I'm in San Jose for the MSP Alliance Fall Managed Services Conference. It's my first time at an MSP Alliance event. And frankly, I'm not sure what to see. But I do expect to hear about five key trends at the event. Here's the rundown.

5. Industry Standards/Consolidation: I've spent the past year writing about Autotask, ConnectWise, Kaseya, N-able and other fast-growing MSP platform providers. This conference should give me the opportunity to get a feel for other players in the market -- particularly Combrio, Third Brigade, Zenith Infotech and Entuity, just to name a few. The big challenge for VARs is tying together all of these solutions into a managed services framework. Yes, many MSP platform providers offer open APIs. But it's time for some sort of industry-standard dashboard for all players to snap into.

4. Going Smaller: I expect pricing to be a major point of discussion. Many solutions providers can't afford to pay a big lump sum for a managed services platform. I've heard rumors that at least one major MSP platform provider plans to launch a very low-cost solution targeting very small deployments. And Untangle also plans to officially launch is open source security platform for managed services this week. The Untangle platform has no upfront costs.

3. Dell/Silverback: I expect to see a kinder, friendlier Dell presence at the event. I've been a Dell customer for more than a decade. But many solutions providers remain wary of Dell's MSP strategy. The company recently acquired Silverback Technologies, and Silverback will be here at the event -- trying to assure customers that Dell is now channel-friendly.

2. Intel Surprise?: Intel is the event's biggest sponsor. Sure, managed services run on Intel hardware. But I wonder if the company has larger, more ambitious strategy in store for managed services.

1. Economic Wild Card: During my flight to the conference, I read a dozen articles warning that the overall business outlook for 2008 isn't so bright. I wonder what impact, if any, an economic slowdown would have on the managed services sector. Some pundits argue that small businesses will be more inclined to pay a monthly service fee rather than unpredictable price spikes for new hardware in 2008 and 2009. I'll be polling attendees at the conference for their thoughts on this.