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With technology juggernauts the likes of Cisco Systems and Dell migrating to their market, many MSPs are finding they must evolve their businesses to respond to the changing landscape.
While some MSPs see the large vendors' entrance into the market as an emerging threat, others view it as a buoy for a market that sorely lacks end-user awareness and demand.
"Voice-over-IP is definitely the biggest area of demand we see right now," said Rob Ross, president of ThinkSmart, an MSP in Gold River, Calif.
Another way they're going about differentiating their services is by providing highly customized reporting for their customers, and many MSPs say that solid reporting is essential for keeping customers happy.
"Every client wants a different take on the same information, and to get real meaningful reports you have to understand what they want and have face-to-face discussions," said managed services veteran Tim Hebert, CEO of Atrion Networking, Warwick, R.I. "Some people think good reporting is a checkbox you click and e-mail to a client, but the value of reporting is taking the time to review the information with the client."
This is also an area where solution providers have an advantage over their larger competitors, which may not have the local resources for face-to-face interactions.
MSPs are also taking a variety of other measures, including reducing their labor costs, offering a wider breadth of services, and increasing their availability by partnering with other MSPs, distributors and vendors.
"Once a medium-size management provider has reached those economies of scale, they can offer their services to smaller MSPs who have a more local footprint but who can't get to that scalability," said Gary Read, CEO of managed services platform provider Nimsoft, Redwood City, Calif.
One managed services vendor that capitalized early on this model is India-based Zenith Infotech, which offers low-cost hosted network monitoring and data-recovery services for MSPs.
"Ninety-five percent of the cost of managed services is manpower," said Akash Saraf, founder and CEO of Zenith Infotech.
Most industry watchers, however, say there's no question the managed services market will continue to consolidate in the coming year. "A company has to be wired with the right mentality to be an MSP. That wiring has to be a focus on delivering unique services, on being a service provider, which is different than being a reseller. Some resellers get convinced by someone to make an investment in a platform because it's easy or relatively cheap, but they never look at the people you need in place, the processes," Atrion Networking's Hebert said.
How We Got There, Who We Reviewed
Test Center engineers reviewed the top three MSP vendors on the market—Level Platforms, N-able Technologies and Kaseya. AdventNet was added into the mix as well, because it offers a comprehensive probe-based MSP solution at a highly competitive price. Test Center engineers either downloaded or accessed demo sites provided by each vendor to evaluate each solution.
Key features that were evaluated were automation features at the management servers, ease of deployment through automation, levels of remote management, integration with various business platforms, UI design, and overall capabilities of management server and reporting engine. Here's what we found.