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Managed services has been one of the bright spots for solution providers in
the down economy, primarily because the model makes sense for cost-conscious
customers. By ceding control of their day-to-day IT operations to an outside
provider, customers purge costs from their business, operate with predictable
monthly pricing and gain back time formerly spent on mundane IT tasks to
reinvest in their core mission.

Those benefits add up to a compelling sales message for the channel. Just ask
David Powell, vice president of managed services at Teklinks, a Birmingham,
Ala.-based MSP and solution provider/integrator. Powell says that from mid-July
to the end of August Teklinks’ managed services business grew 10 percent, not
staggering, but an impressive accomplishment in this economy and in that short
span of time.

“Once customers get it, they get it,” Powell told Channel Insider recently.
“You get them away from capex and allow them to operationalize those expenses.”

Cloud computing is the biggest driver behind Teklinks’ managed services
growth today. In the past six months, the company has focused the MSP part of
the business on selling cloud infrastructure services, including virtual
servers and online backup services. Looking ahead, he sees a major opportunity
to move customers to the cloud when Microsoft launches Exchange Server 2010,
which, he says, is significantly different enough from current Exchange
versions that many customers will want to host it with a third party for its
management and administration.

“Managed services 1.0 was about removing the administration responsibilities
from people’s own network,” he said. “Now we are taking that network and
sucking it to the cloud, delivering back services to the customer, and
unburdening them from support and backups. It’s moving a private cloud to a
public cloud.”

At the end of the day, the approach to customers is all about making a
business case and no longer discussing speeds and feeds or, frankly, vendor
brands. While Teklinks’ data center is stocked with infrastructure from top-tier
vendors such as Cisco and Microsoft, Powell says the sales conversation isn’t
centered on promoting those brands. Instead, it’s about presenting Teklinks’
competencies, he said.

“On our side of the house, we direct the customers and tell them what they
should be doing and what they should pay,” he said. “We direct them.”

That’s the inherent nature of the trusted
adviser role. Managed services, and in particular cloud computing, calls upon
the channel to become more of an adviser in a business sense than ever before.
At Teklinks, that model’s sparked growth.