A new generation of managed services providers (call them Micro MSPs) seems to be dominating the GFI Max user conference here in New Orleans. Of the 200 or so MSPs here, I suspect the vast majority manage 25 or fewer customer servers, 250 or fewer desktops, and generate $500,000 or less in annual recurring revenues. But don't underestimate the power of Micro MSPs. Here's why.

Yes, some classic topics are popping up here -- MSP pricing strategies, patch management, transitioning from break-fix. But that doesn't mean the Micro MSPs don't have big plans. And to be clear -- there are some more mature MSPs here; quite a few are doing $3 million or more in annual recurring revenue, according to lunch conversations I had here.

Small, Nimble, Hungry

But that Micro MSP trend is something that intrigues me. These are scrappy companies -- one- and two-man shops that also employ a tech or two to keep customer systems humming along.

That's where GFI enters the picture. Through acquisitions and home grown software development, GFI now offers a portfolio of MSP-oriented solutions -- remote monitoring and management (RMM), managed backup, email filtering, security and more. The company also has a close integration and business relationship with Autotask, the cloud-based business management and PSA (professional services automation) company.

GFI Max General Manager Alistair Forbes says many aspiring MSPs start with his company because of a pay-as-you-go cost structure, but in the past six to eight months he's seen larger MSPs come into the GFI camp as well. Those larger MSPs will be meeting with GFI later today during private sessions here at the conference.

Next Moves

Meanwhile, the Micro MSPs are planning their next moves -- which include:
  • Mobile Device Management: GFI Software (GFI Max's parent) just acquired VizualMobile, a mobile device management (MDM) platform provider, a move attendees applaud.
  • Apple Management: Here's an ironic twist. Some attendees here are worried about big hardware suppliers (IBM, Dell, HP) taking business direct, yet those same attendees are planning moves into the Apple market -- supporting Macs, iPads and iPhones in 2013. Is there a more direct company than Apple?
  • Residential Management: A few MSPs say they are offering $19.95 to $49.95 monthly support and monitoring services to residential customers. And those residential wins often involve consumers who then "pull" the MSP into small business wins.
  • Security: Good old patch management is a big theme here. But I have a confession. I think patch management is either (A) a commodity or (B) a dead opportunity. In the age of Macs and iPads that seemingly "just work," I don't think businesses will pay for a line item called patch management. But I do understand why it's part of a more comprehensive, bundled managed service.

Cloud: Just A Little Bit

Generally speaking, the Micro MSPs seem upbeat about their current businesses and 2013 opportunities. And they offer a healthy reminder that not everyone is obsessed with cloud computing. A number of Micro MSPs here promote Office 365, but many others work in rural areas where customers either (A) lack reliable broadband or (B) don't trust off-site data storage.

I do think the cloud will eventually impact those Micro MSPs.  But near term, attendees here are more than happy to focus on cross-selling and up-selling customers -- using GFI's software suite.

And for its part, GFI is taking its message international. After this New Orleans conference, GFI over the next few weeks with host MSP gatherings in Australia, the UK and Germany.