RMM—meaning Remote Monitoring and Management—has been a challenge for networks and IT departments since the very first ethernet cable sent a bunch of 1s and 0s in 1973.
The challenge, of course, is that no administrator, either network or IT, can be everything everywhere all at once. Although if you’ve ever accidentally rebooted a device you weren’t supposed to, it certainly seems like they are.
Since IT resources are always limited by staffing, location, and the laws of physics, the need for remote ways to monitor and manage equipment became quickly apparent. In this article we’ll talk about various RMM tools, what you should look for in RMM software, and how RMM stacks up with other solutions.
What is RMM?
Remote monitoring and management (RMM) is a class of software used for centralized monitoring and management of IT assets, especially servers and endpoints.
RMM has two broad functions. The first is monitoring, which consists of knowing key metrics about the health of the device, like CPU and memory utilization, drive capacity, interface traffic, and may expand to other information like who’s using the device, where it’s located, what’s installed on it, and more. The second is management, which is the ability to perform remote functions—reboot, troubleshoot software issues, and apply patches and upgrades.
What is RMM software?
RMM software facilitates these two functions—monitoring and management—typically with the use of an agent. Some things are possible agentless (we’ll explore those a bit later) but for the most part, in order to get the full benefits from your RMM tools you need a local agent.
Looking at the shape of work today, it’s easy to see why RMM is necessary. Studies show that 98% of workers want to work remotely at least some of the time and 40% already do. When equipment issues inevitably happen for those remote employees, you want to minimize downtime and productivity loss by getting things fixed as fast as possible. That means the ability to connect to someone’s computer and troubleshoot live is critical.
If you’ve ever walked a relative through setting up a new piece of technology like a smartphone you know how painful remote troubleshooting can be. But even the most tech-savvy among us have a hard time going in blind. Being able to see exactly what is happening is invaluable.
Even more important than fixing a problem while it’s happening, though, is knowing when things are going south. If you can catch a failing hard drive before a server becomes inaccessible or know when a device needs more memory, it’s much easier to tackle that problem with minimum disruptions and downtime.
The history of RMM
Most of us are familiar with the “break-fix” model of support. When something isn’t working, aka broken, you call support and they fix it. This is fine for most consumer models. It would be weird if Apple called you to let you know your iPhone was running out of space. And do you really need all those pictures of your cat in his Halloween costume?
In the corporate world, however, knowing when a device was on the verge of disaster meant saving potentially millions in lost productivity. Thus around a thousand years ago (actually it was 1988, but that is ancient in internet time) Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) version 1 was born.
As SNMP was widely adopted, IT departments had the ability to get running metrics about health and performance from all devices and make troubleshooting proactive. NMS, or Network Monitoring Software, became a staple of every IT shop so they could move from a break-fix model to a more proactive approach.
It was a short leap from remote monitoring to remote administration. Being able to see a problem before it happens is great but being able to fix it before it becomes an outage is the dream. But how do you make sure only your trusted IT Staff are the ones getting access? Deploy an agent, of course!
Agents can take advantage of air-tight security measures like digital certificates so you’re not opening yourself up to a compromise. They can also be given access rights to install updates, patches, and whatever else you might need without having to be physically present at the computer.
And so, with the magic combination of monitoring and managing now done remotely…RMM was born.
How do RMMs work?
Generally, RMM software takes an autonomous agent-based approach to monitoring and management. For that to work, each monitored endpoint needs an RMM agent installed. That agent collects data from individual machines and sends them back to the central management portal. It can also act in the other directions as well—providing a mechanism for remote management features to access the device.
External vs internal use of RMM tools
RMM tools are used by both outsourced IT teams (MSPs) and internal IT teams.
For MSPs, RMM tools are mission critical. Since they operate externally to the organizations they support, MSPs need a way to connect remotely and do things like update operating systems, and install required software.
They also rely heavily on RMM tools to know what’s on each network. Since MSPs have many clients, who are all probably part of the same RMM tool setup, they are more likely to utilize RMM features like multiple customizable dashboards and focus more on a one-size-fits-most approach. MSPs might also use RMM features like reporting in their billing structure. A good RMM tool can really help distinguish the level of service an MSP can provide its customers.
On the other hand, internal IT teams may have multiple offices to manage, but only one overall organization. They’re more likely to have in-depth knowledge of the network and instead customize the RMM software via API calls or other methods to their specific organization’s needs.
Whether internal or external, RMM tools are invaluable to keep the network operating at peak performance.
Key features of RMM tools
The bread and butter of any RMM solution is…monitoring and managing. That’s probably not exactly shocking news, but let’s delve into that a little more.
You want monitoring in real-time, or as close as you can get. Depending on how you gather them, not every statistics updates in real-time (SNMP, for example, has several types of counters that update on set intervals of 2-5 minutes.)
Covering all the devices you need it to is important. If you havesSomething that focuses mainly on servers if you have networking devices to manage is only going to cause frustration and result in you having to switch between multiple tools. Ideally it will support both agent (for servers/endpoints) and agentless (for networking) protocols
Oftentimes IT ends up with several siloed tools (as many as 76 just for cybersecurity alone!) that form a patchwork, manual labor-intensive solution to a problem. To avoid this, look for an RMM solution that integrates with other solutions, maybe via an API or a published database schema.
No self-respecting RMM tool is complete without an alerting system—you want to be the first to know when something critical goes down. The more robust the alerting system the better. Perhaps you need certain alerts to only go off during certain times, or to notify different people if it’s not acknowledged within a given time frame. The last thing you want is to have the customers notifying you of a problem.
Reporting is another critical function of RMM. In addition to helping with capacity planning (as you watch key servers memory and CPU usage gradually creep upwards) good reports will help you manage inventory, capacity, and compliance of all systems.
Speaking of managing inventory, another key feature is scalability. You need a solution that will grow with the business, instead of having to go through the herculean task of replacing a system you’ve outgrown down the line.
RMMs are great, but they’re limited, particularly when it comes to mobile device support and network visibility. The fact that IT teams and MSPs also need MDMs and UEMs illustrates this (more on this in the sections below). RMMs are great for automation and scripting, but they’re mostly optimized for endpoints like servers and PCs, not mobile or IoT devices.
Similarly, RMMs tend to lack the granular network visibility needed to troubleshoot performance issues. Endpoint agents, when optimized for desktops and servers, typically don’t provide the insights IT needs to resolve network issues quickly. That’s where network management and network monitoring software comes in.
Network monitoring tools get into the thick of it. They help IT visualize data flows, identify bottlenecks, and capture real-time data related to their networks. And while RMM software does a good job of automating simple tasks for PC and server troubleshooting, support for the same functionality for network devices is limited. A network management system can enable IT to extend centralized management to their network gear.
RMM vs. other tools
RMMs are great, but with all the tools available it can be difficult to understand exactly what you need to manage your entire portfolio of network devices. Let’s take a look at some of the other tools available and see how they differ from RMM solutions
RMM vs. MDM
The average user has 2.5 devices they want to connect to the corporate network. Mobile Device Management software has been essential in managing them. While a good MDM solution may integrate with your RMM tools, there are some key differences.
MDM software is designed to give administrators some control specifically over the mobile devices on their network. Although it can cover other devices, the main focus is on tablets and smartphones, and thus MDM is limited in what it can do.
This is in contrast to RMM, which is typically designed to handle the broad spectrum of all network devices. This includes servers, routers, switches, and other infrastructure.
In practice, RMM and MDM solutions can complement one another quite well. RMM enables automation and scripting to proactively address endpoint issues, while an MDM simplifies mobile device administration.
RMM vs. UEM
UEM solutions go beyond basic MDM features to add support for more endpoints (like IoT devices), security management, and bring your own device (BYOD) support. UEMs tend to be more security focused with policy enforcement options, although that’s not a hard and fast rule. But a UEM is used more often to provision devices and applications, and integrate closely with security tools like an SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) solution. UEM also does not necessarily include a remote access option.
RMM covers the broad spectrum of all devices in an organization, with a focus on monitoring the health and performance of devices.
RMM vs. network monitoring
Network monitoring refers to essential tools used to oversee a network of more than just a handful of devices. Knowing what’s going on with every device across a broad corporate network is invaluable to making sure everything runs smoothly.
The key difference between network monitoring tools and RMM tools is the second M: management. Network monitoring software typically just reports on the devices, with no or limited ability to enact any changes on them. RMM focuses on being able to act on devices rather than just passively monitor.
How RMMs integrate with Auvik
When you consider Auvik’s remote management features, the software can be seen as a kind of “RMM for network infrastructure.”
Auvik is a great complement to traditional RMMs. There are integrations for RMMs like Continuum and ConnectWise (as well as dozens of other popular IT and MSP tools). Also, the hierarchical model makes managing multiple sites easy.
With Auvik, IT and MSPs can:
- Automatically discover and map their networks. One of the biggest challenges of distributed site management is simply knowing what devices are on the network. Often, IT simply doesn’t have visibility into all the devices on a network or how they are connected. Auvik automatically discovers devices and maps the network connections between them. This makes it much easier for administrators to get a holistic view of the state of their network.
- Drill down to troubleshoot network issues in just a few clicks. Auvik allows admins to quickly drill down from network maps to individual devices. You can even access individual network device terminals with just a few clicks.
- Securely manage multiple sites. Managing remote IT risks is a difficult balancing act. Auvik’s remote management features make it easy to manage multiple sites without compromising security. Case-in-point: the Auvik collector works without the need for you to open additional ports to access your network devices remotely.
- Gain granular insights into network data flows. Features like TrafficInsights make it possible for IT to gain deep visibility into ingress and egress data flows across a network. With the data provided by Auvik, IT can get to the root cause of issues faster, identify bandwidth hogs, and improve their network planning.
- Automate backups. Auvik automatically backs up network configurations, keeps snapshots of historical configurations, and makes it easier to roll back to a last known working config.
The future of RMM tools
The future of everything is AI, and RMM is no exception. Some key areas where AI will make the most difference are:
- Automation: AI automates tasks at a breathtaking rate, which means less manual labor for IT teams.
- Data analysis: From troubleshooting to capacity planning, AI can recognize patterns faster than any human. We’re going to see faster identification of problems and fewer surprise outages with AI integration into RMM.
- More Integrations: Tool sprawl is becoming a real issue. Customers are putting pressure on vendors not to operate in a silo. Solutions that play nicely with others will become a top priority. This will be especially true if AI can integrate across different tools to gather data.
As technology continues to advance, the role of RMM tools becomes increasingly crucial. They ensure seamless operations of all networks great and small. By harnessing the power of these tools, organizations can stay ahead of potential challenges. This will ultimately pave the way for a more resilient and responsive IT environment.