MSP Platform Dawns For Network Management Vendor

In 1998, brothers Dave and Don Yonce opened up an online storefront from Tulsa, Okla., that sold a flavor of IT network management software they'd cooked up. This early version of SolarWinds didn't make that big of a splash. And looking back, it doesn't appear that making a big splash was their major ambition, said Mike Bennett, president and CEO of SolarWinds.

table width="180" border="0" cellspacing="2" cellpadding="2" align="left">Hot Factor

• A loyal community of partners brought SolarWinds to MSPs' attention.

• Company plans to add five new employees to manage channel strategies.
"They just put a piece of code up on the Internet and figured if people come and buy it, then great. If not, then not," Bennett said.

But as time passed, a loyal community of SolarWinds partners emerged, and soon the company attained a prosperous albeit low-key place in the crowded market for network management tools. "We've been one of those little-known secrets, with an army of influencers behind it," Bennett said.

Then, in mid-2005, the managed services craze began to go ballistic. For the next year or more, MSP platform vendors N-able Technologies, LPI Level Platforms, Kaseya and SilverBack Technologies hogged the stage. But as an increasing number of partners voiced their particular dissatisfaction, the desire for alternative platforms increased.

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A buzz began in MSP circles that SolarWinds, with its comparatively low $2,500 entry price, could be used as an excellent MSP platform. With increased frequency, the name SolarWinds came up online in industry discussion groups when MSPs asked participants to recommend new alternatives.

This spelled a sales boom for SolarWinds. Having secured venture capital funding in December 2005, SolarWinds increased its head count from two employees to 60 in one year. Bennett was brought on in April, and the vendor moved its headquarters to Austin, Texas, in October to more quickly develop the product using local software talent.

When Mike Driskell, manager of network operations at Cbiz Network Solutions, a solution provider and MSP in St. Louis, first looked at SolarWinds about a year ago, the software was parked in a corner of Cbiz's corporate office monitoring a few internal network functions. As a remote monitoring and management product, this older version "wasn't really ready for prime time," he said. Today, Cbiz is in the process of displacing Hewlett-Packard's OpenView monitoring and management platform with SolarWinds, Driskell said.

"[They] made several upgrades, and now it has a nicer graphical representation of how a network looks and the different connection topologies, and it's a little more user-friendly from a NOC standpoint," he said.

Next stop for SolarWinds is to bag its first distributor, a task that should be completed by February, said Tom Owens, director of channel sales. Recognizing the channel's role in its sudden success, SolarWinds aims to add five new employees just to manage channel relationships, Owens said.