ConnectWise IT Nation: Top 14 First-Day Highlights...

The first day of ConnectWise IT Nation wrapped up a few minutes ago. Roughly 1,100 managed services providers are here in Orlando, Fla., for the conference (formerly called ConnectWise Partner Summit). So what's the buzz from Day One and what can attendees expect from Day Two (Nov. 5)? Here are 14 key observations and predictions.

14. What Recession?: No doubt, the economy remains challenging for many MSPs in many regions. But the economy is generating minimal chatter here. MSPs sound upbeat. And many were energized when they heard Everon Technology Services had been acquired. No doubt, some recent MSP and VAR acquisitions involved fire sales or distressed sales. But attendees here suspect Everon sold from a position of strength.

Side note: Everon's Mike Cooch discussed the M&A deal in an MSPmentor FastChat Video on Nov. 4. The FastChat will be online at MSPmentor sometime later today.

13. Macro Conference, And Micro Summits: On the one hand, ConnectWise IT Nation is the primary conference here. But plenty of satellite gatherings also occurred... including HTG Peer Groups' HTG All meeting, CharTec Unherd of Conference, LabTech Software Automation Nation, a Level Platforms partner gathering, and a TruMethods event.

12. Peers and Partners: HTG Peer Groups -- representing scores of MSPs -- wrapped up their HTG All gathering today. Microsoft is preparing an aggressive cloud computing pitch that's specially designed for HTG members. The most impressive piece of information: HTG members represent more than $600 million in combined annual IT revenues.

11. HaaS Meets BDR and VoIP: At the CharTec Unherd of Conference, CharTech (a ConnectWise Capital company) continued to push beyond its HaaS (hardware as a service) heritage to promote VoIP solutions and BDR (backup and disaster recovery) solutions. In some (but not all) ways, CharTec competes with Zenith Infotech, which promotes BDR and hybrid cloud solutions, and Zenith has a sister company promoting TelePresence.

10. Dollars and Sense: At least one MSP here says he recently was approached by a private equity firm, only to have the firm cancel a financial meeting at the 11th hour. Also, two MSPs that recently merged to form a 50-person company are now looking at another targeted deal involving a two-person MSP. Details expected soon.

9. Giants Take Note: We're keeping a close eye on Channel Cloud, which is starting to attract more and more attention from VARs and MSPs that need cloud-related solutions. We're aware of at least two companies -- a $30 billion technology company and a $25 million software company -- that have been watching Channel Cloud from afar... mulling a closer relationship.

8. Old Name, New Strategy: CA Technologies (formerly CA Inc.) is here in full force. CA is busy promoting its ARCserve storage management platform, announcing integrations with LabTech and Level Platforms. Back in September 2010, CA announced a similar integration effort with N-able.

7. Freemium Cloud: Under terms of a new freemium relationship, LabTech partners can protect their LabTech server by replicating it into the Doyenz cloud. Four MSPs here suggest that Doyenz also works closely with CharTec. Both CharTec and LabTech are ConnectWise Capital partners. Makes me wonder... Can we expect more announcements between Doyenz and the ConnectWise Capital companies? We'll be listening.

6. Global Reach: I've run into MSPs from New Zealand and Australia. This is part of a refreshing trend in the managed services market, where US-based PSA (professional services automation) and RMM (remote monitoring and management) software companies have built strong, engaged international followings.

5. Developer Moves: ConnectWise has relaunched the ConnectWise Developer Network website. The effort aims to facilitate "additional partner interaction and collaboration for even better integration and utilization of the company’s APIs." I'll pursue more details from Jeannine Edwards, director of ConnectWise Community, on Nov. 5.

4. Cloud Billing Debate Continues: Microsoft is here making its BPOS (Business Productivity Online Software) pitch for Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and other SaaS applications. And there's a ton of interest in Office 365 (a BPOS successor that will launch in 2011). However, a small but vocal group of MSPs remain wary of Microsoft's cloud strategy because Microsoft manages end-customer billing.

3.  She Talkin' Cloud: Ingram Micro’s new VP of Managed Services and Cloud Computing, Renee Bergeron, is here talking about Ingram's next cloud moves. For now, I can't say much more. But stay tuned... News is imminent. And yes, Ingram Micro Seismic (the Master MSP) fits within Ingram's broader cloud effort.

2. Thinking Bigger: Look around the IT Nation conference and you'll notice minimal ConnectWise branding. The move makes sense for at least two reasons.

First, ConnectWise has to maintain a balancing act -- proving a conference platform for ConnectWise Capital investments like CharTec and LabTech, while offering equal time for third-party companies that compete with CharTec and LabTech on some fronts. Does ConnectWise always succeed? I'll leave that up to readers because I'm not really privy to how ConnectWise IT Nation is built.

But give ConnectWise credit... the branding and most of the content here are about IT Nation and best business practices for MSPs, rather than endless vendor sales pitches.

Second, it's pretty darn clear that IT Nation has evolved beyond a ConnectWise-centric conference. Roughly 1,400 total attendees are here, making this one of the largest -- if not the single largest -- channel-related conference. Think about it this way: RSA was smart to launch an industry security conference rather than a closed-door RSA gathering; VMware was smart to launch the VMworld conference to represent the entire virtualization ecosystem. And ConnectWise seems to be following a similar path in the channel market with IT Nation. With 1,400 attendees in the house (roughly 1,100 are MSPs, VARs and IT services providers), the 2010 conference is off to a solid start.

1. Last Mile, Last Yard: In 2009, ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini described how MSPs and IT service providers had to defend the last mile of IT -- the small businesses that solutions providers support in their own back yards. Fast forward to this year's event and it sounds like Bellini will update his vision to focus on the last yard, while emphasizing how MSPs can service the modern SMB office.

The keynote arrives at a rather intriguing time. I believe many MSPs are facing a new inflection point in their businesses. I'm curious to hear how Bellini plans to help MSPs with the latest market opportunities -- and challenges.

Bellini's keynote is Friday morning (Nov. 5). We'll be back with live coverage.

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