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Cisco Systems is testing a managed services program that will designate participating partners as Cisco-approved MSPs.

The company is running a pilot of the program with three major partners and is on track to formally launch the program in the fall, said Surinder Brar, senior director of channel programs and strategy for Cisco, based in San Jose, Calif.

The program will consist of services around technologies such as security and VOIP (voice over IP), and is one of two “Powered by Cisco” initiatives the vendor is preparing for the fall.

The second one is an outsourcing initiative, which is still in the planning stage, Brar told The Channel Insider during this week’s annual Cisco Partner Summit, taking place in Las Vegas. An outsourcing pilot program will likely begin within 60 days, he said.

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The managed services model, in which solution providers remotely take over some or all of the IT functions of their clients, has gained momentum in the last couple of years. Providers deliver the services to customers on a fixed-fee basis, as for a utility bill, an approach that proponents say improves providers’ cash flow and gives customers more reliable service.

The goal of an increasing number of MSPs is to take over the computing environments of their clients, in arrangements similar to an outsourcing arrangement, but Cisco is making a distinction between managed services and outsourcing.

Brar said Cisco is defining outsourcing as a complete takeover by the partner of a client’s environment, said Brar. Under this model, the partner effectively becomes the client’s IT department under contract.

The managed services moniker will apply to specific services that partners deliver remotely under a fixed-fee contract, he said. To qualify, he said, partners have to demonstrate the ability to remotely configure, monitor and manage technology, in addition to operating, or having access to, a NOC (network operations center).

Brar did not give specifics about the four services that Cisco is testing, saying only the vendor will add more as the program gets underway.

The services will have a “Powered by Cisco” stamp intended to serve as a brand endorsement of the partner’s services to the customer.

“We’re not branding the customer’s company, we’re branding their service offering,” Brar said.

Andrew Sage, senior director of worldwide channels marketing for Cisco, said the vendor is targeting the managed services program at some of its larger partners, and he expects partners will find they can apply it to customers, ranging from small businesses to enterprises. Cisco embarked on the managed services initiative, he added, in response to requests from partners that have been telling the vendor their customers want remote monitoring and management.

Stuart Raburn, president of Cisco partner TekLinks, in Birmingham, Ala., said he wasn’t familiar with the managed services initiative, but he welcomes it. “It’s almost not possible to do what we need to without managed services these days,” he said.

TekLinks already does managed services with Cisco products because, Raburn said, many of the products have built-in remote monitoring capabilities. SMBs (small and midsize businesses) like the managed approach because they would rather not handle IT internally, he said.

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Cisco’s managed services and outsourcing initiatives come as the vendor continues to emphasize value over volume, an approach that other vendors also are embracing. “Your value-add is not reflected in the product. It’s reflected in the services and applications around the product,” Brar said.

As the managed services model evolves, MSPs are looking to do more and more remotely, so that they can cut down on the staff and overhead expenses of having to repeatedly visit customer sites for maintenance, updates and repairs. As they transfer more of their activities to remote models, they are looking for tools that allow them to execute the model.

At managed services vendor Kaseya International’s partner conference earlier this week, MSPs said they welcome the vendor’s plans to add or enhance functions such as disaster recovery and security to its platform. Partners said they like the ability to manage multiple IT functions from the single console that Kaseya provides.

Cisco executives said they have not had conversations with managed services vendors such as Kaseya about integration, though they did not rule them out. Kaseya, meanwhile, is releasing its API to encourage third-party vendors to integrate with its platform.