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The marriage of managed services and distribution is solidifying, as SilverBack Technologies completes a partnership agreement with distributor Bell Microproducts.

SilverBack, based in Billerica, Mass., is extending its managed services platform to VARs selling to midsize companies through the distributor. Bell Microproducts will use the SilverBack technology to anchor a program that taps the distributor’s own technical expertise to help set up VARs as MSPs (managed services providers), according to a written announcement the companies plan to distribute the week of Oct. 9.

The distributor will host the SilverBack platform for VARs, allowing them to take advantage of the technology’s remote monitoring and management capabilities without having to invest in a costly delivery infrastructure and support staff.

“We have developed a model that offers marketing, sales, support and back office transition [and] that enables VARs to quickly move into the MSP market,” said Gary Gammon, vice president of marketing at Bell Microproducts, based in San Jose, Calif. “Bell Microproducts’ managed services offering gives VARs the ability to build a highly profitable, recurring revenue-based managed service offering.”

News of the program comes on the heels of distributor Ingram Micro’s announcement the week of Oct. 2 that it is partnering with Ottawa-based Level Platforms, a SilverBack competitor, to help VARs and integrators adopt the MSP model.

Ingram Micro, based in Santa Ana, Calif., is reselling the Level Platforms technology for now, but plans to also start using it early in 2007 in a hosting program that will allow VARs to offer managed services without having to make the steep investments that the model typically requires.

Read more here about the deal between Ingram Micro and Level Platforms.

The Bell Microproducts and Ingram Micro moves, which follow a partnership launched in spring of 2005 between Access Distribution, of Westminster, Colo., and Klir Technologies, in Seattle, are solidifying the role of distribution in the fast-growing managed services market.

Under managed services, providers take over some or all of their customers’ IT functions, charging them utility-like fees for the service.

Distributors have a compelling ulterior motive for entering the managed services market: MSPs say that once customers get comfortable with a provider or remote service, they tend to turn to the provider for all their technology needs, from simple installations to application development to hardware purchases.

Ingram Micro’s arrangement with Level Platforms contains an exclusivity clause, meaning that other managed services platform vendors will not be able to do business with the distributor.

Justin Crotty, vice president of services for Ingram Micro North America, said the company is reviewing its status with another managed services platform vendor with which it has a partnership, N-able Technologies.

N-able CEO Gavin Garbutt said he was surprised at Ingram Micro’s choice of managed services vendor partners, saying Level Platforms’ low-cost approach does not offer the same value to VARs that N-able does.

The Ingram Micro-Level Platforms relationship, Garbutt told The Channel Insider, is contributing to a commoditization of the business that results from the packaged solution reselling approach. VARs that make an investment in transforming themselves into real MSPs, as opposed to simply reselling the services, will stand out and be more profitable, he said.

Level Platforms expects the partnership with Ingram Micro to more than triple its current customer base of 2,000 over the next year, said Dan Wensley, the vendor’s vice president of partner development.

Competition among managed services platform vendors has been intense, with each vendor taking a different approach to expand its market presence.

While Level Platforms has played for volume with a low-priced solution, SilverBack has opted for selectivity, guiding each new partner through a methodical process aimed at getting the partners to move as much of their customers’ business to the managed services model as they can. This strategy, SilverBack executives say, is more profitable for partners.

“Having our software backed by Bell Microproducts provides the channel with an optimum mix of technology combined with the service and reliability of one of the industry’s most trusted value-added distributors,” said Jim Hare, vice president of business development for SilverBack. “VARs now have a turnkey solution.”

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Bell Microproducts’ suite of managed services will include preventive maintenance, help desk support, network and security audits, compliance, and round-the-clock technical support.

Meanwhile, Ingram Micro has picked the first customer for its Level Platforms managed services. LAN Associates Network Solutions, in Central Islip, N.Y., was about to become a Level Platforms partner when its President and Chief Operating Officer Howard Cohen learned of the deal with the distributor. Being also an Ingram Micro customer, Cohen decided to partner with Level Platforms through the distributor.

Cohen said he reviewed several managed services platforms before picking Level Platforms for simplicity, robustness and affordability. “It’s a much lower-cost solution than all the other solutions I’ve seen out there,” he said.