Microsoft Paves Way For Partners In Remote Management Services

In effect, a solution provider would remotely manage a customer's servers and PCs, plan and execute Windows updates, and deploy antivirus and antispam solutions. If the right model can be designed—and that's a big if—Microsoft could improve satisfaction among customers frustrated with deploying updates and patches and help profit-strapped partners build recurring revenue streams, solution providers say.

The key is providing a service that is inexpensive enough for small businesses but offers enough margin to motivate partners to make the investments necessary to become service providers.

Bedrock Managed Services and Consulting, Neenah, Wis., already has devised a plan for midmarket customers that capitalizes on the expertise of its own partner network, said CEO Mark Bakken. Bedrock takes on patching, compliance reporting, monitoring and spam filtering, which enables an internal IT staff to focus technical resources on more value-added jobs.

"Maybe we charge $5 a month for that and pass that on to the partner. This lets integrators leverage their fixed assets, but to the customer it all looks like one company in that there's still one throat to choke," Bakken said.

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Bedrock's Bronze plan costs $500 per server, per month. A typical scenario might include remote monitoring of Exchange Server, Citrix Systems applications and SharePoint, and maybe a Microsoft Business Solutions accounting server. For that fee, Bedrock guarantees backups, antivirus updates and event-log checks.

An initial on-site visit is usually required for a needs assessment, billed at an hourly rate. If there are 10 look-alike servers vs. a hodgepodge, discounts can apply. Bedrock offers service options for $750 and $1,000 that include "x" hours per server, per month for work above and beyond patches and updates.

Andy Vabulas, CEO of Ibis, an Atlanta solution provider, is sold on the model. "We could go out at an hourly rate to see what needs doing, set them up and then move them to a managed service model, do remote server and computer monitoring and service," he said.

"This is a huge opportunity for partners," said Allison Watson, vice president, Worldwide Partner Sales and Marketing Group, at Microsoft, Redmond, Wash. "We have partners moving there already because the technology exists within the small-business stack and within the broader stack to serve the midmarket. Partners getting there early will drive up their profitability and their sat with customers."