VARs and MSPs assume a number of responsibilities when they take on a new client, or sign a long-term contract with a current customer. In addition to providing disaster recovery and other IT services, this relationship offers the opportunity to become the go-to consultant for a number of issues that their customers experience, including those that appear unrelated to IT systems.
While consultants or service providers in other industries may consider questions outside their “sphere of influence” as nuisances, most IT professionals understand that those queries present a real business opportunity. When clients are willing to seek their VARs’ advice on a business-related subject not directly associated with their computer or network systems, it should be considered a sign of respect and an opening for forging a closer relationship.
Of course, any non-IT discussion that falls outside the scope of a provider’s expertise (or contract) should be conducted with caution. Unless VARs are well qualified to provide their clients with professional advice, they have a duty to disclose how limited their experience or knowledge is pertaining to that specific topic. The delineating point for solution providers can be murky; deciding if they have the qualifications to properly advise their customers on an issue or if a referral is in order.
Fire Suppression Systems
Fire suppression support is a perfect example of this type of complementary service, especially when your client asks for your help to protect the significant investment they’ve made in their IT infrastructure. For example, a data center typically contains a variety of equipment that can be easily damaged by fire, smoke or water. Sensitive electronic devices and storage media, including those in and outside the server room, can be significantly compromised just from being exposed for a short time to high temperatures.
In order to fully protect the delicate systems from each of these elements, your clients may need someone to identify potential issues, and help design and implement a fire suppression plan. Few solution providers have the ability to handle the complexity of these disaster prevention systems or the desire to take on that type of liability. But every VAR or MSP should have a basic understanding of the fire protection needs for the businesses they work with and take time to develop referral relationships with the experts who can properly support their clients.
Every community has its own fire protection rules and regulations, such as the number of water-based sprinklers in each room and signage for fire exits. While the local fire department enforces those rules to protect employees and visitors, that doesn’t mean the customer has an adequate plan or system to safeguard their computer systems and valuable data.
Some Starting Points
In addition to their offsite backup and data storage solutions, what other fire protection measures should your clients have in place?
- Dry-gas sprinkler heads in the server rooms: These clean-agent fire suppression systems will either dilute the oxygen or chemically cool the flames while reducing the amount of smoke and soot damage (extinguishes flames faster than traditional water suppression systems).
- Fire alarm system for the data center: Does the smoke detector test air quality (particles) for true fire indicators to minimize damaging false alarms?
- Remote monitoring capabilities: Can the system alert solution providers when temperatures in the data center rise? This allows remediation measures to be implemented and critical data systems to be shut down properly (when necessary), helping to prevent catastrophic damage.
- Water detection sensors: Should be installed in the data room floor to guard against leaks in the pipes (backup for gas systems).
Review your clients’ work sites and see if they have these basic systems in place. If not, and your company doesn’t specialize in fire suppression services, suggest they bring in an expert you trust to ensure their people and systems are adequately protected. While defending clients’ data is an extremely important task, ensuring the safety of their employees and visitors (as well as emergency personnel) is a much greater responsibility. By showing your clients that you care about the things that matter most to them (i.e. their employees and their data), you’ll go a long ways in strengthening their confidence in you as their trusted business advisor.
Where to Learn More
You can read a case study of how having the right backup and recovery solution in place enabled one MSP to give his client the help necessary when faced with their own worst-case scenario.
Nathan Bradbury is a senior solution engineer at Intronis, a cloud-based backup and disaster recovery provider that works closely with VARs and MSPs. Monthly guest blogs such as this one are part of The VAR Guy's annual platinum sponsorship.