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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

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

That is why Sandiford is steering his company into a world
where client/server environments give way to cloud computing,
virtualization and technology as a service. As those technologies take
hold, the remote monitoring and management (RMM) platform used by MSPs
to keep tabs on their clients’ IT systems has to evolve with them.

For that purpose, Level Platforms last week added support for
virtual environments to its Managed Workplace RMM platform, and this
week the company did the same for Small Business Server 2008 and
Essentials Business Server, both of which Microsoft has just released.

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.

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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

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

“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.”