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Dawn of SolarWinds MSP 4.0: What It Means for Managed Services Providers

SolarWinds MSP’s John Pagliuca
SolarWinds MSP's John Pagliuca

SolarWinds MSP has faced at least four major inflection points in recent years. Each inflection point involved a unique set of challenges, and some occasional turbulence. But fast forward to present day and the company's overall relationship with managed services providers (MSPs) appears quite strong -- with plenty of potential upside ahead.

Indeed, partner energy at Empower MSP -- a SolarWinds MSP conference last week in Orlando -- was strong. Division GM John Pagliuca kicked off the conference with some timely reminders. SolarWinds, he asserted, is the world's largest IT monitoring company -- with an installed base that spans corporate IT departments and MSPs. The company's MSP base, he added, spans 20,000 companies.

Senior Director, MSP Evangelism Dave Sobel

Author: SolarWinds MSP VP Greg Lissy
Author: SolarWinds MSP’s Mike Cullen
JP Jauvin

Still, this is more than a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) story. Take a closer look at the SolarWinds MSP product portfolio and you'll notice that it spans PSA (professional services automation), security, remote control, email, and backup services. Plus, SolarWinds is starting to gradually introduce its corporate IT software into the MSP market -- including a forthcoming network monitoring option.

Some massive MSPs now leverage the company's software. Key examples include Long View Systems, NetSurIT, One Path and SWC Technology Partners -- each of whom spoke on a conference panel about growth, recent business strategies and the journey toward managed security services.

But how did SolarWinds MSP get to this point in its journey -- and where is the company heading next? We culled some thoughts from multiple executives in recent days, including Pagliuca, Senior JP Jauvin, VP Mike Cullen, VP Greg Lissy and Senior Director Dave Sobel. We also had background conversations with a range of partners during the conference.

SolarWinds MSP: Keeping Score

The resulting picture, perspectives and timeline essentially flows into a four-chapter story -- at least so far. It reads like this...

SolarWinds MSP 1.0 (2013): When SolarWinds acquired N-able in 2013, it was part of an MSP software industry feeding frenzy. N-able rivals Kaseya and Level Platforms (now Avast Business Managed Workplace) also were acquired that year. And ConnectWise was busy integrating investments like LabTech Software (now ConnectWise Automate) into its core business.

SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson took a hands-off approach to managing the acquired N-able business. Cullen credits that approach for ensuring the deal hit the ground running. Moreover, a seamless management handoff from N-able CEO Gavin Garbutt (who retired during the M&A deal) to JP Jauvin gave existing partners peace of mind. Around the same time, N-able successfully moved to a subscription sales mode.

Side note: Admittedly, SolarWinds MSP didn't yet exist in name. The business was known as SolarWinds N-able.

SolarWinds MSP 2.0 (2016): Here, SolarWinds acquired LogicNow in June 2016. Among the reasons: SolarWinds needed cloud-based RMM, and LogicNow certainly had that asset in a big way, Cullen notes. LogicNow and N-able essentially came together to form the SolarWinds MSP business. But the transition wasn't perfect. LogicNow CEO Walter Scott was tapped to lead the unit, but he left only about two months after the deal was announced.

But here again, SolarWinds found a way to calm the situation. CEO Kevin Thompson tapped John Pagliuca (formerly the CFO of LOGICnow) to lead the SolarWinds MSP team. In many ways, it was a defining moment for SolarWinds MSP, Cullen says. Pagliuca's focus and commitment to partners was clear from the get-go, Cullen adds.

SolarWinds MSP 3.0 (early 2017): Even after Pagliuca settled into the leadership role, there were near-term challenges. For instance, it took roughly a year for SolarWinds MSP to really develop and optimize the sales motions across the former N-able and LogicNow businesses, Cullen concedes. But now that they're optimized, the sales motions are performing exceptionally well, Cullen adds.

Welcome to SolarWinds MSP 4.0

And that brings us to present-day SolarWinds MSP. Throughout last week's conference, Pagliuca and his lieutenants were upbeat about the present-day business and the opportunities ahead.

Still, the company knows it must extend from RMM to shine a brighter light on the rest of the software portfolio -- including PSA , security, remote control, email, and backup services. Sometimes those assets are overshadowed by that monitoring know-how.

That PSA offering, by the way, is considered a light ticketing system. SolarWinds MSP will continue to integrate deeply and aggressively with Autotask and ConnectWise, multiple executive say, while also working with upstarts like CareWorx -- which has integrated SolarWinds with a customized ServiceNow offering for midmarket customers.

Overall, SolarWinds MSP wants to unify its best-of-breed solutions into a platform, says Lissy. Along the way, the company must give MSPs easy ways to discover, learn and try new offerings. "RMM is the socket, and the additional services will plug into that socket," Lissy says.

Already, multiple backup and anti-ransomware enhancements have arrived. On the security front, SolarWinds last week launched Mail Assure, a cloud-based email malware protection and spam filtering solution that acts as a protective layer for all incoming and outgoing email.

Next up, keep an eye on SolarWinds NetPath, a network monitoring platform that the company will extend from corporate customers to MSPs; expect a preview before the end of 2017, Lissy says.

Think Bigger

Meanwhile, Sobel is calling on MSPs to think bigger. Yes, the company will address areas like cloud and network monitoring. But those essentially are table stakes compared to where the industry will go, he adds.

During a think-tank, lab-like session at last week's conference, Sobel raised multiple opportunities ahead of MSPs. He called on partners to shift from device- to user-centric managed services. And he hinted, multiple times, that machine learning will ease the long-term burden for MSPs.

Still, Sobel wasn't trying to paint a perfect picture. During his session, he also solicited product feedback and constructive criticism from attendees. Among the examples: Partners believe automation and artificial intelligence can improve their businesses. But that will require SolarWinds MSP to integrate the company's LogicCards technology with workflows contained in PSA systems, attendees said. Product managers, by the way, attended the session to help document and prioritize potential software enhancements.

Lissy's reaction? Even as SolarWinds MSP innovates, the company will remain vigilant on product quality, scalability and performance.

Competition Looms

Meanwhile, the competitive landscape continues to evolve. Among the moves to watch:

  • Datto and Autotask just last week announced plans to merge, putting data protection, network hardware, PSA and RMM capabilities under one room;
  • Kaseya appears close to confirming one or more acquisitions;
  • Continuum is preparing a security operations center that will launch sometime in 2018;
  • And ConnecWise is expected to share some surprises during IT Nation 2017 next week in Orlando.

Still, SolarWinds MSP doesn't seem flustered by the competition. One key indicator: Much of the SolarWinds MSP conference occurred the same day that Datto and Autotask announced their merger plan. But the entire SolarWinds team -- and attendees, for that matter -- remained on message during the show.

It's the latest indication that Pagliuca's steady leadership continues to serve SolarWinds MSP well.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.