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Appliances, open source software give VARs systems management options

Appliances and low- and no-cost open source options open up systems management opportunities for SMBs and the VARs that support them.

Systems management hasn't been a great market for VARs.

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Leading products from IBM Tivoli, Hewlett-Packard, CA, and BMC have been geared for large enterprises, leaving solutions providers -- and their small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers -- without much in the way of solutions. But tools geared toward smaller entities have emerged in recent years. Options include specialized appliances, open source software and at least one free product.

While big-ticket products focus on customers with tens of thousands of devices, the SMB-oriented offerings can scale down to environments with fewer than 500 devices. As a consequence, resellers and managed services providers can meet the systems management needs of smaller clients.

Les Flammer, managing partner at The Vantage Group LLC, said he's been offering Kace Networks Inc.'s KBOX systems management appliances for about three years. The 1 U devices handle a range of chores that support the Long Beach, Calif., company's IT security business.

The KBOX appliance discovers a customer's hardware and software assets, a task that Flammer described as the first step in conducting a risk assessment. KBOX also provides patch management and has a security module for vulnerability assessment, he added.

The solution appeals to customers who want more than a point solution for patch management but find the infrastructure and training required to manage a traditional systems management a difficult proposition, Flammer said

"[KBOX] has broader functionality in a package that is reasonable for a small bank or credit union," he said.

At the low end, The Vantage Group has installed KBOX at financial institutions with 200 nodes. But Flammer noted that the product also supports larger customers -- school districts, for example -- with thousands of nodes.

KBOX appliances are designed for businesses with 100 to 20,000 nodes, according to KACE.

Software systems management choices

Systems management software options for SMB resellers include Spiceworks Inc.'s IT Desktop. The company aims its free, ad-supported management application at small and medium-sized organizations with up to 500 devices. The software inventories network devices, provides network monitoring and management, and includes help desk capabilities.

Managed service providers (MSPs) have emerged as a key channel for Spiceworks, which reported last month that more than 65,000 service providers now use its software. Among those is Premier Technology Services. Mike Mullen, president of the Fort Wayne, Ind., company, said he uses Spiceworks to service all of his clients.

Mullen said Spiceworks "gives you the functionality of enterprise applications, but it conforms to the budget of every SMB."

The average number of nodes for a customer is around 15, with the range spanning 5 to 50 nodes, Mullen said.

Open source alternatives in the space include SpringSource Hyperic HQ monitoring and management software. An enterprise edition is also available, with subscription pricing set per managed node.

Chip Witt, senior product manager at SpringSource Hyperic, said
his typical customers need to manage 400 to 500 nodes with the enterprise version. The company's smallest customer manages one device and its largest manages 8,000, he said.

Witt noted, however, that the enterprise subscription's value is realized in full by people needing to manage 50 or more servers. Below that threshold, depending on needs, the company's open source edition is often an option, he said.

Channel ties

SpringSource Hyperic cultivates resellers and referral partners for the enterprise edition of SpringSource Hyperic HQ. Reseller arrangements, Witt said, have served to expand the company's footprint in geographic niches and specialty markets such as government.

"They can offer additional reach and support and professional services," he said.

Kace, meanwhile, began working with Dell last year, noted Ken Sims, vice president of business development and channels at Kace. He said the company has seen "explosive growth" with Dell, adding that Kace also works with CDW, Softchoice and Software House International.

Other channel partners include systems management-focused VARs and affiliate partners that send business to Kace and receive a referral fee.

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