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Start-up aims to manage networks for small businesses

Silverback hopes to stake a new claim in the growing trend of outsourcing computing tasks.

    First desktop software, now network tools.

    A start-up hopes to take the headaches out of managing networks of computers for small and medium-sized businesses, staking a new claim in the growing trend of outsourcing computing tasks. Silverback Technologies will today announce financing as well as its first product, according to company executives.

    Billerica, Mass.-based Silverback is hoping to make a business out of a new wrinkle in the application service provider (ASP) market. The company wants to take responsibility for the complexity and costs associated with managing a network of computers, in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.

    "I think it's kind of a green field for these guys to go into," said Mike McConnell, an analyst with market watcher Infonetics Research.

    The strategy underscores the computing industry's pronounced shift toward a services-oriented model. Under the new scenario, a company provides software applications--in this case, network diagnostic tools--as an Internet-based service, allowing a customer to focus on its primary business rather than its information technology (IT) needs.

    Silverback, founded in the spring of 1999, characterizes itself as a management service provider, or MSP. Executives say competitors include other emerging companies such as Manage.com and TriActive.

    Analysts say these firms could take advantage of a huge headache associated with being a small or medium-sized business. "It's a unique idea and it's interesting in the sense that it relieves a company from a lot of capital expenditures," McConnell said.

    The overall ASP market could reach $23 billion by 2003, according to one estimate.

    Counting 45 employees, Silverback has just received $6.8 million in first-round funding from Matrix Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners. The company expects to close on a second round of funding this summer, according to a spokesman.

    Silverback plans to offer a network device that hosts a variety of management software (drawn from third parties) at a customer site. The device will serve as a central "hub" for information about a company's network of computers, offering monitoring, reporting and security data through a Web-based user interface.

    "All a customer has to do is hit the Web-based informational portal," said Robert Klotz, chief technology officer for Silverback.

    Klotz said the company's goal is to provide a set of useful information and IT expertise to a company so it doesn't have to focus on some of the more esoteric components of the Information age.

    The company's InfoCare service will target businesses with up to 250 devices, such as network routers and switches and server computers. Monthly fees will range from $2,000 to $4,000, according to Silverback.