MSPs To Dell: Prove It4:07 PM EST Mon. Jan. 28, 2008
Last week, Dell Inc. told SilverBack Technologies Inc. MSPs that it plans to sell managed services directly to end users as well as partners in a program that will eventually require deal registration. But exactly how the program will be structured—and priced—is still up in the air and executives who attended Dell's partner conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., for about 175 SilverBack MSPs voiced frustration.
"They will be going direct. I think we all know that would be the case," said one attendee, who asked not to use his name.
SilverBack MSPs shared many concerns with Dell, Round Rock, Texas, over the two-and-a-half-day conference and Dell addressed them as best it could, said attendees. In many cases, however, there were more assurances than answers. One of the biggest concerns shared by partners—and still to be addressed by Dell—surrounds the rules of engagement for end users who are current customers of an MSP.
Because the deal-registration program is for specific opportunities and does not cover the customer as a whole, customers could end up buying managed services from both MSPs and Dell, a situation MSPs would like to avoid.
Dell was very specific in noting that the managed services registration is for a specific deal, not the client as a whole, said Paul Cronin, senior vice president at Atrion Networking, a Warwick, R.I.-based solution provider and MSP. "That's a concern. Most times, you can get more protection from a vendor, especially when you're embedded that much with a customer. It's definitely a point of concern, but it's nothing that's been nailed down."
MSPs were told that Dell sales agents will be compensated equally for selling managed services direct or through a partner. "I want to be able to register a deal, but also I want to protect my current customers. I want to be able to register them so that [Dell] does not offer them the checked box for managed services when they call Dell to buy a PC or server," said the MSP who asked not to be named.
Despite concerns, the MSP said he left the conference feeling better about the Dell/SilverBack merger than when he arrived. "I feel like Dell is trying real hard to create this partner channel program. They're trying hard to get where we would like to see them get," he said.
Brian Sherman, director of business development at Autotask Corp., East Greenbush, N. Y., a software partner of SilverBack, was also at the conference and felt Dell gave the right assurances to MSPs on hand. "They said their preferred route to market would be to work with the partners because they're the experts and can get to end users," he said.
Dell channel chief Greg Davis held a long Q&A with partners, Sherman said. "He talked about changing the organization on the fly. It showed he was interested. It will take awhile to build trust, but the guys I talked to were encouraged," Sherman said.
It's been nearly six months since Dell acquired Billerica, Mass.-based SilverBack and this week's conference marked the first real communication to SilverBack partners since the merger. SilverBack used to be a very open company with its partners, said Stephen Wright, president of Houston-based MSP and SilverBack partner Wright Business Technologies. "Since the buyout, I'm not saying they're not accessible. We can still call the same people and they say, 'Yeah, everything's normal.' But Dell just doesn't seem like that kind of company to acquire somebody and then not make any changes."
Wright said he may look at investing in another managed services platform vendor if Dell is not more forthcoming on SilverBack's future. "We're certainly looking to hear what happens. I'm not saying we will switch. ... I just feel like I don't have a clue. I can't base my business on somebody who's not talking."
For another MSP, the wait has already been too long. Xperteks Computer Consultancy dropped SilverBack's platform in favor of Ottawa-based N-able Technologies about three months ago because of the lack of communication, said Marcial Velez, president of the New York-based company.
"I went to the [CMP] XChange event in Orlando [last year]. I spoke to [former SilverBack CEO] Dan Phillips. He didn't even seem to know what was going on. Partners heard about [the sale to Dell] the same time as everybody else," Velez said.
Phillips, global director of channel services for Dell and SilverBack's former CEO, acknowledged that it's been hard not to share more information with partners, and said he apologized for the lack of communication to partners at his conference keynote.
"This has been a very difficult five and a half months for the former SilverBack team. We haven't been able to communicate and share and respond in the way that we used to. But it was for a very, very good reason," Phillips said. "If you're a $60 billion company and have 80,000 employees and managed services and the channel are long-term strategic plays for you, by announcing everything before its time or before it's fully understood puts you at risk of losing billions of dollars. It's a very unfortunate situation, but a very necessary situation to be in."
Talking to 175 people at a partner conference this week was "a cleansing" for SilverBack, Phillips said. "Our strongest feedback was to have another partner conference, soon. But I think they left believing that we are very serious about building a world-class managed services platform and being the de facto standard for managed services, and bringing the channel along with us."
Phillips said it's too early to discuss pricing for managed services to customers. "We have not defined a direct offering, period. So it's premature to announce pricing and how it is going to fit. It is fair to say that managed services through the channel is strategic to Dell. And as we put this program together, we have no desire to put pricing in place that inhibits that strategy," he said.
Despite frustrations, many attendees said they were satisfied with the output from the conference. "The one thing we heard from Greg Davis, one powerful sentence was, 'You are our customers.' That to me was very important," Cronin said. "Going into this, we were all questioning Dell's ability to create a channel right the first time. For him to look at us, truly as customers and mean it, that's the right mind-set for Dell to begin building this channel."