Managed Services: More Than A One-Man Job

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Managed services players continue to make news, as Level Platforms and N-able Technologies unveiled platform upgrades and Dell said it aims to clarify its strategy after acquiring SilverBack Technologies.

According to Level Platforms, managed services is not a one-man job. The company designed the new version of its Managed Workplace platform with that in mind. Version 6.0 of the platform aims to make it easier for MSPs to work together with other MSPs, vendors and customers to share IT management chores. With the new platform, MSPs can now set up user-defined rules and permissions to enable remote partners, vendors or customers to control specific monitoring, configuration and remote control functions through a shared dashboard.

"We're very excited about the new user management interface. It gives partners and end users more granular control and it's more like a true role-management interface where you can create different roles and assign different users or groups permissions for different clients based on whether they just want to read information or clear their own alerts or respond to their own tickets," says Cameron Hartis, senior systems engineer at gTECHserv, an MSP in Charlotte, N.C. "We have some customers who want tighter control and some who want to give us all the control, and being able to cater to each of those requirements greatly benefits us."

The new features also will allow MSPs to collaborate with other MSPs to provide a broader set of services to customers. "If a solution provider wants to work with another partner, someone who is across town or the country, they can set them up so they get a shared view of the dashboard and all the alerts, reporting, and controls are defined by whoever is responsible for that account, so that other VARs, or even vendors, can collaborate together," says Peter Sandiford, CEO of Level Platforms, Ottawa. "IP telephony is a perfect case of where this would be helpful, as a lot of telephony VARs don't understand the data side and a lot of traditional VARs don't have telephony experience. Yet, customers want a complete solution."

Level Platforms will continue to focus on facilitating collaboration in future iterations, Sandiford says.

"This is the vision that we have for this market: a single VAR in a local community is not necessarily going to be able to handle all the IT requirements, but with collaborative features they can present a broad face or service those customers need," Sandiford says.

Version 6.0 also adds a new reporting engine based on Microsoft SQL Reporting Services, a significant improvement from the previous version's reporting tool, MSPs say.

"It's like night and day with the new reporting engine," says Andy Harper, CIO of Gaeltek, Manassas Park, Va. "I can now get clear and clean reports that I can take to my client and they'll understand what we're telling them." Along with the release of the new platform, LPI launched a new partner portal and a library where partners can access and share scripts and templates.

Meanwhile, Level Platform's Ottawa rival, N-able Technologies, recently unveiled an upgrade to its managed services platform. The release brings improvements such as reduced customer setup time for monitoring and management services.

And Dell shed more light on its managed services strategy, following its acquisition of MSP SilverBack Technologies.

"The overall goal of the SilverBack acquisition is to help accelerate Dell's participation in the managed services market—both direct and through the channel," says former SilverBack CEO Dan Phillips, now a director within Dell, in a memo to partners in mid-August.

Use of the word "direct" in the memo raised a few eyebrows among SilverBack's existing partners.

"The 'direct' word was mentioned along with continued channel programs, but it didn't say how direct. I've really been disappointed with the lack of communication so far," says one partner, who requested anonymity.

Phillips says Dell is now soliciting input on how it can best shape its managed services strategy to avoid conflict between direct and channel sales models. Part of that strategy, he says, will involve two distinct managed services offerings: a basic service offering Dell will sell direct and a more sophisticated offering sold through the channel.

"Dell has the ability to provide basic managed services to millions of end users worldwide and to educate them on the value of managed services they can deliver to businesses, but Dell also has the ability to define the value-added services the channel can provide that [will] layer on top of the basic Dell offerings," Phillips says.

Round Rock, Texas-based Dell, for now, is declining to provider further specific details around what will distinguish a basic service from a value-added managed service.

"We need to define a specific line between the basic core management service offering and then the added-value service that will be specific for the channel. Dell's strategy will educate the market and seed it with millions of end users with a clear delineation of what services Dell will deliver and what the channel will deliver," Phillips says.

Dell says it will provide more details on its strategy in the coming months.

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