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Raising the stakes in the IT services management (ITSM) space, vendors at the top and bottom or this market are on a collision course toward the middle that will most likely play out in the channel.

CA Technologies, for example, offers a freemium version of its CA Nimsoft Monitor. SolarWinds, meanwhile, is making the case for a SolarWinds IT Operations Suite that it says can now scale up to handle as many as 10,000 devices.

The opportunity all the ITSM vendors are trying to address is that, with the rise of virtualization, IT management has become more complex in small and midsize enterprises. Many organizations are looking for new ITSM frameworks to manage that complexity.

Intended to help partners promote the adoption of the company’s ITSM offerings in a midmarket space, CA Technologies expects that a free version of it sCA Nimsoft Monitoring Snap monitoring software will entice more midmarket customers to try the company’s ITSM offerings before having to purchase them. CA Nimsoft Monitoring Snap is limited to being able to monitor 30 devices before customers are asked to upgrade to the commercial version.

But while providers of ITSM frameworks for the enterprise are trying to head down-market, vendors usually associated with the small- and midsize-business (SMB) space are heading up-market.

Rather than investing in a lot of corporate overhead that then has to be reflected in the pricing of its offerings, SolarWinds has opted for a model in which partners and customers use a call center to order its software, said Denny LeCompte, senior vice president of product strategy for SolarWinds. At a time when IT organizations are looking to cut costs, that model makes it possible for SolarWinds to sell ITSM software that rivals any of the capabilities of major enterprise vendors at a fraction of the cost, LeCompte said.

“We typically get involved first with a department and then scale out,” LeCompte said. “It’s a land-and-expand strategy.”

Of course, one of the biggest challenges facing channel partners in the ITSM space is whether to sell software to manage IT operations or provide a service themselves. SolarWinds recently acquired N-able Technologies to hedge its bets on ITSM delivery models.

Which way a customer will jump will often come down to a personnel issue, said Jim Frey, an industry analyst with Enterprise Management Associates. “It’s really a human resource issue,” Frey said. “A lot of them don’t have the expertise needed to manage increased IT complexity.”

The good news is that all that complexity creates new opportunities for the channel. One key question is whether solution providers will address this opportunity by selling more software from whichever vendor they align with or implementing managed services, which shifts responsibility from managing the IT environment from the customer to them.

Michael Vizard has been covering IT issues in the enterprise for 25 years as an editor and columnist for publications such as InfoWorld, eWEEK, Baseline, CRN, ComputerWorld and Digital Review.