Living as we do in the age of the cloud, it's reasonable to assume that managed services must represent a primary strategy for most IT vendors. Yet they don't. Instead, many organizations are currently deploying managed service platforms only hesitatingly and in limited capacity. To help understand why, the nonprofit organization CompTIA recently conducted a survey. Keep reading for a look at the surprising results.

CompTIA is a trade association focused on education and advocacy for the IT industry. For the study, titled "Trends in Managed Services Operations," the organization surveyed 400 firms in October about managed services practices and future plans to shed more light on the objectives and limitations of this model.

Unsurprisingly, the study found that a large and growing number of organizations use managed services. Of those surveyed, half of the respondents deploy managed services in some form as part of their commercial portfolio, an increase from 40 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, 17 percent of respondents indicated that they expect managed services to comprise up to two-thirds of their business revenue over the next five years, while about 66 percent anticipate managed services contributing an increasingly large portion of their overall revenue during the same period. Clearly, managed services are a vital component of many business strategies in the IT channel.

Hesitation and Uncertainty

But the most interesting part of the report concerns what businesses are not doing with managed services. Although the managed services model has been around for quite some time--arguably, the concept actually predates the advent of the computer industry--and despite the significant role it plays in many business strategies, its deployment remains limited.

According to CompTIA, "uncertainty" over the future of managed services platforms has deterred many organizations from adopting them fully. Instead, businesses are opting for a "hybrid model, where the company slowly introduces some measure of managed services offering into their portfolio, while continuing to foster their legacy streams of revenue."

Thus, in the words of CompTIA Director of Industry Analysis Carolyn April, "The incidence of pure play MSPs is pretty low. It's still an added practice as part of an overall business. Many, if not most, MSPs continue to sell hardware and other infrastructure to their customers, do the implementation and only then take over management of said devices under a managed services contract."

The report also pointed to significant overhead costs, a slow return on investment and difficulty structuring compensation schedules for staff involved in managed services sales as additional factors limiting their popularity.

And last but not least, many firms appear to be waiting to see how cloud computing will impact managed services before committing to them more fully. At the moment, it remains unclear whether the cloud will end up taking the place of managed services entirely, enhancing them or providing a competing model for product deployment.

The bottom line? Managed services are here to stay. They're an important source of revenue for many businesses, and they coexist nicely alongside other practices. But while they're unlikely to disappear, they may or may not constitute a prevailing trend for VARs and channel partners going forward.