Service providers push value envelope

The MSP (managed services provider) market was buzzing with activity on Monday as Loudcloud Inc., Cervalis, and Inforonics Inc. introduced new services designed to complement growing customer satisfaction demands.

Loudcloud said it aims to remove frustration and manual labor associated with Web site change management through the release of an upgraded version of its CDS (Code Deployment System).

Integrated with customer portal, CDS 2.0 incorporates stronger security and on-demand back-up and restore of "safe code" feature to correct any change management errors, said Tim Howes, CTO of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Loudcloud.

Cervalis, based in Stamford, Conn., announced on Monday the availability of its hot standby site services. According to Zack Margolis, vice president of marketing and business development at Cervalis, the fully managed service enables customers to have an exact duplicate configuration of their IT operations that can be activated in case of an emergency or problem. The mirror site will be housed in Cervalis' data center.

Lastly, Inforonics unveiled its new Managed Services business unit. The unit provides application management, technical support, and hosting support modules for customers to run their Web site operations, said Sam Rizzico, executive vice president of the Littleton, Mass.-based MSP.

As MSPs thrive amid a services market typically dominated by large industry and professional services giants, they are emphasizing high-class customer service and stressing sensitivity to customer preferences, said Bill Martorelli, vice president of e-services and sourcing solutions at The Hurwitz Group in Framingham, Mass.

"It is a major trend we're seeing. [Loudcloud and Cervalis] are two companies that are niche suppliers in a good way, with potential for greater flexibility," said Martorelli. "That's one of the traditional criticisms [around quality] that dogs some of the bigger players, [such as] IBM. It's much easier to be consistently good when you have a small base."

Howes said Loudcloud CDS 2.0 features an "incremental update" function that can ascertain the difference between code currently running on a site and changes that are being pushed to speed up deployment time.

Also, the upgrade's extensible framework, running on Loudcloud's automated Opsware platform, lets users customize code deployment, move necessary files before change management occurs, and authenticate who can provide code.

Larry Greenberg, CTO of Lawrenceville, N.J.-based StatementOne, an ASP that offers data warehousing for financial services customers, said CDS 2.0 has fit nicely with the company's philosophy of pushing out software releases every one to two months.

"Automation removes human error from the equation. It's extremely important to have a lot of controls around a process like that. What you cannot do in [hosting] mission-critical financial services is to fall in chaos of mis-synchronization," said Greenberg. "A code deployment system allows you to keep tight controls of the progress of software."

StatementOne consolidates its customers' assets down to the transaction level and puts the data into a single uniform format available through a browser, said Greenberg.

Martorelli said MSPs such as Loudcloud and Cervalis are in good position to address issues weighing on the minds of IT professionals, such as security and disaster recovery following the events of Sept. 11, in a complementary fashion to services packages.

In the latter half of 2002 Cervalis will focus on a managed services e-commerce offering through a partnership with Accenture. Cervails will provide hosting while Accenture brings the application and e-commerce Web site customer needs.

But Margolis admits that pushing new business opportunities is still some time away in terms of hosted business priorities. "The attention of the customers is not in that area yet, [right now] it's how to protect and save their assets," he added.

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