Ingram Micro is looking to shake things up through a new partnership the distributor signed with vendor Level Platforms to deliver managed services to small and midsize businesses.

The distributor, based in Santa Ana, Calif., is using the partnership to launch the Ingram Micro Seismic Platform and Virtual Services Warehouse, a program through which the company will be hosting and delivering a set of managed services.

Through managed services, solution providers take over some or all of their clients’ IT functions and charge them utility-like fees for the service.

“We’re bringing significant change to the market,” said Justin Crotty, vice president of services for Ingram Micro North America. “This is a signification investment to help VARs be successful in selling managed services.”

The relationship with Ottawa-based Level Platforms, Crotty said, will cut down on the fragmentation and complexity that now exist in the managed services space.

Ingram Micro offers Web portal for VARs. Click here to read more.

Ingram’s Seismic initiative gives VARs and integrators wanting to set themselves up as MSPs (managed services providers) two distinct choices. One is to buy the Level Platforms technology from Ingram Micro under a typical software licensing agreement, which VARs and integrators can do starting now.

The second option involves hosting. Ingram Micro is negotiating with an undisclosed company to extend the Level Platforms technology to those VARs that have no desire, capability or financial resources to build their own monitoring and management facilities.

Early next year, the distributor will launch the hosting service, through which solution providers will be able to tap offerings such as remote back and recovery and managed security for SMB customers.

Dan Wensley, vice president of partner development at Level Platforms, said the relationship with Ingram Micro will give the managed services market a significant boost.

Level Platforms competes for channel partner recruitment with other managed services platform vendors, such as N-able Technologies of Ottawa, Klir Technologies of Seattle and SilverBack Technologies, located in Billerica, Mass.

Level Platforms’ partner roster now numbers 2,000, a figure the company was pushing to triple in 2007, said Wensley. But as a result of the Ingram Micro relationship, he said, that number will likely be even bigger.

Ingram Micro’s Seismic initiative brings clarity to the role of the distributor in the fast-growing managed services market. By positioning itself as an enabler and supplier for its VARs, the distributor is hoping to ensure it has a hand in how the market develops.

It is an approach similar to that of another distributor, Access Distribution, of Westminster, Colo., which earlier this year entered a partnership with Klir Technologies.

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Distributors, whose raison d’etre is to ship products through their VAR and integrator customers to customer sites, have a compelling ulterior motive for entering the managed services market: Anecdotal evidence from MSPs indicates that once customers get comfortable with their 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.

It’s what Crotty calls the “customer entanglement” piece of the MSP’s role.

Crotty said the Seismic program gives every VAR the opportunity to play in the managed services space, but he warns that the transition from a traditional product-centric VAR business to managed services must be evolutionary.

“The business process challenges that are required to successfully do this are much greater than the technology challenges,” he said

He echoed warnings by managed services experts and pioneers that the transition requires significant planning and preparation. With that in mind, Ingram Micro and Level Platforms will work together to educate VARs on the steps they must take to become MSPs, said Crotty and Wensley.

Among the resources the distributor will make available to VARs is a portal that Ingram Micro plans to unveil on Oct. 5 to VARs and integrators gathered in Palm Springs for a conference of the VentureTech Network, an elite group of VARs and integrators that source products and services from the distributor.

Crotty said the Seismic initiative is part of a three-pronged strategy to make services available to Ingram Micro VARs.

The other two prongs are a program that helps VARs manage maintenance contracts with customers and another that helps VARs automate their own business processes.