Per user or per device – The eternal MSP question

Ben Taylor

Deciding between “per user” or “per device” pricing models has been a dilemma for IT service providers for many years. This article sets out to consider the debate against the backdrop of the current IT world, which, it’s fair to say, is rather different to the one that MSPs operated in just a few years ago.

Per User or Per Device Today

As an example, let’s consider a typical SME network back in 2005. Most companies operated traditional client / server environments and the workforce was arguably less mobile than it is now. Most staff would work from desktop PCs and the average SME business would only own a handful of laptops, used by senior staff and travelling workers.

In 2005, BlackBerry devices had monochrome screens, and, in many firms, were only just beginning to be adopted by the CEOs and Managing Directors. The very first iPhone was still two years away.

BYODZooming back to the present day, the IT world looks very different. Now, almost everyone has a fully featured smartphone and often an iPad or alternative tablet device as well. Many SMEs now have some or all of their infrastructures hosted in the cloud. Home and mobile working is far more common – encouraged by the fact that cloud services now make working from anywhere far more straightforward.

The Per User or Per Device Dilemma

So where does this leave the MSP, trying to decide between charging on a “per user” or “per device” basis? Consider the following points:

1. It’s fair to say that the typical user probably has more devices at their disposal now than they had in the past. In addition, some of these devices may be personally owned and used in line with a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy.

2. At the same time, however, a typical client may well have fewer on-premise servers and PCs than in the past.

3. While the number of mobile devices has undoubtedly exploded exponentially in recent years, they are arguably far easier to support. Cloud services have made issues like effective email synchronization routine tasks rather than the challenges they once were.


On a simplistic level, it’s easy for an MSP to take the attitude that it’s only fair to charge per device when there are now far more devices to support. However, many clients will object to this. Devices such as iPhones and iPads are inherently easy to use, and in many cases users will be more than capable of synchronizing their data without help. In these cases, MSPs will find it hard to justify a monthly charge for supporting each mobile device.

Mobile Device Management (MDM)

This doesn’t mean that the MSP needs to do more for less. As stated above, other aspects of the job have, in many cases, been eroded by the reduction in on-premise servers. This can balance out the “per user” model in terms of effort vs. return. Ultimately, the MSP needs to continue to justify its existence (and fees), so if a firm has, for example, moved to Office 365, the client needs to understand that the time that was previously spent on server troubleshooting is now spent on different tasks, such as mobile device management and system monitoring.

This is why GFI MAX RemoteManagement will soon be bringing you an MDM (Mobile Device Management) solution directly integrated into the dashboard, enabling you to easily make the transition to offering a MDM service. Additionally all GFI MAX customer get access to the full Building Blocks material which can help you in determining your MDM offering, why not get a free trial to find out how!

One thing that hasn’t changed over the years is that every client is different. MSPs must be flexible in their service offerings so that they can fit around customer requirements. While each may decide on a “per device” or “per user” model as a preference, perhaps the wisest strategy of all is a willingness to offer both.

What are your thoughts on choosing between a per user or per device pricing model? Share your opinions with a comment below!