MSPs Join Hands to Survive

Companies find partnering is key to acceptance

The old adage "two heads are better than one" could define the current state of the management service provider industry. As MSPs grapple with market acceptance, many are looking to complement one anothers offerings through partnerships. Inc. and IBM are tapping partners to expand their respective footprints in the MSP arena at the same time that more than a dozen MSPs are launching a consortium to encourage even more partnering.

HiFive this week will announce an agreement to integrate NetIQ Corp.s AppManager application management software into HiFives suite of management software, delivered via the MSP model.

This will add application monitoring and reporting to HiFives already broad management of IT infrastructure components.

HiFive, of San Jose, Calif., manages components ranging from routers to security to desktops.

To achieve the integration, HiFive and NetIQ, also of San Jose, rearchitected NetIQs deployment model to match that of HiFive. They also added encryption to get data from AppManager to HiFives NOC (network operations center) for analysis and reporting and to make it accessible to customers over the Web, according to David Greene, vice president of marketing at HiFive.

The offerings include application and server assurance services and cover management of Microsoft Corp.s Windows NT, Exchange and SQL Server as well as Oracle Corp. databases and Web servers. The services provide monitoring, problem notification and a single Web interface for trouble-shooting reports. Users can also launch corrective actions through the Web interface.

The capability to manage remotely over the Web is attractive to Maureen Data Systems Inc., which wraps its professional services around HiFives MSP offering.

"Managing the application server over the Internet from anywhere—I think thats the direction you will see for small and medium[-size] businesses or larger companies that need an extra pair of hands or eyes," said Stewart Lande, director of new business development at Maureen, in New York.

In delivering its MSP service offerings through consultants and resellers, HiFive is taking an approach similar to that of Silverback Technologies Inc., of Billerica, Mass., and TriActive Inc., in Austin, Texas.

But unlike those MSPs, HiFive took an all-software approach to its service offering.

"We deploy and collect over the Web. We dont use on-site hardware; we use intelligent agents installed on [a customers] existing infrastructure," HiFives Greene said. "We dont use a VPN [virtual private network]; we encrypt data for transmission to our NOC."

The HiFive-NetIQ partnership follows an announcement late last month from IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., and MSP NetSolve Inc., of Austin. That deal calls for IBM Global Services to sell NetSolves ProWatch suite of managed network services. IBM also recently partnered with SiteRock Corp., of Emery- ville, Calif., in a deal that calls for IBM Global Services to market and implement SiteRocks infrastructure management services under the IBM brand as part of IBMs e-business managed services.

As MSPs struggle to gain acceptance and achieve profitability, partnering may be the only way to achieve those goals, said Martha Young, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates Inc., of Boulder, Colo.

"For any company with holes in their suites, customers only want a single point of contact, a single contract, single SLA [service-level agreement]. They dont want to have to deal with multiple vendors," Young said. "But the partnerships have to be more than just marketing if they are to survive."

The Global MSP Network consortium, announced last month, was formed to help MSPs improve their businesses, rather than educate the market, which is the mission of the MSP Association. The GMN group numbers at least 18, and its goal is to have 35 MSP members representing 1 million users by years end.

"In an association like this, members can share ideas and their knowledge base. And where they have a technology shortcoming, they can fill in so that they are a single point of contact," said Paula Passey, president of the board of directors for the GMN and a product manager in Intel Corp.s services division, in Riverton, Utah.

Although HiFive is not a member of the GMN, it might find synergies with early members, said EMAs Young.

"If HiFive were to partner with Voyus [Canada Inc.] in [Vancouver,] British Columbia, what they would get is access into the Canadian market, an existing account base they could add management services into, plus Voyus would have access to the HiFive customer base and provide services that HiFive doesnt offer," she said.

Although a handful of pure-play MSP startups appear to be gaining ground, "most will probably go out of business," the GMNs Passey said. "The most successful members within GMN will be the ones that actively reach out and partner with others in the MSP ecosystem."

"An MSP, if they have the right suite, can really provide a valuable service. I think that model is going to be around for a while," said Tom Guidry, director of IS at WNYC, a National Public Radio station in New York.

Guidry is a HiFive user.