Former Silverback Master MSP Leaves Dell Behind for Level Platforms

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Managed services platform provider Silverback used to be the popular choice among managed service providers, including master MSP Do IT Smarter. But in the two-and-a-half years since Dell acquired Silverback, many MSPs, including Do IT Smarter, have moved to other platforms. Meanwhile, the ranks of MSPs offering the Dell-hosted MSP service that includes Silverback have contracted.

For Do IT Smarter, a master managed service provider that had standardized on Silverback as the MSP platform it offered to its partners, the last two years have been a long road.

That's because Dell, the computer maker that just a few years ago subscribed to the so-called direct-only "religion" and eschewed the channel, decided to acquire Silverback at the same time it opened its arms to the idea of a channel partner program in 2007.

But VARs that had viewed Dell as the enemy for so long were slow to embrace Dell and skeptical about Dell's purchase of Silverback, first announced in July 2007.

Two years ago, in January 2008, Silverback held its first users' conference in conjunction with Dell. Many Silverback partners wondered what the future would bring. Would they stay with the platform now that Dell owned it? Or would they undertake the enormous task of moving users to a different platform?

They didn't get any answers then, but today the answer is clear. Plenty of partners have moved away from Silverback. Especially now that Dell is selling the managed services direct to customers.

For Do IT Smarter—once Silverback's largest partner—it was an evolution. Initially the San Diego-based master MSP said it would take a wait-and-see attitude. But soon after the Dell deal was announced, Do IT Smarter found it more difficult to sell Silverback to MSPs. The master MSP soon moved on to also partner with MSP platform provider Level Platforms, offering that platform as an alternative to Silverback. Do IT Smarter soon began to lead its sales discussions with LPI.

Slowly, says Lane Smith, president of Do IT Smarter, its managed services provider customers began to move from Silverback to LPI on their own. Do IT Smarter would talk to them about the benefits of the LPI.

"We didn't press any partners to move for the first 18 months or so," says Smith. "In that time I would say 70 percent of partners moved over to Level Platforms on their own after seeing the feature set and pricing model.

"Then we had that 20 to 30 percent [to which] we've had to say, you can move to Level Platforms or move to Silverback Dell-hosted, but you can't stay with our Silverback," Lane says. "All but one customer moved onto Level Platforms."

Dell in 2009 announced its Dell-branded managed services platform based on Silverback, saying it would offer it directly to end customers but it would not compete with Dell-certified MSPs that used the Dell managed services platform. Dell's approach was a big turnoff for many MSPs. And some elected to stay away from the Dell program because it offered only a hosted approach.

Indeed, Dell's global channel chief, Greg Davis, told Channel Insider in late 2009 that the company's MSP numbers had remained stagnant, saying many MSPs were uncomfortable with Dell's hosted model. The program experienced a great deal of churn in its first year, as many former Silverback partners dropped out and some new partners joined.

Silverback had worked with 150 MSP partners in 2007, before the Dell acquisition. In November 2009, Dell said it had 131 certified managed services partners.

"Managed services has been fairly flat year on year," Davis told Channel Insider in November 2009. "We've shared our vision of where we are and where we are going with our U.S. Channel Council and we hope to start growing managed services in fiscal 2011."

Davis also told Channel Insider in November that Dell continues to integrate Silverback into the existing Dell managed services tools.

"There were several partners we lost who were certified because they didn't wanted a hosted tool," said Davis. "That's OK. We are moving down a path with the tool. I expect we will grow that partner base in the coming year."

Davis told Channel Insider that Dell would make that program a focus of calendar 2010, but declined to provide details, saying it was premature to discuss it and things were still under development.

At Do IT Smarter, a handful of partners that had been strong channel partners of Dell decided to stay with Dell's managed services platform instead of moving to LPI. Smith says the final partner will be moving over to Dell in February, and Do IT Smarter will be exclusively LPI.

"Then we will be completely finished with Dell Silverback," says Smith.
Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com