RMM software selection process factors: Integration and beyond

The choice you make when selecting RMM software often boils down to the best combination of integration, deployment and automation characteristics.

Among IT solution providers, the selection of remote monitoring and management software sometimes comes down to the company the vendor keeps.

Remote monitoring and management, or RMM, ranks among the main technologies managed services providers depend on to run their businesses. RMM software lets MSPs and other channel companies keep tabs on a client's servers, desktops, applications and, most recently, mobile devices.

But whether and how well a given RMM solution plays with other key technical infrastructure components may influence the purchasing decision. In addition to RMM, many service providers also deploy professional services automation (PSA), backup and disaster recovery services, and security products. MSPs say they look for third-party integrations when evaluating RMM software.

"Having a good supporting cast of applications is important to me," said Ronald Vliet, manager of service operations at Force 3, an IT solutions provider based in Crofton, Md. "The ability to work with other systems ... is one of the things I look for."

Naturally, technology integration isn't the only element in RMM choice. Service providers take into account such factors as ease of deployment and automation capabilities. Service providers also must weigh whether to go with an on-premises system or tap a cloud-based RMM service.

Another variable MSPs ponder: the impact of acquisitions on RMM product lines. SolarWinds Inc. in late May completed its purchase of N-able Technologies Inc., an RMM vendor. Previous deals in the RMM space include CA Technologies' 2010 purchase of Nimsoft and Zenith Infotech's 2011 spin-off of its RMM business. That operation, since rebranded as Continuum, is under the principal ownership of Summit Partners, a growth equity firm.

Integration options

Integration has become an important selection criterion as channel partners aim to manage an ever-expanding roster of device, applications and services.

I.T. Responsive LLC, an Orange, Calif., MSP and IT consulting firm, switched to Level Platforms Inc.'s RMM software from Kaseya two years ago. Integration was one of the things the company looked at in making its selection, according to Chance Weaver, I.T. Responsive's president. He said the company examined what applications it was using to support the majority of its clients and what integrations were available.

Today, the company's RMM deployment links to Autotask Corp.'s PSA, ESET's antivirus software, Reflexion Networks' perimeter security and antispam offering, StorageCraft Technology Corp.'s ShadowProtect software and VaultLogix LLC's cloud-based backup solution.

Weaver said the integration with VaultLogix's cloud backup, in place for about a year, lets the company track customer backups not only at the server level but also at the level of a remote employee's laptop.

"Being able to see that granular information has been critical for our business," Weaver said.

Tim Hannibal, CEO at VautlLogix, said his company's backup service now integrates with seven RMM products and two PSA products. He said his company does a lot of work with IT channel companies, citing VaultLogix's relationship with distributor Ingram Micro Inc. as one example. VaultLogix supplies the technology behind Ingram Micro's Seismic Online Backup and Restore Service, which integrates with Seismic RMM and PSA. Ingram Micro offers its Seismic services to resellers and MSPs.

[LabTech] takes a considerable amount of effort and technical ability.

Michael Mack,
president of World Synergy

Michael Mack, president of World Synergy Enterprises, a strategic business services firm in Cleveland, said he likes to use an RMM product that links with other applications, making buying decisions "based on the ability to integrate and how tightly they integrate."

World Synergy adopted LabTech Software LLC's RMM a couple of years ago and also uses ConnectWise's PSA as well as antivirus software via LabTech.

MSPs can expect further integration among RMM vendors. Mike Sargent, general manager of CA's Service Assurance business, said the company is investing in analytics with respect to its Nimsoft Monitor RMM product, adding that he doesn't rule out "the ability to integrate with third-party analytics capabilities as well."

Sargent said he envisions an analytics capability that would look at various types of data collected through the RMM, examine a customer's workload relative to capacity usage and help an MSP anticipate capacity needs.

Peter Sandiford, CEO of Level Platforms Inc., said his company has recently taken a "service module" approach to integration that opens the company's Managed Workspace RMM software to a range of new integrations. Level Platforms' Service Module Software Development Kit consists of application programming interfaces, sample code and other tools that let third-party vendors create extensions for Managed Workspace.

Ease of deployment, depth of features

Beyond integration, Weaver cited "ease of installation and the ability to deploy quickly" as important RMM selection factors.

Vendors have picked up on those concerns. Vendors such as CA, Kaseya, LabTech, Level Platforms and N-able support both cloud and on-premises models. Sandiford said cloud-based RMM frees customers from buying and managing servers, noting that customers want products that "don't require a big hurdle to get over."

Sandiford said 80% of his customers opt for cloud-based RMM. At CA, on the other hand, about 90% of Nimsoft Monitor customers prefer the on-premises model, noted John Smith, senior vice president of CA's Nimsoft Monitor business.

Smith said data privacy and control concerns explain his customers' on-premises preference.

"Their customers come to them to provide the service, and they need to have full control over the quality of that service," he said of MSPs. "They are hesitant to rely on somebody else."

Xigent Solutions, an MSP in Plymouth, Minn., represents an exception to CA's on-premises pattern. The company, which also has an office in Sioux Falls, S.D., opted for CA's cloud-based monitoring.

"Nimsoft provides an easy on-ramp to implement a monitoring service," said

Gary Johnson, senior solutions architect at Xigent Solutions. "At Xigent we selected the Nimsoft On Demand alternative. Nimsoft On Demand provides the back-end services for collecting, storing [and] reporting performance data, and most importantly, alarming."

CA, however, aims to make life easier for on-premises buyers as well as cloud adopters. Smith said on-premises customers obtain the software from a CA website, noting that the company keeps the download small by limiting it to base capabilities. CA has more than 130 "probes" -- software that monitors particular technologies such as Microsoft Exchange or an Oracle database -- but those components aren't bundled in the initial download, Smith explained. Instead, CA provides an archive on a Web server through which customers can obtain individual probes.

While MSPs seek ease of deployment, they don't necessarily want a simplistic feature set. Some MSPs prefer RMM products that have the ability to customize the solution and heavy-duty automation features.

Mack said he has found that LabTech automates more IT tasks than other RMM technologies he has seen. But he said MSPs pursuing this type of RMM must have the appropriate skill sets on hand to make the software work to its potential.

"[LabTech] takes a considerable amount of effort and technical ability," Mack said. "You have to make sure your technicians are ones that want to take a huge amount of time and energy to make it do what it is supposed to do."

Automation is a point of differentiation for N-able, according to JP Jauvin, the company's president. N-able's Automation Manager component lets MSPs automate delivery processes and scale their businesses without incurring associated labor cost, he said. N-able also provides a runbook that the company says helps MSP technicians simplify, standardize and automate IT tasks.

Another feature MSPs may increasingly seek is mobile device management (MDM). In recent months, a number of RMM vendors have incorporated this technology. The inclusion of MDM offers MSPs the ability to manage another set of devices through the same pane of glass. But some channel executives say MSPs should be wary of trade-offs between integrated solutions and the sophistication of third-party MDM compared with an RMM vendor's mobile technology.

"My preference would be to utilize an RMM solution that can integrate the MDM capabilities and provide management from a single console," Vliet noted. "However, you can't sacrifice greater capabilities and quality."

Vliet said he has seen service providers that have sacrificed those attributes in favor of a solution that could be easily managed. In those situations, MSP customers realize the easy-to-manage solution lacks capabilities and opt to manage devices on their own, or request that the MSP make enhancements to its solution, he noted.

Acquisition impact

Acquisitions affect product roadmaps and features, and the RMM space has seen a few already. SolarWinds' purchase of N-able is the most recent example.

Jauvin said the acquisition gives the company access to a large portfolio of products. SolarWinds provides IT management software including help desk, network management and application/server management products.

"We will be integrating some of these software products or at least some of the modules or technologies and bringing those to market to the MSPs over time," he said.

In general, a larger company's purchase of an RMM vendor could result in some positives. Vliet suggested that one possible upshot might be an improvement in software quality and support. On the downside, other channel executives said RMM could become commoditized as part of a broader solution.

Come what may, MSPs will continue to seek opportunities to boost their RMM deployments through integration.

"I think we have a really good solution," Weaver said. "But we are always looking for best-of-breed products that can either add on to what we have or improve what we have."

This was first published in June 2013

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