Hardware as a Service: Growing Up or Growing Old?

When Google announced Chromebook price cuts a few hours ago, it was the latest inflection point for MSPs trying to figure out hardware as a service (HaaS). Yes, the HaaS market has had its share of hits. But HaaS has also had its share of setbacks in recent years.

HaaS allows VARs and MSPs to earn recurring monthly revenues from a variety of hardware -- netbooks, notebooks, PCs, servers and more. But every time the HaaS market seems to be moving forward it also seems to take a step back.

On the upside, companies like CharTec have made a living promoting HaaS to MSPs. Many of the engagements involve storage appliances that generate recurring revenues. And in the storage market, providers like Axcient and Zenith Infotech (among many others) have offered on-premise appliances as part of a monthly recurring revenue opportunity to channel partners. Those offerings aren't exactly positioned as HaaS, but some folks could argue that the solutions are HaaS-driven.

Managed print services can also fit the HaaS description, since many deployments involve leasing or financing agreements with ongoing contracts for consumables (ink and paper). Moreover, hosted unified communications sometimes fits into the HaaS discussion, especially if customers pay for their desktop phones and dial-tone as part of a flat monthly fee.

Rethinking Our Enthusiasm

So far, so good. But when we launched MSPmentor in 2008, the HaaS buzz seemed to be much louder. A lot of readers thought HaaS may eventually dominate their business. MSPs, so the theory went, would become total IT service providers, including hardware as part of a flat monthly IT fee to SMB customers.

Among the trends we misread: The rise and evolution of netbooks, tablets and Google Chromebooks. Back in 2009 and 2010, numerous cellular service providers offered netbooks for free as part of a monthly broadband/mobile-wireless contract. We thought that would be a big long-term trend. But the netbook craze fizzled out when Apple's iPad redefined the mobile user experience.

Fast forward to 2011, and MSPmentor believed Google Chromebooks had a chance to redefine the HaaS market. Google's so-called Chromebook for Business and Education effort allowed customers and students to purchase Chromebooks and cloud-related services for roughly $20 to $30 per month. But now that Google's partners are slashing Chromebook prices, I  get the feeling that the devices aren't selling.

Another limiting factor for HaaS: Some MSPs became nervous about the market back in 2010, when N-able Technologies filed suit against MSP on Demand, a HaaS provider, over alleged fraud. That case apparently remains in a North Carolina court. A judge on Nov. 2 apparently asked all parties in the case to file a status report on or before Nov. 18, 2011. We're checking in with our sources now for any potential updates.

In the meantime, HaaS remains a growing opportunity on many fronts. But will the HaaS market ever regain all that buzz from 2009 or so?
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