VARs Get Feet Wet In Ingram's MSP Program

Six months after Ingram Micro announced its managed services partnership with LPI Level Platforms, the distributor has launched its hosted version, and VARs are beginning to get their feet wet.

Ingram Micro on Wednesday said it has teamed with data center provider SAVVIS to offer VARs a hosted version of LPI's remote monitoring and management platform, adding to the portfolio that the distributor is creating with its Ingram Micro Seismic Virtual Services Warehouse.

So far, Ingram Micro has about 100 partners using the Seismic Partner Support Portal knowledge base, and some partners have begun reselling the hosted solution. The Santa Ana, Calif.-based distributor, however, declined to specify how many partners have purchased the hosted platform and how many had bought LPI licenses and were hosting it at home-grown data centers.

Ingram Micro began offering the hosted version of the platform in January.

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"Our long-term strategy is [to build a] virtual services warehouse that VARs can come to and procure provisioned services for their customers that would be more costly and difficult to build and deliver on their own," said Justin Crotty, vice president of services for Ingram Micro North America. "A big part of getting into a new business, like Ingram Micro is getting into here, is making sure our customers feel very comfortable with our capabilities."

Ingram Micro will rent space from SAVVIS as needed, according to Crotty. "We don't have to build out a large chunk of real estate and then fill it. We thought that was most cost-effective," he said. "It's the same model that we're preaching to our VARs: Build it as they come, not before they come."

Ingram Micro plans to continue adding to its Seismic platform with offerings such as remote and online backup and CRM. And VARs have liked what they've seen so far, even though the transition to being an MSP takes time.

Craig Flint, owner of Computer ER, Missoula, Mont., began testing Ingram Micro's hosted managed services platform in January.

"It's one of the better decisions I made this year. It's stable. It's faster than anything that I could set up here for my own hosting. I don't have to come in on a Monday morning and have to reboot a server or anything like that. It just works," Flint said.

Computer ER is in contract for 17 customers with LPI through the end of 2007 but is buying all of its new licenses through Ingram Micro, he said.

While Flint expects his company to make a complete transition to being an MSP, it's not there yet. "I'm not putting all my eggs in the MSP basket. We use it on a daily basis multiple times a day, getting alerts and things like that. I still don't trust it as a total business model quite yet," he said.

Flint thinks VARs will like Ingram Micro's hosted offering. "If Ingram advertises it right and gets it out to the current LPI partners, I think it will fly well. I've even thought about going to the LPI message boards and saying if you're not hosting it with Ingram, you should definitely give it a shot," he said.

NEXT: More VARs mull Ingram's MSP offering

For Jack Gerbs, president of Quanexus, a Dayton, Ohio-based solution provider, Ingram Micro's hosted solution offers redundancy and peace of mind.

"If we are the monitoring company, the likelihood of our monitoring equipment on-site going down is just as likely as the equipment of our client's going down," he said. "For the last year, we've had our own NOC. I've been running this out of my office in Dayton, and I haven't had problems. I just don't want to have problems."

Gerbs said another perk is having Ingram Micro pay to patch and manage the servers. But the real plus, he noted, is the robustness and speed of the SAVVIS data center.

"Performance on the Seismic platform has been faster than the performance on our own platform. We didn't expect that. We thought performance would be the same, but it has been much faster," Gerbs said.

Michael Bowman, vice president of network services at Computer Service Partners, Raleigh, N.C., said his company hasn't made any decisions about using Ingram Micro's hosted services, but it also hasn't written off the prospect of signing on.

Computer Service Partners purchased LPI software months before Ingram Micro announced the managed services partnership last fall.

"We're currently still utilizing the LPI platform that we purchased, but we've been investigating more of what Ingram Micro has brought to the table. And going forward, we're probably going to use a mixture [of our hosted service and Ingram's]," Bowman said.

Ingram Micro's Crotty said the cost of creating an infrastructure can be an impediment for some VARs looking to get into managed services. Yet Erle Williams, CFO of Protocol Technologies, Vernon, British Columbia, said that wasn't the case for his company.

Protocol Technologies bought LPI licenses from Ingram Micro after hearing about the distributor's MSP deal at last fall's VentureTech Invitational conference in Palm Desert, Calif., but for now the solution provider has created its own data center.

"It's interesting to see because we are very much in the SMB market, and the investment for us wasn't that large. It was less than the software, even at the monstrously discounted rate than they had going on at the event," Williams said. "I don't now how it scales out and how many customers that it's going to be able to handle. It's still a work in progress; it's too early to say yet. Being that we were mostly break-fix, the transition hasn't fully happened yet."

Although not all VAR partners are ready to jump on the MSP bandwagon, Ingram Micro expects most of them to eventually offer managed services, according to Crotty.

"We don't' expect that every VAR in the universe is going to offer managed services. We think a majority will. A vast majority will. This will become the de facto standard where IT services are delivered," he said. "VARs that can meet that standard and can deliver services in that way will prosper and will be competitive. Customers will start demanding their IT services in that format. and VARs will have to respond to that."