MSPs : An emerging genre of service

The MSP acronym is fast becoming one of the biggest buzzwords of the year. While you've probably heard the term by now, you still might be wondering precisely how it plays as a business model.

What's all the buzz about?

The MSP (management service provider) acronym is fast be coming one of the biggest buzzwords of the year. While you've probably heard the term by now, you still might be wondering precisely how it plays as a business model.

Like companies in the more widely understood ASP space, MSPs perform outsourced delivery of services over the Web and bill their customers on the basis of recurring fees. But where ASPs focus on application hosting, MSPs address the IT infrastructure through services such as remote system management and network management.

Recently, MSPs have reached new heights of visibility through the formation of industry groups such as the MSP Association, as well as separate, company-led partnership efforts like Computer Associates' Certified Managed Services Provider Program. Those organizations also are helping to legitimize the new MSP model through initiatives in areas such as best practices and certification.

Now, however, businesses also must worry about "external infrastructures" such as extranets, B2B trade exchanges and customer-facing Web sites. Meanwhile, with the rise of new systems, such as voice mail and storage-area networks, both sorts of infrastructures are growing increasingly complex.

At your service

The MSP Association also is interested in service levels. The group has started conducting re search on the subject of service-level agreements between service pro viders and customers, says Linda Shannon-Hills, chair of the association and also Hewlett-Packard's service provider program manager for OpenView.

The association was founded in June by a total of 19 OEMs, ISVs and service providers, and it now has more than 50 executive and associate members. Aside from raising industry awareness about MSPs, the group's goals include research and industry standardization, according to Shannon-Hills.

Coming up, experts see increasing specialization in vertical areas among the ranks of MSPs. CA, for example, is al ready partnering with companies that specialize in managing the network infrastructures of educational environments and community banks.

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