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Managed services for Macs emerge

Apple's greater business presence has sparked an interest in managed services for Macs, creating channel opportunity.

Apple's broader presence in business accounts of late has sparked interest in managed services for Macs.

The company's newfound business appeal means more organizations are running a mix of Mac and Windows PCs. Managed service providers (MSPs) have traditionally focused on Windows as the corporate client OS of choice, but as Macs infiltrate beyond their traditional stronghold in creative industries -- graphic design, advertising, video production and the like -- ignoring Macs leaves managed services revenue on the table.

Apple specialist Tech Superpowers launched its Managed Macs service last spring, after noting the paucity of management tools in the Apple world. Michael Oh, founder and president of the Boston-based company, said that service providers concentrated on Windows -- with its lion's share of client-side computing -- when they began rolling out managed services. So while customers have many managed services options to choose from on the Windows side, the story is different when it comes to the remote support and management of Macs.

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Tech Superpowers moved to address this gap in Mac support. "We have developed the tools, and services as well, over the last year," Oh said.

The company's Managed Macs offering provides a package of phone, remote and optional after-hours support, according to Tech Superpowers. Customers pay a monthly fee, based on a per-workstation and -server pricing structure.

While some solution providers develop their own Mac managed services, others may seek a partner. Kaseya, for example, offers Mac support in its software product for automating managed service providers. Traditionally, managed service firms used Kaseya's software to remotely administer customers' Windows PCs. But in February, Kaseya released its latest software version, Kaseya 2008. That product includes the Kaseya Mac Agent, which extends the company's remote systems management capabilities to include Mac OS.

Managed service providers may find a niche in supporting existing Apple Mac deployments. But a vendor may also provide the hardware component, bundling a Mac rental charge into its monthly managed service fee. In doing so, a service provider "can appeal to those firms who don't have the budget to do a full-scale Mac rollout as a capital investment, but can afford a fixed monthly cost," said Janet Schijns, president and CEO of The JS Group, a channel consultancy based in Somerville, N.J.

Schijns said this type of managed service can accelerate the move to Mac faster than standard budgets would allow.

Managing mixed environments

Tech Superpowers targets what the company terms "Mac-centric" customers with its managed services -- that is, organizations where Macs make up 80% or more of the computing population or departments of larger companies that are predominantly Mac. Publishing companies, ad agencies and art production shops are typically entrenched Apple accounts.

Kaseya, meanwhile, helps service providers deal with mixed Mac and Windows environments. When planning its 2008 release, Kaseya polled customers about the platforms they would like to see supported in addition to Windows, according to Dan Shapero, senior vice president of marketing at Kaseya.

"Mac was at the top of the list," he said.

Linux and personal digital assistants also featured in the roster of items customers wanted support for in a managed services environment. Shapero said Linux and Windows Mobile support is under development, while RIM and iPhone support is in the company's plans.

Jeff Kaplan, managing director of THINKstrategies Inc., a Wellesley, Mass.-based consulting firm, said solution providers "are going to be adding on Mac support and Mac managed services to try to keep pace with customers' changing needs." He said those companies probably won't make a specific distinction in packaging Mac services versus Windows services. Rather, Mac services will fall under the broader banner of desktop management.

"The job is to manage any desktop," Kaplan said. "It's not so much how you support the Mac. It's how you integrate the Mac and continue to manage what's likely to be a hybrid environment on an ongoing basis."

The ability to support Macs as well as PCs adds to the number of devices managed under a provider's fixed-price, service-level agreement, Shapero added. That translates into a revenue boost as Macs infiltrate more corporate settings.

"They're everywhere," Shapero said of Macs. "You have departments that use them, executives that use them."

Managed services for Macs may be a fledgling field, but it may hold profit potential for solution providers with the tools and services to do the job.

Schijns said she believes Mac was not on the radar for traditional services companies, so there's a chance for channel players to be early to market -- and early to reap the financial rewards.

"There is a great opportunity for the channel," she said.

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