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Microsoft, according to published reports, has added e-mail, Sharepoint and desktop management to its 2-year-old managed services line that it offers directly to enterprise customers.

But independent MSPs (managed services providers) and other partners are taking a measured approach to the news. The Microsoft business has a scant four customers, with three of those announced only recently, published reports say. And the target audience, the largest enterprises, makes it less likely the offering would compete with those of traditional MSPs.

I can see how that would play to large enterprises,” said George Vahle, executive vice president at The I.T. Pros, a San Diego-based MSP. “But MSPs play in the smaller enterprise. However, I don’t like the idea that vendors would be directly targeting customers.”

And while the I.T. Pros is a devoted Microsoft shop, Vahle noted that his company takes a wait-and-see approach to any new Microsoft technology.

“Microsoft Version 1.0 is definitely not as good as Microsoft 3.0, and that has been evident in many of their releases,” he said. The I.T. Pros will likely take up the 3.0 release once available.

Microsoft was unable to provide a spokesman for comment on the MSP program or the new customers before press time.

But reports said the company’s first customer was Energizer Holdings, the company behind the Energizer brand of batteries. Three new customers have been signed, including XL Capital of Bermuda; the other two are unnamed.

Because these are large enterprises, MSPs don’t believe the Microsoft MSP direct program poses much of a threat.

“I don’t think that VARs should be threatened by Microsoft’s entry into managed services as Microsoft is focused on larger customers,” said Don Begg, CEO of DoITSmarter, a former MSP that has transitioned into a platform provider for other MSPs. “In fact, MSPs with appropriate branding could take advantage of this. However, I do think it is important that resellers mitigate risk by protecting their customer base. The best way to do this is to begin to develop their brand as a managed service provider and to move their customers to managed services as quickly as possible.”

And it would be difficult for a company as large as Microsoft to scale such a program, and support for it, to many small customers.