Big vendors like Cisco Systems (CSCO) and Microsoft (MSFT) are finally taking a closer look at the managed services market. The Cisco OnPlus Service and Microsoft Windows Intune cloud services both are designed to help MSPs more effectively manage customer systems. But the Cisco and Microsoft strategies are strikingly different. Fact is, Microsoft could learn a lot from Cisco Systems in the managed services market. Here's why.

Simply put: Cisco Systems is partnering with MSPs -- and listening to MSPs -- as it designs cloud platforms. Microsoft, in stark contrast, continues to design Microsoft-centric solutions that often overlook core MSP needs.

A few examples:

1. Pricing Advantage One: The Cisco OnPlus Service, which allows MSPs to remotely monitor network equipment, costs only about $5 per customer network location per month. Windows Intune, which allows MSPs to remotely maintain Windows PCs, costs about $11 per PC per month -- though it also includes Windows 7 Enterprise edition upgrade rights.

Imagine a small business that has three office locations, each of which running 50 PCs. In Cisco's model, the MSP pays Cisco about $15 per month (three networks X $5 each). In Microsoft's model, the customer pays Microsoft about $1650 per month ($11 x 150 PCs). Question: Which pricing model seems to be truly designed for the cloud era and channel partners?

2. Pricing Advantage Two: Cisco's OnPlus Service allows MSPs to set end-customer pricing. In Microsoft's model, Microsoft sets then end-customer price and manages end-customer billing. Question: Which pricing model seems to be truly designed for the cloud era and channel partners?

3. Cross-Platform Advantage: Cisco's OnPlus Service allows MSPs to monitor third-party networking equipment. In Microsoft's model, Windows Intune is designed purely to manage Windows-centric desktops and Windows mobile devices. Question: Which platform model seems to be truly designed for the heterogeneous cloud era and cross-platform channel partners?

4. Customer Privacy Advantage: Cisco's OnPlus Service allows MSPs to view their individual customer accounts. However, Cisco's service level agreement guarantees that the networking giant only has aggregate access to network monitoring information. In other words, Cisco can't comb the OnPlus service for individual customer account information. In Microsoft's model, Windows Intune essentially allows Microsoft to see all the individual customer information -- though Microsoft has been careful to say that it will continue to honor and recognize partners of record in the cloud. Question: Which platform model seems to be truly designed to make MSPs the key long-term contact for end-cust0mers?

5. Listening Advantage: Cisco Systems worked closely with HTG Peer Groups members to design the Cisco OnPlus Service. In other words, Cisco gained real-world feedback from successful MSPs every step of the way. In November 2011 at the ConnectWise IT Nation conference, Cisco gave HTG Peer Groups members early access to the OnPlus Service, which officially launched in December 2011. Microsoft, in stark contrast, has certainly culled feedback from MVPs and channel partners. And Microsoft attended IT Nation. But channel partners' repeated requests for more end-customer control have fallen on deaf ears.

Bottom line: Only 1.4 percent of MSPs currently leverage Windows Intune, according to our fifth-annual MSPmentor 100 survey (complete results will surface in February 2012). We don't have survey data for the Cisco OnPlus Service, since it's only about a month old. But I suspect Cisco's model -- assuming Cisco OnPlus Service works as advertised -- will prove far more appealing to MSPs.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Microsoft basher. I'm most upbeat about the company's business software -- Dynamics, SharePoint and Lync, in particular -- for channel partners. But I remain highly skeptical of Windows Intune in its current iteration.