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Server services for MSPs

Managed service providers who become server experts place themselves in a good position to add value for customers while creating a lucrative business for themselves.

There has been a lot of buzz in the industry about server virtualization technologies. New technologies bring promise for both the end-user, in addressing some of their greatest needs, and promise for the channel in managed service contracts. Companies like what they hear about the value of server virtualization but they aren't sure how to proceed. This is where the channel can build out significant service offerings around virtualization, helping their customers better utilize the servers they have, be seen as the server experts, while also maintaining account control.

IT personnel are scrambling to get their servers under control, and are worrying about the data center. Customers are running out of space, power, cooling and personnel to support and run their businesses. Once the servers are under control, customers are preparing to go after desktops and applications.

Given those priorities, here are five new service opportunities, leveraging virtual technologies, where the channel can differentiate themselves.

Managed server technologies

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Even though it may not seem to be a new opportunity, creating a service around server virtualization evaluation and deployment is the first step on becoming the virtualization experts. This service would help customers come up with and help implement a transition plan from a purely physical environment to a virtual environment. It would determine what servers could be combined to increase utilization and free up space. This service may recommend transition plans to new servers containing chips with hypervisor support, multi-core processors and greater memory capabilities. Virtualization and tools companies that could be partners in this venture are Cirba, Platespin, VMware, SWsoft, Xensource, to name a few.

A natural extension of server virtualization offerings would be to leverage desktop virtualization. By moving the computer and storage parts of the desktop back into the data center and leaving the monitor, keyboard, mouse, managed service providers could offer a thin client on the desktop and ease space restrictions for customers. The fact is once the desktop operations -- managing the storage, physical security, applications, etc. – are centralized in the data center, the desktop management is very much the same as server management. Companies supporting desktop virtualization capabilities include VMware, ClearCube, HP, IBM, Sun, Verari, and others.

Once the desktops are centralized it won't take long before IT will look to their applications and want the same consolidation and ease of management and licensing. Companies like Citrix, Endeavors Technology, and others have developed solutions for application virtualization and streaming. This presents the opportunity for both consulting services and managed services to the channel.

Another opportunity is to provide disaster recovery (DR) and business continuance (BC) services. These services can be in the form of managed services, where the channel provides virtual DR/BC images of a company's business critical servers and applications. The advantage to using virtual images is the capital expenses in starting up such a service are significantly lower than for an environment with one to one physical servers. Another option is to offer consulting services to help companies develop and implement a DR/BC plan for their physical and virtual servers.

On top of all these services, or should I say, underneath, is the question of security. In the big picture, these virtualization technologies are all fairly new. IT customers need to understand and address their security concerns around virtualized servers, desktops, and applications. Security consulting can be incorporated into any of the services discussed here or it could be implemented as its own service.

Whether it's addressing confusion through education and professional services offering or leveraging the power of virtualization with managed services, the opportunities available for channel or managed service companies to build practices around virtualization technologies are vast.

About the Author: Anne Skamarock has been involved with computers and associated technology for nearly 30 years. She started her career as a software engineer developing custom scientific codes and as a UNIX systems administrator. She moved over to the systems vendor side and has worked as a software engineer, technical sales, marketing and management for both large and start-up systems and storage companies such as SRI, International, Sun Microsystems, Solbourne Computer, and StorageTek. For the past seven years, Anne has worked as a market analyst focusing on the convergence points around systems, storage, and software. Anne has published extensively including regular columns and tips for TechTarget's, and Network World, and numerous business and technical white papers. She has recently finished her second book as co-author of Blades and Virtualization: Transforming Enterprise Computing While Cutting Costs. Email Anne directly with your questions or experiences.

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