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Managed service providers focused on e-mail security have been around for a few years, but the time might be ripe for resellers to get involved.

For one thing, managed services are taking a bite out of software’s share of the e-mail security market.

“We see increased demand for this hosted approach and the appliance delivery model—both take share from the traditional software model,” said Matt Cain, senior vice president at the Meta Group. The appliance model involves bundling e-mail security software and hardware.

Cain spoke during Postini’s annual e-mail security report teleconference, saying that vendors in this space may need to span two or three delivery models in order to succeed. Resellers should probably consider broadening their reach as well.

Click here to read more about e-mail security services for SMBs.

Multiple layers of protection—at the Internet level, network perimeter and desktop—are “the best way to solve this problem,” said Lorien Gabel, vice president of business development at MessageLabs, a managed e-mail security service provider.

Here’s another reason for resellers to expand into managed security services: Small businesses, a mainstay for many VARs, may be more susceptible to e-mail-borne maladies. Chris Smith, senior director of product marketing at Postini, reported that small companies receive as much as 10 times the spam per user as their larger counterparts.

Quite a few of those small businesses will opt for a managed service as opposed to running a messaging security solution in-house. The small and medium business space is already big business for managed e-mail security services vendors.

Resellers considering the managed services layer will find a number of providers growing their channel programs.

FrontBridge Technologies last year added a number of companies to its OEM roster, including Equant, IBM Global Services, NEC Unified Solutions, Siemens Business Services and Telus. Sprint and VeriSign had already been partners. The company is poised to announce another major OEM deal in a month, said Nick Hulse, vice president of global alliances at FrontBridge.

MessageLabs, meanwhile, has embarked on a recruitment program that focuses on national and regional VARs. Gabel said that the company expects to bring on 25 to 50 resellers this year. He said MessageLabs is particularly interested in resellers with experience in such areas as messaging solutions, anti-virus products and firewalls.

Leah Washington, director of marketing at MessageLabs, added that the company also seeks VARs targeting mid-enterprise customers (those with 500 to 2,500 employees) and the upper end of the SMB space.

Overall, MessageLabs’ channel program consists of Alliance Partners, global firms represented by IBM, MCI and Unisys; Premium Certified and Certified Resellers, which serve the mid-enterprise and SMB sectors; and Associates, which typically cover the lower end of the SMB market.

The Associate tier is a lead referral program. Resellers offer first-level support and manage the ongoing relationships with customers. MessageLabs backs resellers with sales, marketing, and technical resources.

Postini also is building its channel, which consists of affiliate and reseller levels. The invitation is open for messaging- and security-oriented resellers.

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