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Managed services are the new IT gold rush. Despite skepticism about the services delivery model in some quarters, an increasing number of vendors and channel companies are swarming to the model because they see it as a viable business.

One company hoping to grab its share of the market is Critical Links, a 200-employee vendor headquartered in Coimbra, Portugal, with operations in the UK, Asia, North Africa and South America.

The company is in the process of securing funding from U.S. investors as it prepares to launch a North American operation based in San Jose, Calif. CEO Joao Carreira said he expects the U.S. launch to take place in about two months.

“We are waiting to close our round of funding. With the funds in place, we will then develop a two-tier channel in the U.S.,” said Carreira.

Critical Links has set its sights on conquering this new IT world with its flagship product, EdgeBOX, a converged voice and data solution that manages a number of IT functions from the edge of the network.

EdgeBOX, said Carreira, is perfect for the small and midsize business market, where companies typically lack the resources to deploy, integrate and manage the services EdgeBOX delivers.

Those services include IP-based voice, e-mail, user authentication and authorization, firewall management, and storage with quota management and automatic backup. The device sits at the customer site and is managed remotely by a services provider.

Chuck Foley, who sits on Critical Links’ advisory board, said when he was approached by the vendor to help introduce the company to U.S. investors and potential partners, he jumped at it. Foley was familiar with Critical Links’ corporate parent, Critical Software, having worked with the company when he was president of Tacit Networks, which was acquired last year by Packateer, based in Cupertino, Calif.

“I knew the guys at Critical Links because of the work we’d done together,” Foley said. “I knew they were quality people.”

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EdgeBox, he said, is appealing to both service providers and customers. Partners have the ability to manage their clients’ systems remotely through EdgeBOX while customers can reduce their phone and IT systems expenses and hand over systems management to a third party.

“I’ve been in this business for a long time, and I know the signs of a real contender,” Foley said.

Once the funding is in place, Foley said Critical Links will embark on a three-plank strategy to delve into the U.S. market: a campaign to attract media and analyst interest, a well-designed electronic profile with search engine optimization, and a business development team to go knock on doors of potential partners and customers.

In addition, Foley said, the company will put a lot of effort in establishing direct user contact with the goal of establishing a customer base that it can use as references for potential partners.

Carreira said Critical Links chose to launch first in “green field” markets such as Brazil and China to establish a proven record before coming to North America.

As it prepares to launch, the company will seek a two-tier distribution partner and also plans to approach managed services platform providers for integration opportunities, he said. In addition, the vendor already has closed a partnership deal with a networking OEM that will license EdgeBOX.