Managed Services: Inhibitor or Enabler?By Pedro Pereira | Print
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The managed services platforms must support all technologies, including virtualization and Microsoft servers, or it just gets in the way, says one CEO.As technology evolves, the managed services platform either stands in the way or serves as an enabler.
"I think that is going to be the big question, and I don’t think people have thought about it very much," says Level Platforms CEO Peter Sandiford.
To Sandiford, the answer is clear: The platform must be an enabler for managed services providers (MSPs) to use to monitor and manage every piece of equipment and application in their clients’ IT environments.
Sandiford says it’s critical to keep up with new releases if the platform is to be an enabler. If the platform doesn’t support SBS, for instance, the solution providers that rely on it to monitor and manage their clients’ IT environments have no incentive to sell SBS.
At that point, he says, the platform becomes a hindrance, rather than the enabler it should be. "It actually becomes an inhibitor to the growth of your business," he says.
In his vision of the future of IT services, Sandiford sees the managed services platform at the center of developments, empowering MSPs to influence market direction. If the platform is compatible with all the software and equipment that make up the IT environment, such as networking equipment, PCs and business applications, the vendors that make these products have to factor the role of managed services into their development and marketing plans.
For their part, solution providers also have to look at the big picture, Sandiford says.
"If the solution provider thinks the computing environment consists of PCs and servers alone, then, yes, he’s going to be put out of business," he says. "They have to change their mindset and look at everything, not just PCs and servers."
To support Small Business Server 2008, Level Platforms released a solution kit with policy modules that MSPs can download from the vendor’s partner portal to start monitoring and managing the server. The kit also includes modules for the Essentials Business Server, an all-in-one operating system management, messaging and security solution marketed to midsize companies.
Level Platforms rival N-able Technologies announced this week that its new platform release, N-central 6.7, also supports the Microsoft small business and midmarket server products.
N-able CEO Gavin Garbutt says the added support for Microsoft technology allows N-able partners to broaden the scope of their offerings while helping to accelerate the adoption of managed services.
"It's great to have N-able do the heavy lifting and integrate these technologies," says Mike Ralston, a Bristol, U.K.-based N-able MSP partner, adding the integration "enables us to enhance our service capabilities and more proactively address the needs of our clients." As for virtualization, Level Platforms says Managed Workplace now supports a range of virtualized technologies, including servers, LANs, storage and desktops. All major virtualization products, including Microsoft HyperV and Virtual Server, VMware, Citrix XenServer, Citrix MetaFrame Presentation Server and Windows Terminal Server, are supported.
Integration with virtual environments gives Level Platforms partners a way to distinguish themselves from the MSP crowd, say company executives. But soon it will mean more than that, says Sandiford.
"If you can’t manage the virtualization layer, you’re not in business," he says.
That’s because more and more companies are replacing physical equipment with virtual technology. And while virtualization is more common at larger companies, Sandiford says he sees a role for it also in the small business world.
"I don’t think virtualization is big in the SMB market, but it’s only a matter of time," he says. "You may decide to have virtual PCs running off a server."
As with the Microsoft servers, Sandiford says Level Platforms’ support for virtual environments is accomplished through a policy module partners can download from the vendor’s site. Because Level Platforms’ technology is agentless, he says, creating modules for new technologies only take a few hours, and that allows Managed Workplace to stay current.
Though managed services for virtual environments are in their infancy, some MSPs already are providing the service. They include Calgary-based Long View Systems, which uses the N-able platform to manage VMware virtual environments.
Besides VMware, N-able also has partners that have deployed its platform to monitor Hyper-v and Xen systems, says Rob Bissett, director, Product Management, N-able Technologies.
N-able, he says, uses a combination of agentless and agent technology for virtual environments. "In a hyper-mobile world, agentless technology can’t compete on its own," Bissett says. "If you move the device, the monitoring fails. With a combination of agent and agentless technology you can strike a balance between mobility and the external view."