I'm often skeptical when I hear about managed service providers targeting the SOHO (small office/home office) and consumer markets. But perhaps it's time for me to change my tune. Recent developments and trends -- involving such companies as LPI Level Platforms Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and OnForce -- suggest there are niche opportunities for MSPs servicing SOHOs and consumers. Here are some perspectives and developments.
The latest news involves Level Platforms optimizing its Managed Workplace software for Windows Home Server. Yes, MSPmentor's sister site (The VAR Guy) has been critical of so-called home servers. But most of our concerns have focused on branding and product design. No doubt, we do see a need for appliance-based systems in homes and small offices that serve and manage content.
Here's the Pitch...So does Level Platforms. The company says Managed Workplace running on Windows Home Server is an ideal option for many small businesses that aren't ready to leap to Windows Small Business Server. In other words, Level Platforms sees a market gap between Windows desktops and Microsoft's traditional business servers.
A press release from Level Platforms notes:
While the backup and recovery features are limited to 10 workstations (including Macs), Managed Workplace running on Windows Home Server can monitor and manage any number of devices operating in a workgroup environment with 100% of the functionality of larger sites including the full management of the Windows Home Server itself as well as any other servers on the network. Solution providers can also deploy additional remote backup software, specialized applications and other server based applications on the Windows Home Server to extend their service offerings.I think Level Platforms is smart to target the SOHO market. As a small business owner myself, I do see a day when we'll potentially need an outside managed service provider monitoring multiple home-based systems. But I'm not sure if Windows Home Server itself will succeed. Regardless of Microsoft, I suspect the market for home-based servers and appliances will be highly fragmented, with Apple and Linux appliance specialists making aggressive moves of their own.
Big Moves In Small OfficesStill, the connection between solutions providers and the SOHO consumer markets is undeniable. Skeptical? Consider these trends:
- Over the past year, OnForce -- an online marketplace that connects VARs with customer engagements -- has seen booming demand for consumer-oriented IT services. Beyond the basics of home theater deployments, OnForce community members are busy deploying WiFi networks, security software, VoIP systems and other SOHO systems. OnForce describes the top IT services trends in this report, released January 28.
- Now, networking companies -- from Cisco Systems Inc. to Netgear -- are launching consumer-oriented IP devices for the home. Will MSPs need to manage those IP-based home sterios and multimedia systems? Doubtful. But you never know how technology will evolve. Remember: The iPhone started as a consumer device. Now, everyone from Kaseya to major MSPs offers some sort of managed iPhone strategy.
But corporate layoffs will also pave the way for more SOHO startups. And Level Platforms wants its MSPs to be standing at the front door each time a new SOHO comes online.
Where's the Money?Unfortunately, consumers and small business entrepreneurs are often tight with their money -- especially when it comes to managed IT services. But I think MSPs serving SOHO customers will have some success if they start with the basics: managed storage and managed security.
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