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Thanks to Vista and the pending release of the Longhorn version of Windows Server, it’s a safe bet that during the second half of this year most companies will debate the merits of moving to a managed services model for running their IT infrastructure.

This seminal moment won’t come about because companies don’t have faith in their own IT people to accomplish the transition tasks, but rather because the sheer totality of the endeavor is going to force them to consider what kind of investments they want to make with their IT dollars.

Across the entire IT landscape the one refrain you hear most often is customers saying they need to focus more of their limited IT assets on strategic applications that drive business processes. What often goes unsaid is that in order to achieve that goal, companies have to spend less time managing their IT infrastructure.

This convergence of agendas between customers looking to leverage IT investments and solution providers looking to provide richer sets of managed services is at the heart of a virtual trade show for managed services scheduled for March 20th.

Attend Ziff Davis Media’s Managed Services Virtual Tradeshow without leaving the office. Click here to register.

The conference is structured into two distinct segments. More than 2,000 users are expected to take part in sessions aimed at helping them understand the strategic IT imperative behind managed services, while IT services companies looking to provide those services will be invited to hear how to go about profitably delivering those services during best practices sessions largely consisting of analysts and providers.

You can already feel the momentum surrounding Vista and managed services starting to swell with every solution provider, including Dell, gearing up to provide robust managed services offerings geared towards automating the management of next-generation Windows PCs and servers.

The good news is that both these platforms are really the first offerings that Microsoft has built with remote management and administration in mind.

In fact, we’ve already seen Microsoft, Symantec, and beginning this week, Altiris, bring to market their Vista migration tools. And it’s only a matter of time before both Microsoft and Symantec, which expects to finalize its acquisition of Altiris next month, begin to roll out specific managed services programs for Vista that should help solution providers take advantage of what amounts to a significant disruption in the market.

Click here to view exclusive channel research from Amazon Consulting.

This disruption is driven not only by the mere fact that it seems like eons since Microsoft released major new platforms, but more importantly by the fact that upgrades of this scale are going to force end-user companies to confront the inertia that has been holding back a lot of the movement to managed services.

That inertia, largely driven by cultural rather than technical IT issues, is going to have to come with financial realities being driven by changing business agendas set at the top echelons of the company.

For solution providers, that means the time to get in front of this trend is now. If you wait until customers start asking you about managed Vista/Longhorn services, you will find yourself scrambling to cobble together a response in the face of competitors that will already be armed with tools and repeatable processes that will upgrade customers in days, rather than weeks or months.

In short, while managed services has been receiving a fair amount of hype lately, the technology shifts underway in the market are going to make managed services an imperative that nobody can afford to ignore in the channel.