Recent acquisitions by both Dell and Hewlett-Packard are probably giving solution providers across the spectrum cause for pause as they contemplate the ambitions that major vendors are beginning to harbor towards managed services.
As everyone knows by now, Dell moved to acquire SilverBack Technologies, a provider of a platform for managed services that has relied heavily on the channel to sell its solution for remotely monitoring and manage networks and systems.
For Dell, the acquisition of SilverBack solves two problems. The first is that it gives Dell a credible platform for delivering on its managed services ambitions under which it has partnered pretty aggressively with Microsoft. The second aspect of the deal that makes it compelling for Dell is that SilverBack brings some much needed credibility to Dells channel efforts by creating a services framework for its partners.
The second big deal related to managed services happened this week with HPs $1.6 billion deal of Opsware. While Opsware, the brain child of one-time Netscape wunderkind Marc Andreesen, has concentrated on managing IT systems of mostly Global 2000 customers, the acquisition sets the stage for HP to make a much bigger push into managed services across all customer segments. In fact, its still quite possible that HP might reach out to acquire companies such as Level Platforms, Nimsoft, Kaseya or N-able Technologies to complement its Opware acquisition.
Microsoft, meanwhile, at its recent partner conference, detailed its ambitions to deliver managed services while Cisco Systems has been quietly building out its own capabilities. And of course, IBM has a master five year plan for the small-to-medium business market that relies heavily on managed services.
That has to leave everybody in the channel wondering just what the vendor community as a whole thinks the role of the channel is going to be in building, delivering and selling managed services.
On the one had, it seems that vendors think they have the brand muscle to sell customers managed services based on their product offerings. Or maybe they just think solution providers will simply be content to resell managed services built by the vendor community, essentially turning the solution provider into a mere agent representative of the vendor.
While some solution providers will be tempted by the ability to provide managed services with next to no capital cost, its not likely that solution providers are going to sit still for either outcome over the long time. Solution providers have always known that the only thing that stands between them and oblivion is the intimate relationship they have with their customers. In fact, if the vendors could figure out a way to do without the channel, they would have gone down that path years ago, although many have tried and largely failed.
So what does all this vendor interest in managed services portend? Well, if history is any guide it should go down something like this. Vendors will spend millions of dollars marketing managed services to customers based on products rather than on solutions.
The end result will be a greater awareness of the need for managed services on the part of the customer, which will ultimately be delivered by independent solution providers acting in the best interest of the customers rather than the vendors.
Or put another way, the solution provider will be the empowered representative of their collective customers rather than the hapless tool of a vendor community that seems bent on repeating the mistakes of the past in the new age of managed services, all over again.
Of course, its possible that some of them may have learned from those mistakes, but by and large the major vendors are being a little reticent about revealing their long term plans for managed services. So until proven otherwise, the best course of action for solution providers moving into managed services is to treat the motive of the vendors with suspicion until proven otherwise.