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In four years of writing about managed services, I have often pondered what fulfillment of the promise of this business model will look like.

Today managed services get a lot of good press. You could say the model has been elevated to messianic levels as a kind of savior for a channel that faces declining demand in products as a result of the ongoing recession.

But it wasn’t long ago that skepticism abounded. While today a solution provider might say he’s not ready to adopt the model, as little as two years ago the provider might have expressed serious doubts about whether the model itself had legs. The doubts over whether managed services can deliver on the promise of more reliable, better-performing IT at a better price would have been measurably greater.

Since then, perceptions have changed. The technology has improved and an increasing number of end customers are enjoying the pleasures of well-performing IT devices and applications at a predictable price.

And that brings us to my vision of the managed services promise fulfilled.

We’re not there yet, but great strides have been made. I believe we will be there only when users think about their IT environments the way they think about electricity: They flip the switch, and the lights go on. They don’t have to worry about whether the lights will be bright enough today or the current will be interrupted as more people turn on their overheads and desk lamps.

The appeal of managed services is its anticipatory nature. Sure, you can tell customers you will keep their systems in tip-top shape and respond within two hours should something fail, but you are not delivering on the promise if you can’t anticipate the problem and resolve it before it creates havoc.

And you are not quite delivering on the promise if you can’t deliver that kind of service in a holistic way. Sure, you are keeping tabs on the desktops and the servers, but what about the routers? Are business-critical applications being monitored? Are you sending patches and doing updates with the requisite regularity?

And what about converged environments? Say your client has replaced the PBX with a VoIP system; do you have the capability to monitor the voice system?

Granted, MSPs (managed services providers) cannot deliver all this by themselves. They need support from their vendor partners. And the vendors get that, which is why we see vendors constantly adding features to their managed services platforms. Kaseya, for instance, is adding support for the iPhone, devices running Microsoft’s mobile platforms and the Symbian open mobile operating system.

Level Platforms, meanwhile, is extending the managed services model to the home. The move is extremely significant because the number of people working out of their homes continues to increase, and that translates to a growing opportunity for MSPs.

Level Platforms said last week its Managed Workplace platform now works with Microsoft’s Windows Home Server, making it possible for MSPs to remotely monitor all devices in the home office, such as servers, PCs, routers and printers.

By adding features and extending the reach of their platforms, managed services vendors are positioning themselves closer and closer to delivering on the promise. The customer is going to expect the managed services approach for anything IT related, including iPhones and BlackBerrys, no matter if they are working at home, in the office or happen to be traveling.

As long as vendors strive to enable their MSP partners in meeting those expectations, the importance of managed services can only grow. And while two years ago, it may have seemed that delivering on the promise was very far off, you can actually see the top of the mountain today. And that’s good for the customers, the channel and IT in general.

On a personal note, this is my last column for Channel Insider. This organization has been good to me, and I hope it has been good to you, too. Thanks for reading. I’ll see you on Facebook and LinkedIn. Remember to keep your feet on the ground and head in the clouds, for without the dream, the journey may be pointless.

Pedro Pereira is a contributing editor for Channel Insider.