

Your monthly maintenance is complete.

Your server's overall health is excellent.
Backups are working smoothly.
Anti-Virus protection is continuous and the definitions are up to date.
All available system updates have been applied.

As a reminder of what we discussed;
I will follow up on . . .
I created a service request for . . .
We did come across a few things know what point out . . .
There are a few items we need to bring to your attention . . .

Thank you and please contact us if you have any questions.





2. The Issues Section

Finally, you wrote down all the issues you found along the way. These need to be addressed somehow. You need to determine your company procedure for this. You might talk to the client on the spot. Or you might create service requests first and then talk to the client (later?) about any SRs that will result in billable labor. Or the technician on site might just create SRs and make sure the service manager talks to the client.

Whatever your policy, make sure those issues are followed up.


Final Notes on the Monthly Maintenance Checklist


YES: This is labor intensive. You can save a lot of time with a good RMM tool such as Continuum, Level Platforms, or PacketTrap. But the most important thing - the backup - requires human attention. You can't trust the logs. You can't trust fate. And you can't trust the client to switch hard drives or tapes. You can only trust yourself to verify that this is working.

The labor intensive nature of the MMC is nothing to worry about. On most servers you can do all this in an hour or less. It is time well spent and prevents future problems. It's great for the client relationship, too.

And if nothing else will convince you to go buy an RMM tool, this will. When you have 20 servers that need monthly maintenance, expect to spend 20-25 hours a month executing this. Plus travel time. Now reduce that to 15 minutes each when all you have to check is the backup. Now you're down to 5-6 hours a month. Trust me, a good RMM tool will pay for itself!


Comments welcome.

* The "Monthly Single" is a specific task done each month across all clients. I'll cover this in a future article. Right now it's scheduled for February 2013. Stay tuned.

** NDB = Network Documentation Binder

- - - - -



About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Sales Tickets and Sales Queues

:-)

SMB Books, Audio Programs, and More 

100% Small Business I.T. Focused 
- Technical - Business - Marketing - 
- Managed Services - Cloud Computing - 
- Network Migrations - Sales - 

All these resources and more. 

SMB Books is THE resources for the small business IT consultant who wants to move up to the next level. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Final Podcasts from SMB Nation: On To The Future We Go!


I posted the last two interviews from SMB Nation over at the SMB Community Podcast blog.

One is from my man Mike Bayless. Mike gives a good summary of the content and networking from an attendee's perspective. The other is a longer interview with Tom Poole (CEO, Cloud Nation) on what they're up to and the big announcements you'll see on November 1st, December 1st, and January 1st.

1. Mike Bayless - America's Tech Support - At SMB Nation, the “Death of SBS” Conversation is Over


2. Tom Poole - Founder and CEO of Cloud Nation - Cloud Nation Announces Three-Tiered Launch


Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 40) at www.smbcommunitypodcast.com.

:-)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Three More Podcasts: Blowing Things Up, Helping Community, and Building Community


I posted three more podcasts from SMB Nation. These were just posted in the last 24 hours at the SMB Community Podcast blog.
Check out the SMB Community Podcast!


1. Jon Sastre - MSP and IAMCP – A Powerful Combo. Jon’s company is Conquest Technology Services of Southern Florida. They are the Microsoft Partner of the Year for Lync.


2. Regina Ciardiello – Report from SMB Nation and News About Jeremiah. Regina is the Editor of SMB Nation magazine. We talked about a few things, including the impending bone marrow transplant for SMB Nation staffer Jeremiah Ilges.


3. Shannon Kohn - Datto Destroys and Recovers a Machine Live at SMB Nation. Shannon is the Director of Marketing and Channel Relations for Datto. And what more fun can you have than to destroy things? Check out her report.


Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 40) at www.smbcommunitypodcast.com.

:-)

Saturday, October 20, 2012

More Fun and Interesting People at SMB Nation

Last week I attended the 10th annual SMB Nation conference. As usual, I rubbed elbows with a lot of fun and interesting people. I recorded some quick podcosts with several of them. (See recent posts at the SMB Community Podcast.) Here are three more:

Rent the Time Machine!
1. Mark Shields owns a Delorean "Time Machine" and he was brought to the show by Storagecraft and Intel to contribute to the theme of Back to the Future.

2. Robert Patterson runs the New York SBS User Group. A vibrant and active group.

3. Manuel Palachuk is a business coach, I.T. savant, and outsourced COO. Oh, and we're related.

Please check out these and all the other interviews (over 40) at www.smbcommunitypodcast.com.

:-)

Friday, October 19, 2012

SOP Friday: Why We Do Monthly Maintenance


This is the second in our quick 3-part series on Monthly Maintenance. Last week we talked about scheduling. Next week we'll go over the list itself.


Regular Server Maintenance is the Core of Our Business


Way back when I started my first business (1995), I did what most consultants do: I figured it out. I took the knowledge I had and struck out on my own, in search of gold. I offered up "services" and waited for the phone to ring.

But the phone didn't ring. Apparently, the universe did not know that I'd spent $60 on business cards and I was now a consultant. So I had to go dig up my own clients (gold). That meant I needed a pitch. I needed a way to get my foot in the door.

If you've ever sold subscriptions of any kind, you know it's a one-two punch with a kicker. First, what am I giving away for free right now today? Second, what will you get if you sign up today and welcome me back every month? The answers to these questions make up your sales pitch. And the kicker is: If the prospect says no, what can I do to get invited back some day? Here's what I came up with.

First, I will give you a free analysis of your computer systems. Are they working right? Are they in good health? Are they making you money or costing you money? Note: My assumption was that I would never come across the perfect network. Therefore, everyone needs at least a little help. And, therefore, I would generate job proposals from every network analysis ever performed. This turned out to be true and is still true seventeen years later.

Second, I propose to come back every month and tune up your server. I'll verify that you are properly protected, backed up, and virus scanned. I'll put in all the patches and fixes and updates. If you want, I'll even monitor your system remotely so that I get paged (it was 1995, remember) when something goes wrong. Most monthly maintenance is performed in about an hour. On rare occasions it takes longer. So the cost is about one hour of labor per month. Plus monitoring for $150/mo. Later I raised this to $250/mo to cover software costs, and about two hours labor. No complaints.

Kicker: If you really don't want monthly maintenance, may I please put you on my mailing list? We provide a monthly newsletter for free. Of course you can cancel any time.

And that's how it all began. Clients sometimes hired me to put out fires. But normally that was not my first contact. My first contact was to convince them to let me look at their computers. Nine times out of ten I found a snake pit of a network that had been neglected for years. So while I wasn't putting out a fire, I WAS solving a problem and increasing their performance. And I got invited back every month.

As you can imagine, in the days before "managed services" I found problems on a regular basis. Over time the server got better and better. But neglected desktops had problems. Old network equipment failed. Because I was on site at least once a month, I was the computer guy for each of these offices. So I got all the calls.

But the server also got older. So eventually, performance degraded. When hard drives spin 24x7 for three years, they start to have issues. Bad sectors. Maybe a fan gets noisy. Move and more software means less and less disc space, and longer backups. The maintenance never stops. But here's an important key to success: I entered the scene without recommending a new server (nine times out of ten). I did maintenance that pushed out the need for a new server. I was saving my clients money and they knew it.

At the same time, because I got to see them every month, I exposed them to my philosophies about computer maintenance.

"We only quote and sell business class equipment."

"Everything we sell has at least a one year warranty. We prefer three."

"We like to see machines get replaced every three years."

"A good server will give maximum performance for about three years."

"If you replace 1/3 of your computers each year, your costs will be very predictable and all of your equipment will always be under warranty."

This is like drip marketing. I might support a server for 2-3 years before I finally tell them that they need to get a new one. By that time they are fully indoctrinated into the "Karl way of thinking" about computers.

It is a great business policy, in my opinion, to help clients avoid big costs as long as possible. It's good for their wallets and good for your relationship. But when they DO need to buy something, it is also a good policy to tell them that they need to spend money. If you started the relationship by being frugal with the client's money and giving good long-term advice, you'll be very credible when it's time to recommend that they spend some of that money.


Welcome to Managed Services


Eventually, we had fifteen servers on a monthly maintenance schedule . . . at $250 each. This included all remote monitoring and monthly maintenance. It did NOT include labor to fix anything outside of the monthly maintenance visit. Therefore, basically everything was billable.

Eventually, I decided that I could use some of that money to buy RMM (remote monitoring and management) license. (By the way, that's when I joined ASCII because I saved so much money on licenses that it paid for my ASCII membership times ten. See www.ascii.com.) After that I had 100 RMM agents. I could those 15 servers plus another 85!



Managed service allowed us to monitor desktops with the same attention we gave to servers. That meant we developed offerings to keep the entire office patched, fixed, and updated.

With managed services, we now do a lot more remotely. And because machines are monitored 24x7, almost all of the "check-ups" on the MMC are handled automatically. For example, free disc space is now just an alert. When the light turns red or we get a Continuum alert, a ticket is created. So we check the main portal every morning and handle any issues that arise.

All of that managed service activity gave the clients a better level of service than they ever had before. BUT it also meant that they see us a lot less. So we have to make a point of staying in touch and making sure the client knows us and loves us. Otherwise, everything works perfectly, but we don't get the credit!


Why We Do Monthly Maintenance


So, finally we get to the summary. We do monthly maintenance because:

1) It is central to our business that we lead the entire client relationship with Preventive Maintenance.

2) A few tasks still need to be done in person. This is particularly true with most backup systems. Left in the hands of clients, backups fail.

3) We need to look our clients in the eyes, chat with them, and continually build that relationship.


If you have clients who are not on managed services, you should still make every attempt to sell a monthly maintenance service. Servers that are maintained live longer. And all servers give off clues to when they are getting ready to fail. But someone has to actually look for those clues. So even today you might be doing a full monthly maintenance "by hand" and not with automated tools.

But you need to do it.

Comments welcome.


- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: The Monthly Maintenance Checklist

:-)

Did you miss the first-ever 

SMB Online Conference? 

100% Small Business I.T. Focused

100% Business and Making Money!

3 Days of Training 18 hours of Content 

Well now you can download it and listen any time!

Recorded sessions: Only $99 for all content!. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Level Platforms Wins the ASCII Cup!


Jerry Koutavas over at The ASCII Group sent me this press release about the big ASCII Cup race for 2012. The winner was crowned on the rooftop of the Rio in Vegas - 50 stories up with an amazing view of the city. Here's my picture drinking from the ASCII Cup, served by winner Rob Rae from Level Platforms.

Here's the release:

- - - - -

Level Platforms edges out Datto, CharTec, HP, Intronis, Lenovo, ConnectWise, GFI MAX, AVG Technologies and Reflexion Networks to win the coveted ASCII Cup  

Bethesda, Maryland --- October 13, 2012 --- The ASCII Group, Inc. is pleased to announce The ASCII Cup Winner, Top Contenders and Esteemed Noble Partners awards are bestowed annually to  technology companies that have shown outstanding channel goodwill and a commitment to helping ASCII members grow their revenue and more effectively serve their customers.  The winners are voted upon by the ASCII attendees at regional ASCII Success Summit meetings, and the Cup and awards are awarded each year at the SMB Nation event.

The ASCII Cup - the legend continues...

No one really knows how it began. Some say the ASCII Cup was discovered after packing up the last box at the final Comdex show. Still others believe the ASCII Cup was originally discovered in the secret tunnels under a certain campus in Redmond while others believe it has been handed down by the Knights Templar.

Regardless of its origins, the ASCII Cup has power.  For those who are bestowed to guard it, they will prosper from its keeping. For those who drink from it, they will flourish from its power.

Each year the ASCII Cup is bestowed to a single technology company, voted upon by ASCII Group members at regional ASCII Success Summit meetings around the country.

The ASCII Cup recognizes companies that have shown channel goodwill, outstanding technology, and partner programs that provide an outstanding opportunity to build business.

This year’s 2012 winner The ASCII Cup, Top Contenders and Esteemed Noble Partners were announced on the rooftop of the RIO in Las Vegas at a private industry gathering.

The ASCII Group is proud to honor this year’s recipient of the ASCII Cup, who clearly exemplifies the principles on which the ASCII Cup was established.

The 2012 ASCII Cup for Vendor of the Year is Level Platforms!

Knighted as the Top Four Contenders for The ASCII Cup are Datto, CharTec, Hewlett Packard and Intronis.

Knighted as The Distributor of the Year was D&H for getting the most votes throughout the year in the category of ‘Best Distribution Sales Support.’

Recognized as Esteemed Noble Partners are Lenovo, ConnectWise, GFI MAX, AVG Technologies and Reflexion Networks.

“On behalf of the ASCII Group community, congratulations to Level Platforms as this year’s ASCII Cup recipient, to each of The Top Contenders and Esteemed Noble Partners for building well received channel friendly solutions that resonate with our community.” Jerry Koutavas, President, The ASCII Group.

Pictures and video of the celebration will be posted on Facebook under the ASCII Cup fan page and The ASCII Cup website.

About The ASCII Group

How many different hats do you wear today to run your business?  Since 1984, The ASCII Group has helped solution providers focus more of their time on building their business, not administrating it. The ASCII Group creates programs and services to improve business performance in sales and marketing, vendor management and overall operations. In addition, the member community shares information on satisfaction of products, business strategy and opportunities unique to the industry and the ASCII community. Come see why at www.ascii.com.


The ASCII Group, Inc.
7101 Wisconsin Avenue
Suite 1000
Bethesda, MD 20814
Phone: (800) 394-2724
Fax: (301) 718-0435

Contact: Doug Young
dyoung@ascii.com
(800) 394-2724 x106

:-)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Three More Podcasts from SMB Nation


I recorded a number of podcasts while at SMB Nation. I just posted three more on the SMB Community Podcast blog, with a few notes about each. Please bookmark that web site and maybe even subscribe to it.


The new podcasts are:

1. ChannelEyes Brings News, Blogs, Topics, and More. An interview with Bob Godgart from Channel Eyes.


2. Rayanne Buchianico and Bob Nitrio Named as SBSers of the Year. Congratulations, my friends!


3. Jeff Middleton on IT Pro Experts, SBS Migration, and More.


And of course you can always check out all the other podcasts there. There are about 35 SMB Community Podcasts altogether. And you can peek in a bit on the SMB Nation fun on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/karlpalachuk - check out the pictures.


:-)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

SMB Nation - Fun People, Good Info

I arrived in Vegas Wednesday and my brother Manuel and I had a great SMB Preday event on Thursday. (Stay tuned at www.smbpreday.com for recordings to be posted.)

Thank you PacketTrap! Check them out at www.packettrap.com.

I caught up with some folks as SMB Nation got underway. So I'll be posting up podcasts with them over at www.smbcommunitypodcast.com. You can also check out pictures and stuff on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/karlpalachuk.

Subscribe to me there.

The first three podcasts are up:

1. SMB Nation – Back to The Future with Claudia Wells
Here's the full picture I cropped for that blog post.

2. Highly Reliable Systems Takes New Approach to Backup Hardware

3. Jessica DeVita – Mentoring Women in IT

Check out those interviews. Follow #SMBNation on Twitter, and peek in on Facebook for the fun side of a great educational conference.

:-)
 

Friday, October 12, 2012

SOP Friday: Monthly Maintenance Scheduling and On Site Visits

[Side Note: This is the 75th article in this SOP Friday Series. My how time flies. See the whole index at www.sopfriday.com.]

One of the most important pieces of our business has always been the "monthly maintenance" of client machines. The MMC (monthly maintenance checklist) is primarily used for servers, but you can have an MMC for storage arrays, printers, or anything else you need. Over the next several weeks we'll address the monthly maintenance checklist.

Background: You should run a "Monthly Maintenance" procedure on every contract client every month. If you have a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) system, then your list of chores is very short. That's because many things are monitored 24x7 in real time, such as disc space. But you will still need to go to the client's office, shake their hand, look at their server, test the backup, and do some kind of checkup. This is partly tune-up and partly client relations.

Process: For starters, you need a monthly maintenance checklist. That's a list of things you will monitor or do every single month as part of the preventive maintenance that makes managed services work. If you need a place to start, check out my good old 68-point checklist. It's free at www.SMBBooks.com (see the Free Stuff page).

Once you have your standard checklist, you will refine it for each client. Clients have different backups, different databases, different network setups. So their checklists need to be customized.

You will need to execute four things every month with regard to monthly maintenance jobs: 1) Execute the monthly maintenance checklist at each client; 2) Revise all monthly maintenance checklists as needed; 3) Make sure the revised MMC is published appropriately and "ready to go" for the next month; and 4) Each MMC must be filed away for future reference.

Obviously, you have a serious time crunch here. No matter whether you have ten clients or a hundred, you need to execute the MMC every month. Someone needs to maintain a calendar so that MMC visits are spaced properly (Clients look puzzeled if you show up on the 27th of February and then again on March 1st). This scheduling might be done by the office manager, but is more likely to be done by the tech department. If your PSA (professional services administration) software can create a recurring ticket, then simply have it create one new MMC ticket per client (or per server) each month.

It's a good idea to keep a calendar of when MMCs were executed at each client so you can look back very easily. You almost never need this information, but it's handy when you do.

The revision process is very simple, but needs to be done! If you skip it, you just create more work down the road. Revisions include things like noting that the c:\ drive is too full for logs, so the logs have been moved to the d:\ drive. If that happens, the checklist needs to point to the right place. Normally, revisions are little things like that. Occasionally they are major, such as a new backup procedure.

In a perfect world, the checklist will be updated as the last item on the checklist. But if the tech is onsite, then it will likely wait until he gets back to the office. The problem there is that checklists tend to get thrown on a pile because something more important comes up. If that happens, you need to set aside a date or deadline to get them updated. As for "publishing," I simply mean that the revised document should be posted on your internal SharePoint site or uploaded to the PSA. We publish these in .pdf format so that they can be accessed and printed off from any computer, including a customer server with no Word program installed.

Finally, you need to file away your MMCs. You might file them all together for one month, or put each one into the appropriate client folder. Which you choose depends on which you think will be more useful down the road. You will need to refer to these when you are looking for problems across clients and when investigating something with a specific client. For technicians, having them all in one place is probably easiest. For billing and client relations, having each client's checklists in the client folder works best. You decide.

All MMCs should be executed by a certain date. They should be updated and published by a certain date. And they should be filed away by a certain date. Every month. No exceptions. Determine who will be responsible for each of these schedules and develop a process.


Documenting the Monthly Maintenance Process

As with all processes, you need to start by defining how your company schedules client maintenance. Then write it out into a procedure. Finally, you need to implement the procedure and train the staff.

To the technicians, all of this simply appears as a series of service requests that need to be scheduled. But to the service manager, these are key client "touch" opportunities. This is particularly true if the client is on a managed service contract. Since most of your patch management and monitoring takes place automatically every day, you might be able to do all of these in a very short period of time for each client. But I recommend that you resist doing it completely remotely.

First, you (meaning you - the service manager) need to have face to face contact with each client from time to time. Never forget that this is a people business. All small businesses are people businesses. And as the face of your business, even casual contact with a client is good.

Second, many backup systems require you to be on site to verify that they are operating properly. You can look at logs - and even do a restore - remotely. But you can't see whether they're rotating discs (tapes) properly, or tracking jobs in the backup log.

In the next few articles we'll go into detail about the monthly maintenance process. First we'll look at what it is exactly, and why we do it. Then we'll step through a sample MMC.

Questions welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at SmallBizThoughts.com.

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Why We Do Monthly Maintenance

:-)

Still the best Quick-Start Guide to Managed Services: 

by Karl W. Palachuk 

Now only $39.95 at SMB Books!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

NEW 68-Point Checklist Released - Free


Way back . . . in 2005 . . . I created the now-famous 68-Point Checklist. It has long been available by email auto-responder. Thousands of computer consultants, managed service providers, and value added resellers have used this list to begin build their monthly maintenance checklists or begin developing a a network check-up offering.

Karl's New and Improved 68-Point Checklist ver. 2.0
Now I have finally updated the 68-Point Checklist. It includes cloud service offerings and is just tweaked enough for the next generation of computers and services.


The 68-Point Checklist version 2.0 is now available to download for FREE at SMBBooks.com. No credit card required. Electronic download instantly in PDF format.


Here is one way you might use the 68-Point Checklist ver 2.0:

-----

Network Analysis

- Market your free 68-Point Network Checkup
- perform this spectacular FREE checkup
- Write a summary report based on the checklist

(Some people charge for this service. After all, it takes a chunk of time.)

Hand deliver the report to your prospect. Do not email this report. Do not FedEx this report. Do not leave it at the front desk. Do not do anything except meet with the prospect and go through the report. Plan an hour for this. Now it's even more valuable.

-----

You could also use the 68-Point Checklist v.2 as the basis for your monthly maintenance checklist.

Note: Monthly Maintenance will be the topic of the next three installments of the SOP Friday series on this blog.

If nothing else, you might just add a few items to the list of things you are already checking with your clients.

Please feel free to download the checklist today. If you love it, let me know. If you don't, I don't care. It didn't cost you anything. :-)

You can download the New 68-Point Checklist v.2 from the White Papers section of SMB Books.


- karlp

:-)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Managed Services Audio Training - Everything You Need on Sale

Managed Service Providers: Audio Training Makes Education Fast and Easy


Luckily for you, we're having a Halloween at SMB Books! Ten percent off our already-low prices. Check out the bargains now. And don't limit yourself to audio programs - everything on the site is on sale.

Just use the code Oct2012.

Sale on Managed Services Audio Training

Remember: You get an extra 10% at time of checkout.

Here's a sample of what we offer:



MSPU Best IT Audio Sales Training
List Price: $499.95 
Our Price: $399.00 
Sale Price: $199.00 
Savings: $300.95 
 
Best I.T. Audio Sales Training COURSE EVER!  by Managed Services Provider University

Discover the roadmap to successfully selling I.T. solutions and Managed Services!
Best I.T. Audio Sales Training COURSE EVER!  by Managed Services Provider University

Discover the roadmap to successfully selling I.T. solutions and Managed Services!

We realize from first-hand experience how difficult it can be to consistently close sales opportunities.

Leverage our Successful I.T. and Managed Services Sales Concepts:
- How many cold prospects have you converted into paying clients recently?
- How many opportunities that were not referrals have you pitched and come up empty handed?
- Wouldn’t you like to learn how to shorten your sales cycles and get more I.T. Solutions and Managed Services Agreements sold?
...Let us show you how
Palachuk - Five Mistakes of Self Publishers audio program
List Price: $49.95 
Our Price: $19.95 
Savings: $30.00 
 
The Five Biggest Mistakes Made by Self Publishers (and almost everyone else)
 
Recorded seminar presented by Karl W. Palachuk. This download product includes a 55 minute audio program - Recorded LIVE in June 2009 before a group of small publishers
The Five Biggest Mistakes Made by Self Publishers (and almost everyone else)

Recorded seminar presented by Karl W. Palachuk. This download product includes a 55 minute audio program - Recorded LIVE in June 2009 before a group of small publishers

While the presentation is geared toward small self publishers, 99% of the content is perfectly suited to anyone who is interested in promoting their products on the internet. Includes 25 minutes of Question/Answer, most of which is related to Internet marketing.
Palachuk - Network Documentation for Profit - Audio
Our Price: $19.95  
Network Documentation for Profit (and Fun)
Network Documentation for Profit (and Fun) By Karl W. Palachuk

The Story: A few years ago Karl put on his Network Documentation seminar in Redmond, WA. More than 100 were registered.

The feedback from the seminar has been great. If you missed it, you'll want to order this CD right now!

If you attended this seminar, you know you want to hear the information again on audio CD.

We discuss 14 Sure-Fire Ways to make money via documentation.
Palachuk - Seminar - Intro ZDTM MP3
Our Price: $39.95  
Palachuk - Seminar - Intro to Zero Downtime Migration Strategies

Audio program with slides. Includes two MP3 audio files and two slide decks in pdf format. All delivered in one zip file.

Karl Palachuk on Project Management and Zero Downtime Migration Strategies.

2 hours of solid information!
Palachuk - Seminar - Making Money in Small Biz Cloud
List Price: $249.00 
Our Price: $199.95 
Savings: $49.05 
 
Making Money in the Small Business Cloud - Recorded seminar by Karl W. Palachuk 

Learn about the best tools and services to combine in your cloud service offering.

This all-day program includes four sessions with slide decks and related handouts.
Making Money in the Small Business Cloud - Recorded seminar by Karl W. Palachuk

Learn about the best tools and services to combine in your cloud service offering.

This all-day program includes four sessions with slide decks and related handouts. We focus entirely on moving into cloud services AND making money while doing it. We give you a blueprint for making money in cloud services with the latest offerings from cloud service providers, hosting companies, and server vendors.
Palachuk - Seminar Cloud Services 1-20 Audio
List Price: $49.95 
Our Price: $39.95 
Savings: $10.00 
 
Designing and Selling Cloud Services into the 1-20 Desktop Environment

By Karl W. Palachuk 

 

Only $39.95 !!!
Designing and Selling Cloud Services into the 1-20 Desktop Environment - Audio program with the PowerPoint slides in pdf format. Includes one MP3 audio file, one PowerPoint slide deckand one client-facing advertising example. All delivered in one zip file.

Learn how you can take your share of the market - a market with 14.4 million businesses in the United States! Learn the strongest attraction for cloud services, and see how you can create products and services designed specifically to address what your prospects are looking for.
Palachuk - Service Agreements Improve Managed Service MP3
List Price: $49.95 
Our Price: $19.95 
Savings: $30.00 
 
Service Agreements for SMB Consultants by Karl W. Palachuk

This great little book does a lot more than give you sample agreements. Karl starts out with a discussion of how you run your business and the kinds of clients you want to have.
Service Agreements for SMB Consultants by Karl W. Palachuk

This great little book does a lot more than give you sample agreements. Karl starts out with a discussion of how you run your business and the kinds of clients you want to have. The combination of these -- defining yourself and defining your clients -- is the basis for your service agreements.

Everyone knows it - spoken agreements aren't worth the paper they re written on. The SMB Consultant is facing changes we never imagined a few years ago. Managed services are everywhere. Franchised tech support is taking off. And now big corporations are trying to compete in the SMB Space. Whether you like it or not, you need to make some changes in order to meet the challenges of the next few years. Service agreements literally define your business. If you re not using them, you need to start today.
Palachuk - Spinoff Products Audio CD
Our Price: $19.95  
Palachuk Makowicz - Perfect Projects CD
List Price: $99.95 
Our Price: $79.95 
Savings: $20.00 
 
Perfect Profitable Projects - Audio program by Karl W. Palachuk and Matt Makowicz.

Two audio CDs -- one great seminar!  Includes all the PowerPoint slides, plus additional handouts.
Perfect Profitable Projects - Audio program by Karl W. Palachuk and Matt Makowicz.

Two audio CDs -- one great seminar! Includes all the PowerPoint slides, plus additional handouts.

"Thanks Karl! Awesome Seminar! I listened to it all last night and this will change the way I sale and implement projects. You are the man!"
- Alex Rodriguez
On Time Technology Solutions, Inc.
Palachuk Sobel - Virtualization Seminar
List Price: $99.95 
Our Price: $49.95 
Savings: $50.00 
 
Designing, Implementing and Making Money with Virtual Environments
Seminar on DVD with Dave Sobel and Karl W. Palachuk
Designing, Implementing and Making Money with Virtual Environments
Seminar on DVD with Dave Sobel and Karl W. Palachuk

If you want to get started with Virtualization, there's never been a better time. In this informative training course, learn from Karl W. Palachuk and Dave Sobel -- Two virtualization experts who run their own businesses with virtual environments and have sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of virtual solutions.

4-hour seminar on 2 DVDs. Audio-only seminar on 2 CDs.
SMB Online Conference 2012 Recorded Sessions
List Price: $199.00 
Our Price: $99.00 
Savings: $100.00 
 
SMB Online Conference 2012 - Audio training

18 hours of training - plus more!

Download Sample Audio: 
Karl Palachuk's Day 3 Keynote on Consistent and Lasting Success

A three-day teleseminar like you've never heard before!
SMB Online Conference 2012 - Audio training - 18 hours of training - plus more!

Download Sample Audio: Karl Palachuk's Day 3 Keynote on Consistent and Lasting Success

A three-day teleseminar like you've never heard before!






Thank you for checking out SMB Books - Remember, the sale ends at the end of October!

:-)