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SolarWinds Acquires Passportal for MSP Password Management as a Service

Credit: Joe Panettieri

SolarWinds has acquired Passportal, a provider of MSP-focused password management, documentation, and privileged client knowledge management tools, the companies confirmed this morning.

It's the latest in a growing list of SolarWinds acquisitions that specifically address cybersecurity, IT management and automation opportunities for MSPs. The move also intensifies competition between SolarWinds MSP and Kaseya -- which owns the IT Glue documentation and password management platform.

Colin Knox, head of community engagement, SolarWinds MSP
Passportal CEO Colin Knox
John Pagliuca, president, SolarWinds MSP

The newly branded SolarWinds Passportal suite provides MSPs with:

  • A single console for password management and privileged client knowledge management.
  • Self-service and Password Management as a Service (PMaaS) delivery models.
  • White label capabilities, ensuring that end-customers interact with the MSP's brand.
  • Integrations across numerous third-party MSP software platforms.

Passportal, founded by MSP veteran Colin Knox, apparently was a fast-growth company. As of March 2018, Passportal had more than 1,000 MSP partners, according to ChannelE2E reporting at the time. The company attracted funding in mid-2017 from Accelerate Fund II, an early-stage angel co-investment fund in Alberta, Canada.

A major pivot point also arrived in 2017, when the company expanded from password management to documentation management. The move essentially pitted Passportal against IT Glue (now owned by Kaseya). In some ways, Passportal also competes with such rivals as IT Boost, Myki and LogonBox, among others.

SolarWinds and Passportal: Behind the Acquisition

Passportal has attracted investment and buyout interest from multiple companies over the past year, sources close to the private equity industry tell ChannelE2E. Moreover, Passportal CEO Colin Knox -- a former MSP owner -- has built strong, c-suite relationships with executives across the MSP software ecosystem. MSP industry veteran Dan Wensley also helped to build the firm before exiting in late 2018.

For its part, SolarWinds has long respected Passportal. "We've had a long-distance relationship for a number of years," quips John Pagliuca, executive VP and general manager of SolarWinds MSP, referring to his ongoing business discussions with Knox.

The conversations ultimately shifted from the business partnership level to a full-blown buyout for three reasons, Pagliuca says:

  1. Focus: Passportal and SolarWinds have a similar mission, focus and passion for MSPs. "They're purpose built by a service provider for a service provider," Pagliuca says.
  2. Partner Passion: "Colin and the team are obsessed with partner success. We saw that and heard that with everyone we spoke with at Passportal."
  3. Security: MSPs are now the gatekeepers for SMB security, and they essentially hold the crown jewels to SMB and device access, Pagliuca asserts. "Passportal really helps to protect those crown jewels," Pagliuca says.

Passportal Remains Cross-Platform: Knox has similar perspectives. But he also arrived at the M&A discussions with some key requirements. Chief among them: Ensuring Passportal would remain open, available and tightly integrated with third-party MSP tools -- even those that compete with SolarWinds MSP's portfolio. "We want our platform to be in the hands of every MSP around the globe," Knox says.

SolarWinds embraced the approach, and is committed to that open model, Pagliuca confirms. "Our focus is to put Passportal in the hands of as many MSPs as possible -- and that includes both SolarWinds and non-SolarWinds MSPs."

Read between the lines and SolarWinds believes password-based systems won't disappear from the MSP and SMB ecosystems anytime soon -- despite ongoing hype and market R&D focused on biometrics and other password alternatives.

SolarWinds MSP: Cybersecurity Strategy

Kevin Thompson, CEO, SolarWinds

Passportal will play a key role in SolarWinds' overall cybersecurity strategy for MSPs and IT professionals.  In  a prepared statement about the Passportal deal and resulting software suite, SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson said:

“At SolarWinds, every move we make to build out our solutions starts with one question: Does this help solve a problem for our customers? When we decided to augment our security portfolio with the SolarWinds Passportal suite, we answered that question with a definitive yes. The new SolarWinds Passportal product suite will arm IT service providers with the ability to more effectively manage and secure the broad range of IT ecosystems under their purview. While many security vendors take a complex approach to solving IT security management challenges, our focus has always been to make IT—including security—look easy, despite the complexities in the background. Today’s launch fully supports that mission, and is another step in helping our customers stay focused on IT management vs. IT problem-solving. That’s our job.”

SolarWinds has made multiple cybersecurity moves in recent months -- and more moves are expected soon. Examples include:

  • Threat Monitoring: Acquiring technology to launch SolarWinds Threat Monitor, a SIEM-oriented platform for security operations centers. MSSPs are now embracing the platform for their SOCs. And smaller MSPs are partnering up with larger, more established MSSPs for the services.
  • Access Rights Management: Acquiring access rights management technology. SolarWinds ARM allows MSPs and IT professionals to centrally provision, deprovision, manage, and audit user access rights to their systems, data, and files while minimizing exposure to insider threats, the company says.
  • Endpoint Protection: Preparing an endpoint protection partnership with SentinelOne, which will be announced soon, Thompson revealed during Wednesday's earnings call, according to MSSP Alert. The company also has an ongoing relationship with BitDefender.
  • Additional Capabilities: Including email protection, backup and recovery and more.

Documentation Management... And PSA?

Meanwhile, Passportal is more than a password management play. The company's documentation management capabilities and other R&D efforts "really enhanced Passportal's portfolio," Pagliuca says. "They have other offerings that, in aggregate, really make things interesting." He predicts Passportal will play a key role in SolarWinds MSP's exploratory efforts to build a PSA 2.0-type of solution for partners.

Indeed, SolarWinds CEO Kevin Thompson hinted that the company was working on more automation capabilities and a professional services automation (PSA) strategy during the company's earnings call on Wednesday.  The effort, which may involve Samanage, could potentially counter products like ConnectWise ManageDatto (Autotask PSA) and Kaseya BMS.

Moreover, SolarWinds remains in the market for additional tuck-in and strategic acquisitions, Thompson indicated during the earnings call on Wednesday.

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.