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remote hands

What is remote hands?

Remote hands is the general name for a service colocation providers offer that enables customers to delegate IT management and maintenance tasks in a colocation facility to technicians hired by the provider.

Although the concept of remote hands is most frequently associated with traditional colocation services, remote services increasingly apply to cloud and a wide range of third-party IT support providers. The key factor here is remote, as remote hands could be considered any IT service, troubleshooting or technical support provided to an end user or enterprise IT system that originates from an authorized off-site location.

How remote hands works

Remote hands refers to an assortment of services in which colocation data center employees or other remote experts and providers perform various on-site services on behalf of their customers. The data center services offered as a part of a remote hands service can vary, but remote hands providers generally perform tasks that don't require the experts' physical presence in the customers' on-premises data center, nor direct contact with the customers' physical IT equipment. This typically includes the following tasks:

  • Providing routine monitoring of systems, networks and applications.
  • Performing configuration activities on servers and network equipment.
  • Rebooting and power-cycling systems.
  • Producing reports such as system health and performance on established metrics and key performance indicators.
  • Restarting applications.
  • Providing general help desk services.

But the concept of remote hands has been extended to also include on-site services. In these cases, technicians from the provider can be present in the customer's data center to provide direct physical services, such as the following:

  • Hardware installation, troubleshooting and replacement.
  • Software installation, troubleshooting and configuration.
  • Network installation, troubleshooting and cabling.
  • System and other physical inventory management.
  • Handling, labeling, shipping and receiving requests.
  • Physical equipment and software audits.

Today, these hands-on services are generally categorized separately as smart hands. However, some colocation providers continue to bundle remote and hands-on services under the remote hands moniker. The reason that such direct services can be classified as remote hands stems from its colocation origins, where the colocation provider's IT staff were present in the colocation data center. It was simple for a provider's technician to enter a customer's equipment space with permission and perform physical activities within the colocation data center on the customer's behalf.

As the remote hands support model has matured, it has also evolved from a convenience to a necessity. Today's data centers place an enormous emphasis on security of the physical infrastructure, as well as data residing within the data center. Modern IT monitoring and support now mandate the use of remote hands to help ensure that humans are kept away from the infrastructure unless a serious technical issue requires direct physical intervention.

For example, remote hands can now effectively detect a failed container or virtual machine (VM) workload and remotely restart a failed container or reload a VM to restore an application without ever entering a physical data center room. Conversely, a failed server, a defective power supply or even a planned upgrade requires scheduled replacement.

The importance of remote hands

If an organization chooses to lease data center space from a colocation provider, it's important to make sure the provider offers a remote hands service. Having access to remote hands enables the colocation customer to focus on internal tasks with its own organization and prevents it from having to send its technical staff to a colocation facility. This is especially important if the colocation facility is far away from the organization's geographic location. It wouldn't be sensible to make someone from IT drive to a remote data center location in the middle of the night for something simple, such as cycling a server's power.

Another reason why it's so important to have access to remote hands is because support issues have a way of occurring in the middle of the night, on weekends or on holidays. Often, a remote hands service is available around the clock and year-round. They can provide data center support even when nobody from the organization's IT department is available.

The principal issue with remote hands is the provider's accessibility and response time. Accessibility might include phone support and messaging options. Ideally, a provider can offer immediate -- less than 15-minute -- responses to many common issues, such as power cycling. Other requests, such as system reconfigurations or data recoveries, require more time. The provider typically outlines response times by task category and support response time commitments in a service-level agreement (SLA). It's incumbent on the customer to understand the SLA and ensure that the provider's commitments are adequate to support its business needs. After all, if it takes a provider three days to restart an application, the business could suffer.

What is the difference between smart hands and remote hands?

Some colocation providers offer most or all the previously mentioned data center support services as a part of their remote hands service. Other providers, however, differentiate between remote hands and smart hands.

For these providers, remote hands services provide a minimal level of IT support. These types of remote hands programs might include responsibilities such as cycling a server's power, checking the status of an application or system, or perhaps performing light, hands-on tasks, such as unplugging a piece of equipment and plugging it back in.

Conversely, smart hands goes well beyond the basics. A smart hands support program might cover things such as receiving hardware shipments or performing hardware deployment. Similarly, a smart hands technician might perform hardware repairs, such as replacing failed hard drives or power supply units.

When a colocation data center provider offers both remote hands and smart hands, the two services are billed at different rates. Some providers even offer complimentary remote hands services but bill customers by the hour for using smart hands services.

Chart comparing remote hands vs. smart hands
Smart hands is similar to remote hands but, in many cases, offers organizations additional services.

What are the benefits of smart hands?

Smart hands services offer all the benefits of remote hands, including the time-savings and cost-cutting convenience of having knowledgeable remote personnel available around the clock to help with IT tasks.

But smart hands services build on these benefits to bring an expanded level of expertise to client businesses. Smart hands can help a customer minimize its on-site IT staff and reduce the need for on-call and overtime hours. Smart hands can aid with many emergencies, tackle low-priority tasks or undertake routine projects, such as regular equipment refreshes. This can free the customers' IT teams to focus on developing new services and resources to make their company more competitive -- rather than just keeping IT running.

Remote hands vendors and products

Most large colocation and managed service providers offer remote hands services. Examples of vendors that make remote hands available to their customers are 365 Data Centers, Cologix, CoreSite, Digital Realty, Equinix, Leaseweb, Park Place Technologies and TierPoint. This is certainly not an exhaustive list of providers with remote hands offerings, but customers can look to almost any major IT service provider for remote hands offerings.

Pricing for remote hands service varies by colocation provider. Some colocation companies bill in 30-minute increments, some allow customers to pay for a certain amount of remote hands hours per year or month, and others include the fee of the remote hands service in a monthly colocation bill. Remote hands are also called smart hands by some colocation providers, though others classify the two as different service levels.

Remote hands options are typically bundled into packages that offer a varied menu of support services intended to suit a range of customer needs. Packages typically detail the availability of telephone support, response times, self-service resources, support time usually in monthly minutes, hourly rates and monthly fees. Many vendors offer free phone support 24/7 and various levels of response time, often ranging from 30 minutes to several hours. Vendors also often include a set number of support minutes that often don't roll over to the next month if they aren't used.

The monthly fee, hourly service rate -- which often isn't included in the monthly fee -- and response times can vary greatly. Customers should note these factors carefully when selecting remote hands services from a provider.

How does colocation differ from the cloud? Learn the distinction between these two terms, as well as the benefits of each.

This was last updated in October 2023

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