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Ancillary MSP tools add an edge to managed service practices

RMM and PSA software serve as foundational tools for a managed services practice. Many MSPs choose to supplement these with network assessment tools and more.

Managed services providers are perpetually on the watch for tools that help make them more efficient.

Most service providers already rely on remote monitoring and management (RMM) systems as their core technical operations tool, and many also use professional services automation (PSA) software to run the business side. But few stop there. Managed services providers typically seek to build upon such foundational MSP tools with additional products.

Indeed, MSPs have been adopting backup and disaster recovery and anti-malware software as extensions to their mainstay management systems. But service providers also have an opportunity to add on tools that conduct network assessments, fill gaps in device monitoring and offer broader IT automation. Some tools come bundled with RMM and PSA products, while others may be purchased and integrated separately.

An MSP's interest in automating more functions stems from the company's overarching need to boost operational efficiency. Tools can reduce the time employees spend on service delivery, support and administrative tasks. As a result, MSPs stand to increase their margins.

Once you have PSA in place and once you have an RMM tool, I think you have to add the ancillary tools to your offering.
Michael Kranerdirector, MSPCFO

Michael Kraner, who owns an MSP and is a director of MSPCFO, a company that creates daily financial reports for MSPs, believes service providers need to pull together a range of tools to automate their businesses.

"MSPs now have to work with multiple application providers," Kraner said. "Once you have PSA in place and once you have an RMM tool, I think you have to add the ancillary tools to your offering."

Network assessment

Network assessment represents one area of MSP tools expansion. Such tools discover a customer's network assets, collect data on network activity and create reports on network vulnerabilities and other trouble spots.

I.T. Responsive LLC, a Santa Ana, Calif., MSP and IT consulting firm, has added network assessment tools -- RapidFire's Network Detective and eGestalt's Aegify -- to supplement its RMM system.

"For security assessments, we use Network Detective or Aegify in conjunction with our RMM," said Chance Weaver, president of I.T. Responsive.

While MSPs may make tool decisions on an a la carte basis, they can also tap into pre-integrated solutions. Continuum Managed Services, for example, integrated RapidFire's Network Detective with its RMM platform in 2012.

"RapidFire was already used by a number of our partners, and they came to us strongly recommending the solution," noted Nicolas Dard, product manager at Boston-based Continuum.

Dard noted that Continuum didn't have a similar internally developed network assessment capability. So, the company decided to investigate the integration of Network Detective with the Continuum product line, in keeping with the company's single-pane-of-glass management approach.

Nearly half of Continuum's partners use Network Detective, according to Dard. He said those companies use the product -- and the reports it generates -- to spark sales. "The reports can be used as a sales tool, a diagnostic tool, a proof of the quality of their work, and they can even sell the reports as audits," he said. "It helps MSPs create new revenue streams for a fixed cost." He noted that once an MSP purchases a Network Detective license, that company can use the tool as many times as it wants and on as many sites as it wants.

Continuum offers a Network Detective basic package and additional modules, including Security Assessment, Exchange Assessment, SQL Server Tool, Client Connector, and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Compliance. The Client Connector automates scans, while the HIPAA Compliance module "brings a whole new revenue opportunity to our partners," Dard said.

Similarly, SolarWinds' N-able by SolarWinds RMM system integrates with a network vulnerability assessment tool. The company provides that tool, Audit Manager, through an OEM relationship with BeyondTrust. The OEM arrangement predates SolarWinds' 2013 acquisition of RMM vendor N-able.

"Customers started asking us to integrate various third-party products," noted Mike Cullen, vice president of worldwide sales and business strategy for N-able by SolarWinds. "They wanted to stay within the same single pane of glass."

Cullen said Audit Manager has become N-able by SolarWinds' biggest "sell to" product, referring to products MSPs consume to help build their practices, as opposed to products sold through to customers.

Audit Manager can quickly outline a prospective customer's vulnerabilities, allowing an MSP to present a report detailing missing patches and open ports during a sales presentation, Cullen said. He described Audit Manager as a sales tool that can help MSPs acquire new customers.

N-able by SolarWinds' partners will also see RMM integration with elements of SolarWinds' product line. Cullen noted that a ticketing product has already come over from SolarWinds. In April, N-able by SolarWinds announced the addition of Help Desk Manager, which is based on SolarWinds' technology. Help Desk Manager can run on a standalone basis or integrate with N-able's RMM software. Other SolarWinds products still need to be optimized and integrated for MSPs.

MSPs have some additional options in the network assessment space. Tenable Network Security, for example, is developing MSP pricing for its Nessus scanner, which checks for vulnerabilities, misconfigurations and malware. The company has traditionally offered Nessus on a flat-fee-per-scanner basis, with pricing set at $1,500 per year for a commercial license.

Matt Alderman, vice president of strategy at Tenable, said that pricing model is attractive, but only for large organizations. Service providers with a sweet spot among small and medium-sized (SMB) customers may not have a large number of hosts or IPs, he explained. For MSPs dealing with individual customers with 10 to 25 IPs, the $1,500 price tag is a bit expensive, he added.

"In the past, we didn't have a model that scaled well for MSPs," Alderman said.

Tenable plans to offer MSPs a per-host pricing structure, based on the total aggregate number of hosts they aim to scan. Alderman said the new licensing model will let MSPs offer competitive pricing.

"They can bring network scanning into their offering at a price point that their smaller customer base can buy into and allow [MSPs] to keep their margins up," Alderman said.

Tenable is working on a couple of MSP deals in the U.S. and on others in the Asia/Pacific region that will help refine the company's MSP pricing approach. The company plans to publish a price list that it can use for MSPs across the board.

Alderman said he sees MSPs tapping Nessus to conduct upfront consultative assessments of customers' networks. In addition, he said MSPs can use Nessus to scan customers' IT environments on an ongoing basis, as part of a managed services offering that could also include firewall and intrusion detection system management.

Other tools

MSPs may also employ tools to cover monitoring and automation tasks that their RMM and PSA systems don't quite address.

Kevin McGibben, CEO at LogicMonitor Inc., said the Santa Barbara, Calif., company has cultivated a market for its automated IT infrastructure monitoring platform among service providers. He said that segment accounts for about a third of the company's customer base.

McGibben said most of the company's MSP customers already have RMM and PSA systems in place, but cross a threshold that requires additional tooling. He said the typical tripwires include managing a network operations center (NOC), pursuing co-managed IT services or becoming a cloud provider. Service providers entering those areas will need more than RMM products, which he said are geared toward desktop monitoring and management, along with basic server and customer-side network monitoring. LogicMonitor, he added, offers performance monitoring for the entire data center infrastructure, including the more sophisticated elements such as storage arrays and databases. "We don't try to replace an RMM," McGibben said. "We are a complement to the solution set."

That said, some of LogicMonitor's customers use its product as the primary IT tool.

James Cornman, CTO of Atlantic Metro Communications Inc., a managed infrastructure service provider based in Parsippany, N.J., said he started using LogicMonitor three years ago after his company crossed into the outsourced NOC business. He said Atlantic Metro needed a system that would allow it to monitor different customer networks and simplify the provisioning process.

Cornman said the company uses LogicMonitor instead of RMM software.

"This is our main system," he said. "We still have tangential ones that are application-specific, but this is our centerpiece."

GridVision, meanwhile, has set a November launch for its Microsoft Azure-based IT automation and management platform, which targets MSPs as well as SMBs. Christian Ehrenthal, CEO of GridVision, said the product offers monitoring, auditing, reporting and license management. The tool also handles management and reporting tasks for Microsoft Office 365, Exchange and Active Directory, according to the company.

A community edition of GridVision, for up to 100 devices, will be offered free of charge. The professional version of the product will be priced at 50 cents per device per month and 25 cents per user per month.

Next Steps

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