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One of the biggest changes, Powell said, is that customers have started to understand managed services as an "and" and not just an "either/or," in that they don't have to outsource their entire IT infrastructure and can instead look to a combination of on-premise and off-premise solutions.
"They now see what pieces of their IT are commodities and which we can take out and manage for them," he said. "They're being a lot smarter now about how they spend and doing a better job of understanding. That's because they have to."
For managed services sales, TekLinks pitches the "what" not the "how," meaning that it's not the hosting and managing the customer understands first, Powell said.
"A lot of sales guys in the channel are accustomed to selling on speeds and feeds. You can't do that anymore, not after last year and not with what's out there," he said. "When the customer begins to probe the 'hows,' then we get into it."
Along with cloud and the growth of managed services, business intelligence and analytics continue to come up, say VARs.
Customers are spending very cautiously and want to know more about their IT than before, especially at a management level, said Ram Kangyampeta, business manager, solutions, at Marlabs, a South Piscataway, N.J.-based solution provider.
"They are weighing options." he said. "Cash is still king and still a problem for many. But spending has picked up. They want analytics and dashboards and want to make informed decisions."
With IT infrastructure so pressured to keep up with the explosion of data, it's the CIO of a company that "not only has the ability to [transform infrastructure] but the imperative to do it," said Marcia Trant, vice president of IBM's business partners, solutions and integrator sales.
According to IBM, cloud computing will represent $60 billion in opportunity by 2012, with about half of that in the midmarket.
"The cloud isn't all buzz. This is a space that's evolving very quickly," Trant said, describing the shift toward cloud as both an offensive and a defensive move for many companies, in that they're both evolving their IT and keeping up with their competitors doing the same thing.
Look for greater levels of partnership -- everything from co-opetition among VARs to active, strategic partnership between VARs and systems integrators or ISVs -- as the industry continues to consolidate, and the realities of cloud gradually filter out from the myths.
"The ecosystem is very important. Everyone in this industry is going through this change together," Trant noted.
"We're focused on midmarket and we have some of the biggest firms on that list [VAR 500] asking us to partner," said Axispoint's DiSano. "Historically we've grown organically. But partnership is getting big, and there are so few folks who do it really well right now."
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