Managed Services: Now It Works for Macs TooBy Pedro Pereira | Posted 2006-02-07 Email Print
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Apple VAR Xperteks is a pioneer in providing managed services for clients on the Mac OS, but more and more Mac VARs will offer managed services when N-able releases its Mac-compatible platform this spring.
Over the past year, Manhattan-based VAR Xperteks has moved 70 percent of its customers to a managed services model.
It was no easy feat, considering 90 percent of those customers are on the Macintosh platform and Apple-compatible managed services tools were unavailable a year ago, said Xperteks President Marcial Velez.
Velez knew that if his company had any real chance of growingwhich would require wriggling out from under the pressure of ever-tightening product marginsit would have to set its sights on more lucrative business.
As with countless other VARs and integrators, he set a covetous eye on the managed services model, which allows providers to execute IT functions for customers remotely and charge them utility-like monthly fees.
But Velez instantly hit a wall. There was the pesky little problem that none of the managed services platform vendors had bothered to make their products compatible with the Mac OS.
After all, Macintosh manufacturer Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino, Calif., holds only 5 percent of a market where the Microsoft's Windows operating systems is king.
But Velez was determined. He got on the phone with as many of the managed services platform providers as he could find, and started inquiring about possibly adding Mac compatibility to their offerings.
He found that interest in supporting Mac OS was minimal, that is until he got in touch with Billerica, Mass.-based SilverBack Technology Inc.
"SilverBack was the only partner I could find that would help us," Velez recalled.
So Velez got together with the development team at SilverBack to add agents to the company's platform that would perform the necessary remote monitoring and management functions.
It took the vendor a few weeks to develop the necessary code, and soon Xperteks was offering its XpertCare managed services. To date, Xperteks remains the only SilverBack partner to offer managed services on Mac OS, said Christine Washburn, the vendor's vice president of marketing.
"Xperteks now has a pretty significant advantage," she said.
Even though the Mac OS is a limited market, Washburn said SilverBack took on the challenge with Xperteks because of the developer's customer-centric approach. "When we pick up someone as a partner, we will devote a lot of resources," she said.
Besides, Washburn said, SilverBack technology can manage any device that has an IP address, and adding Mac functionality was a relatively simple process.
For Xperteks, having the ability to remotely manage devices running on the Mac OS has transformed the company from a product-centric VAR doing break/fix services to a full-fledged IT services company.
"We try to do as much stuff remotely as possible," Velez said.
Xperteks' client roster is almost exclusively small businesses with 10 to 100 employees, but it also includes the graphics department of a large company, Velez said.
Xperteks, a six-person shop in Midtown Manhattan, now has a competitive advantage against other Apple channel partners, he said, because of the scarcity of partners with a Mac OS managed services offering.
The addition of managed services has helped secure new business. Companies interested in remote IT management and monitoring would rather work with Xperteks than a provider without that capability.
More managed services for Mac OS on the way.
"One thing this has done for me is now I can approach much bigger clients," Velez said.
He believes Xperteks may have been the first provider to offer managed services for Mac OS, though now at least a couple more Apple partners are doing it, and the number is about to increase.
By early April, N-able Technology Inc., Ottawa, plans to release a new version of its N-Central managed services platform that will include an agent for monitoring and managing Mac systems.
Kevin Langdon, CEO of Crywolf Computers, an Apple VAR in San Diego, said he has been working with N-able for six months to develop the capability.
Langdon is executive director of the 150-member Apple Specialist Marketing Co-op, a group of Apple elite partners that band together to market themselves and share best practices.
The group has scheduled a conference for March 9 and 10 in Dallas, during which managed services will be a major topic of discussion, Langdon said.
With N-able getting ready to release its Mac-compatible platform, Langdon said he expects a lot of Apple Specialists will take advantage of the opportunity to offer managed services.
"We're behind the curve on this," he said.
Part of the reason Apple partners have not felt as much urgency to offer managed services as their Wintel counterparts, Langdon pointed out, is that the Mac OS has built-in monitoring capabilities. Mac technicians can take advantage of settings that notify them when a server is getting overloaded or a RAID system is having problems, he said.
Velez, meanwhile, is working to increase the number of Xperteks clients using managed services to 85 percent.
Clients that already are taking advantage of the offering, he said, are very happy.
Dolly Rosario is one of them. The office manager at IQ Design Group, a New York graphic design firm that specializes in packaging, Rosario called XpertCare a "godsend." Before managed services, whenever something went wrong with one of IQ Design's G5 machines or the server, people would turn to Rosario.
Since the 10-person firm has no IT staff, Rosario became de facto in-house IT caretaker, meaning it was her responsibility to contact Xperteks to fix systems problems. It was then necessary to schedule a visit by the technician, a time-consuming process that affected productivity.
Now with managed services, Rosario said each desktop has a direct link to the Xperteks help desk, giving the provider the ability to get into users' systems remotely to fix issues. In addition, the ongoing monitoring of systems prevents such problems as overburdening servers and letting memory get too low.
The increase in productivity has great appeal to customers, said Velez. But that's not all. Because managed services cuts down on customer site visits, Velez said he can offer customers a better deal. And that means customers pay less for more predictable service, which is the cornerstone of the managed services model.