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IBM to sell managed security to SMBs -- through the channel

Selling managed security services through the channel may help IBM attract more small and midsized businesses, according to analysts and observers.

IBM's decision to sell managed security services through the channel may help increase its sales but likely won't affect other managed security service providers (MSSPs), analysts and observers said.

IBM is going to the channel to sell its services because the channel is an "attractive way to reach small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that already have relationships with the company's channel partners, according to David Puzas, business line manager for IBM's Internet Security Systems.

"There's no sense for us going in to try to reinvent the wheel," Puzas said.

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Eric Maiwald, a senior analyst with the Midvale, Utah-based Burton Group, said only a "small fraction" of IBM channel partners that already offer their own managed security services may be affected by the move.

"All it seems to me is that they're looking for a greater reach in sales," he said.

Puzas said the new focus on the channel will give new opportunities for MSSP partners to incorporate IBM services into their own offerings, and it will also allow partner value-added resellers (VARs) to ease their way into the managed services market.

They're looking for a greater reach in sales.
Eric Maiwald, senior analyst, Burton Group,

"You can't just get into the MSSP business overnight," he said.

IBM's strength is commoditizing and providing managed services, said Joseph Mercadante, a member of the International Association of Managed Service Providers advisory board and president of JPMerc and Co. in Westborough, Mass. The new channel strategy lets IBM do what it does well and take advantage of the areas where its channel partners are stronger -- namely, building relationships with SMB clients, he said.

"In theory, that sounds like a good strategy to me," he said. "We'll have to see how it's executed, because to date, firms that have been around for some time have had a difficult time becoming effective partners with [managed service providers] (MSPs)."

The problem has usually been with revenue recognition -- if the way the vendor charges the channel partner doesn't match the way the channel partner charges the client, it can cause friction, Mercadante said.

IBM execs hope their new strategy will eliminate the perception that managed services are a threat to VARs -- a threat Mercadante said is "overrated," because VARs address an audience IBM can't reach efficiently any other way.

"Very large companies don't have the ability to create the relationships necessary to get significant market penetration with small- and medium-sized businesses," he said.

IBM also announced these three new offerings to sell through the channel:

  • A unified threat management service that provides firewall, intrusion prevention, VPN, antivirus, Web filtering and antispam.

  • A shared intrusion prevention system (IPS) service that will help users protect their networks and preserve bandwidth without having to buy a dedicated appliance. MSPs will own an appliance that provides the service to their clients.

  • A shared firewall service that operates in the same way as the IPS, in that the appliance will sit in the MSP's data center.

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Colin Steele, Features Writer.

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