Untangle, N-able Deal Accelerates Open Source, MSP Convergence

N-able has inked a security-related managed services partnership with Untangle. But I believe there's a bigger trend here.

Untangle has a strong position in the open source industry. That position is prompting MSP platform providers -- N-able, Level Platforms, Kaseya and others -- to evaluate their definition of "open" platforms, and (in some cases...) their potential use of open source software.

Full disclosure: I run Ubuntu Linux (see our sister site, www.workswithu.com) and have covered the open source industry since around 1998. So, I strongly believe that open source will play a growing role in the MSP arena.

MSP platform providers are also coming around to open source, and open systems. A year ago, Untangle had a difficult time hammering out partnerships with MSP software providers, concedes Dirk Morris, founder and CTO of Untangle, which promotes open source security solutions to MSPs.

That's changing -- as evidenced by Untangle's relationships with N-able, Level Platforms and Kaseya, just to name a few.

The N-able deal, scheduled to be announced sometime June 17, focuses on technology integration between N-able's platform and Untangle's software. However, Morris foresees a day when the relationship blossoms to include joint sales and marketing efforts.

The Open Road

Meanwhile, most MSP platform providers are trying to decide just how "open" to make their platforms.

For some platform providers, the term "open" involves documented application programming interfaces (APIs) that partners can cross leverage. This, for instance, has allowed Autotask and Kaseya to write to each other's platforms.

But APIs only go so far, and they're often designed -- for better or for worse -- to attract ISVs to a specific platform, much in the way that programmers flocked to Windows in the 1990s.

Some CEOs are looking beyond APIs. During the 2008 Kaseya User Conference in Las Vegas earlier this month, CEO Gerald Blackie mentioned to me that Kaseya is leveraging open source code here and there in the company's products.

Sweet Alternatives

But longer term, I suspect some platform providers will decide to further open their systems in dramatic ways. I'm not talking about pure open source platforms. Instead, we may see add-ons and enhancements with open source features.
A case in point: One industry CEO is trying to decide if and how to integrate his MSP platform with Salesforce.com's hosted CRM system, according to a recent conversation we had.

Supporting Salesforce.com provides a rapid path to software as a service (SaaS), but executives should also watch the open source landscape for alternatives. For instance, SugarCRM is an immensely popular open source CRM system, and it's also gaining momentum in the SaaS world.

Could -- or would -- the MSP platform provider embed SugarCRM's code directly into a managed services system? The possibilities seem endless, assuming CEOs truly are committed to open systems.
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