Vu Telepresence and Managed Services: Reality Check

Vu Telepresence, a sister company to Zenith Infotech, says it has sold roughly 5,000 telepresence units worldwide since the products launched in October 2010. Some of the Vu Telepresence sales involve managed services providers (MSPs), but Co-founder Akash Saraf offers a refreshing reality check on where telepresence is succeeding in the IT channel -- and where there's still room for improvement. Here's the update.

Vu Telepresence now has roughly 2,000 end-customers and 5,000 units in the field. Half of the units have been sold direct and half have been sold through the channel. The most successful channel partners so far are aggressive telecom agents. Some MSPs have also succeeded selling Vu Telepresence, but Saraf is careful not to hype the managed services opportunity.

The reasons:

  • Telecom agents focus on one-time product sales to lots of customers; in many cases Vu Telepresence is a natural extension to that business model.
  • Many MSPs promote more and more services sales to a selected number of customers -- so adding Vu Telepresence to the mix may require some careful thought and planning. Some MSPs, Saraf adds, have added telepresence to their broader managed services portfolio but the uptake has been slow, he concedes.
Still, Vu Telepresence is planning more moves. Saraf continues to connect the dots -- where appropriate -- between Vu Telepresence and sister company Zenith Infotech, which has a strong channel spanning VARs and MSPs. Next up, Vu is developing a (US)$40,000 to (US)$50,000 solution that should be ready for demonstrations in late 2011, with production shipments starting in 2012. That $40,000 to $50,000 solution could be a good fit for MSPs that want to do more sophisticated telepresence work -- including conference room deployments and network bandwidth optimization, Saraf says.

But here again, Saraf is quick to offer a reality check. Of the 6,000 to 7,000 MSPs in North America, he estimates that 300 to 500 of them might make ideal partners for the $40,000 to $50,000 telepresence system.

Here Comes Cisco?

Saraf's candid thoughts on telepresence and managed services arrive at an intriguing time. Cisco Systems, as you may recall, is repositioning its entry-level Umi telepresence systems from the consumer market into the business market. MSPmentor has speculated that Cisco Umi will target MSPs servicing the SMB sector.

But perhaps Saraf and Vu Telepresence have pinpointed an even better channel opportunity: Telecom agents.

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