Contact Richard:   +44 (0)121 663 0223 +44 (0) 7703 355045

Building a Community – Lessons from GFI Max

One of the ways you can tell if a good product or company is gathering momentum and becoming popular is by how much of a community is building up around that product or company. When people are passionate about something they want to talk to other likeminded people about it.

GFI Max LogoOver the past couple of years, GFI Max is one such company where I’ve observed a growing community of people who want to spend time together talking about the Max RMM tool.

Whilst this isn’t something that has happened entirely by design, it’s not something that happened by accident either.

LinkedIn Forums

GFI have helped facilitate their community by providing the GFI Max LinkedIn Forums – a place where Max users can chat, exchange ideas and give feedback to the GFI team – good or bad. Whilst these forums are monitored and members of the Max team participate in discussion themselves, they aren’t moderated in the sense that if a Max client has a gripe about the product or the company that they air with their peers – the GFI team don’t delete the message or shy away from it, they respond to it directly. This attitude towards being open and transparent hasn’t gone un-noticed by the SMB Community.

Members of the GFI Max LinkedIn forums are usually the first people that get to hear about new features and the forthcoming Max Roadmap too, further building a sense that the community is valued.

User Groups

Earlier this year, GFI responded to a request from the Thames Valley Small Business Specialist User Group led by Chris Timm. The group, which has a high proportion of GFI Max users within it, was looking for a new sponsor, and GFI agreed to step in and help that group continue to grow.

All of these things on their own aren’t enough to persuade people to use GFI Max products. You still need a really good product and service delivery (which I believe GFI Max has). But if all things are equal, and an IT company is faced with choosing between two or more really good products – as is the case in the RMM market populated by GFI Max, Labtech, Kaseya and others – people tend to choose the product that their peers have recommended to them.

Make it, don’t fake it

You can’t fake this stuff. Building a community of raving fans isn’t something you can acquire. People can tell the difference between a paid endorsement and genuine goodwill towards a company or product. It takes time and it’s not easy. Most IT vendors give up because it’s too hard. They want immediate returns. Those vendors will still sell stuff, because generally their product is good, but retaining clients and as importantly, having clients who will talk about their product to others? That takes commitment.

Conferences

GFI Max Global Conferences 2011Over the next few weeks, GFI Max will be taking another step towards supporting their community and will be hosting their first GFI Max Global Conferences at four locations across the globe.

The UK Conference takes place in Oxford on October 20th.

The USA Conference takes place in Florida on November 8th and 9th.

Not forgotten, Australia gets it’s Conference in Sydney on December 1st, and Europe has a Conference on November 23rd in the Netherlands.

I’ll be attending the UK Conference on October 20th, and will be looking forward to getting together with a whole load of GFI Max users.

Are you a GFI Max user and attending too? Let me know!

Looking at Managed Anti-Virus for MSP’s

Last year I gave a series of presentations to a number of SMB IT User Groups about my belief that one of the keys to growing a successful IT Managed Service Provider (MSP) is to move away from the “big bang” model, and to instead be looking for recurring revenue opportunities.

Never is this more apparent than with Anti-Virus products.

Managing Anti-Virus

Weekly World News paper headline "Computer Virus Spreads to Humans!"I know I’m not alone in saying that managing and maintaining Annual Anti-Virus renewals is a chore. You’ve got numerous problems, not least of which is the admin overhead of expanding the Anti-Virus (AV) license when a new workstation or user is added to a client’s network. Sending multiple invoices throughout the year with Pro-Rata costs for new licenses is a chore, and worse, if pro-rata *isn’t* available from your AV Vendor of choice, you’ve got a whole heap of licenses with different expiry dates to manage.

The trouble with annual AV renewals

From a clients perspective, Annual AV renewals are a pain because they are inflexible. With the economic downturn of recent years, I’ve seen MSP clients who were reluctant to sign-off on an Anti-Virus renewal for x amount of licenses because their gut-feeling was that in 3 months time they’d actually only need x minus 3 licenses, due to reductions in staffing. As the MSP you get into that sticky situation where you’re chasing the client to renew their license renewal in order to keep their network safe, but the client themselves are in no hurry to sign off.

Then there is the fact that traditionally Anti-Virus Vendors offer juicy incentives to new clients to lure their business away from competitors. Your client approaches you to say he’s seen an offer for Anti-Virus that is half their current Anti-Virus renewal rate – and you have to spend time trying to persuade them to stick with the solution they’ve already got.

So it’s fair to say that Annual Anti-Virus contracts are typically are a chore, for both MSP and client.

Anti-Virus for MSP’s

Then there is the actual Anti-Virus product itself. Many products are not aimed at the MSP market. For years, AVG Anti-Virus was one of my MSP’s favourite products for the Small Business market, because it was aggressively priced and reliable. But as we added more and more MSP clients the reality struck us that we were doing a lot of remote administration across a variety of admin interfaces – very inefficient. Wasn’t there any way to administer all of these clients sites from a central console? With AVG, the answer was sadly no.

The Anti-Virus product any MSP chooses to work with nowadays should be fully multi-tenanted. In other words, you should be able to manage as many functions of the product as possible (starting virus scans, dis-infecting files, responding to alerts) from a single interface covering all your clients, rarely having to remotely connect to a clients server through Remote Desktop or a similar tool to perform functions.

So as an MSP you want a multi-tenanted Anti-Virus product that does not bill on an Annual basis.

Rolling Anti-Virus contracts

The solution is a rolling Anti-Virus contract with an MSP aware AV Vendor. My own MSP moved away from annual renewals to monthly recurring contracts around two years ago, and life became much easier – both from a technical management and an administration perspective.

Trend Micro LogoAt that time we moved on to using Trend Worry Free Business Security under the Trend xSP model. Put simply, Trend provided us with a license code which enabled us to install to as many end-points as we chose, be they workstations, servers or machines that were off the main company network – very useful if the Managing Director or his family want their home computers covered and managed by their MSP!

Each month, we would bill the client for the number of licenses that they had used. If a client added or removed machines during a month, the number of licenses for the following month would be amended appropriately.

Once a Quarter, we reported back to Trend on the number of licenses we had used during that quarter – and paid our bill appropriately.

The benefits of working monthly

From our perspective as an MSP, we were never laying down cash for AV renewals on behalf of our clients because we’d already received payment from our client on a monthly basis. We didn’t have to pay the Vendor for their licenses until the end of a Quarter, we were much more efficient from an administrative perspective, and we made a tidy profit to boot.

I’m also a believer in the more line items you have on the monthly invoice you send to a client, the “stickier” you are likely to be with that client. Always be letting the client know the reality of the wide variety of work you do for them every month, to help them understand the value in your relationship with them.

From the clients perspective, they had the flexibility of only paying for what they used and as they paid monthly they didn’t have to suffer the “big bang” of annual Anti-Virus renewals.

What’s more, as an MSP working with a MSP savvy Vendor in Trend, we were given a single web interface (Trend Worry Free Remote Manager) that allowed us to be much more efficient about managing our client machines from a Technical perspective. From that web interface our engineers could respond to Virus alerts, remotely kick-off virus scans, amend AV engine settings and monitor the status of dozens of client sites from a single location.

Innovation in Managed Anti-Virus

The product wasn’t perfect, by any means. As an MSP we were not alone in becoming used to experiencing issues with Trend’s “Smart Scan” function which seemed to kill certain machines performance. There was still a need to remotely connect to clients servers to perform certain tasks which we’d have preferred to have completed centrally, and deployment still required work on the client site too. We’d also have liked the Anti-Virus reporting to have fed back to our PSA Tool (ConnectWise) to enable alerts to be managed through a single interface and reports to be delivered to our clients in a single uniform fashion – but these points aside, it was fair to say that Anti-Virus management with a Managed AV product such as Trend Worry Free Business Security was infinitely easier and more profitable than with traditional AV products.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to have a play GFI’s new Managed Anti-Virus offering – which integrates into their RMM tool, GFI Max.

GFI Max LogoGFI Managed Anti-Virus (MAV) has caused quite a stir in the MSP community since it’s release a few weeks ago, with lots of chatter on LinkedIn and Twitter about it.

The killer feature here is integration. If you’re an MSP running GFI Max as your Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool, that word “integration” is very significant!

Vipre Anti-Virus

imageGFI Managed AV is built on the Vipre Anti-Virus product, produced by Sunbelt Software. GFI acquired Sunbelt and the Vipre product in July 2010, and have been working on incorporating Vipre into their Managed Service Provider range since.

The product is priced aggressively, and MSP’s can bill their clients on a monthly basis for the product and receive payment from the client before GFI ask for their license payment.

Tracking license usage is very simple thanks to GFI Max’s strong reporting features. There’s no danger of an engineer deploying to a new workstation and your billing department forgetting to invoice – everything is automatically tracked.

From a technical perspective – rather than go over the features the GFI Managed Anti-Virus brings to the table, here’s a short video of the product that managed to sneak it’s way onto YouTube ahead of the actual product launch recently.

Wish List

There are still some features that I’m sure MSP’s would very much like to see – for instance, there is rarely a MSP client who doesn’t already have an AV product installed, so a tool to automatically remove existing AV products before deploying MAV would be a boon. That said, many GFI Max users have already created scripts deployed through GFI Max to automate some of that process, and I understand the Developers at GFI are working on an official tool to achieve the same goal.

But the real benefits are seen in on-going management terms. Rather than you or your engineers having a separate interface to visit to manage AV (such as Trend Worry Free Remote Manager) they simply visit the GFI Max Dashboard and use the same familiar interface to deal with Virus Threat alerts, Scan Results and Virus Quarantine.

GFI Max Dashboard Anti-Virus Features

All issues and alerts are reported into this central dashboard, which means they can automatically get raised (and closed) as tickets within your PSA tool of choice – ConnectWise or Autotask.

Time Saver

The ability to set Anti-Virus Policies centrally is a time-saver, both in terms of setting up and the amount of on-going maintenance it minimises. I’ve seen many MSP’s who struggle to uniformly deploy AV using the same policies (such as directories to exclude from File Scans, etc). MAV uses a hierarchy similar to Active Directory, so you can amend policies at the Client, Server or Workstation level – but easily use a standard set of policies across multiple deployments.

The reason I’ve always personally been a very vocal raving fan of GFI Max is the simplicity of their products. As a very small MSP, there simply wasn’t time for me to take deep-dives into products before I started using them. As my MSP grew in size, I wanted engineers to hit the ground running rather than having to be extensively trained in a product. The GFI Max Dashboard is easy to learn and use, and now that ease of use has been made available for an Anti-Virus product too.

All under one roof approach

Whilst I’ve traditionally been a huge fan of “Best of Breed” for MSP’s when choosing products to deploy at their client sites, I’m rapidly warming to the idea of having many products within a single dashboard for the efficiencies it provides. What’s more, whilst I’ve no prior experience using Vipre as a stand-alone product so am still learning about it’s weaknesses, I’d be stunned if I found any other AV that was so much better than Vipre that I’d be persuaded to use it in preference to those integrated features we’ve covered.

Switching to GFI Max MAV

If you’re an MSP using GFI Max as your RMM tool, then MAV is going to be a no-brainer for you to adopt. The benefits of having AV in the same interface your engineers are used to is the killer feature.

If you’re an MSP with no RMM tool currently in place, then MAV may persuade you to adopt GFI Max. You’re probably already frustrated with having multiple interfaces for all those different AV’s, and using MAV quickly kills that frustration off.

If you’re using a competing RMM tool such as Kaseya or Zenith Infotech which already has an AV bolted into to it, then you’re probably happy with it (and have invested a lot of time into getting it working as you like it) so I’d actually urge you not to check out GFI MAV for fear of becoming envious.  Smile

The bottom line

The bottom line here is that if you’re an MSP or IT Support provider using a variety of Anti-Virus products across many client sites, typically on an Annual Renewal basis – then you’re probably not making life easy for yourself. Problems with billing, problems with administration, problems with maintenance.

Standardising on a product, especially one that is multi-tenanted and MSP friendly, brings many efficiency benefits and starts to help you to increase your recurring revenue stream.

Taking a look at GFI Max Patch Management

GFI MaxI mentioned in an earlier blog post that one of the vendor relationships my business has really committed to since we went through a merger is GFI Max. Prior to the merger, my business was using GFI Max and the business we merged with was using Kaseya – and we had to make a choice over which RMM (Remote Monitoring & Management) tool to use as a merged company going forwards.

All signs pointed towards using Kaseya – it was more powerful, with greater scripting capabilities and more advanced features. But it required an investment in time to un-tap that advanced functionality, time we didn’t have with everything happening as part of the merger process. Additionally, Kaseya required a significant financial investment. In contrast, GFI Max had a smaller feature set, but could do 80% of what we wanted “out of the box” with little or no training required, and a much smaller up-front investment.

We were upfront with both vendors about our feelings, and it was the GFI Max team who came through strong here – being open and honest about their plans, sharing their roadmap with us and committing to it.

Deciding on GFI Max

The decision was made to the GFI Max guys, and I’m pleased to say we’ve never regretted that. I know many similar companies that have really invested time and money into their relationship with Kaseya, and are reaping the rewards, but for us GFI Max is now one of our key vendors.

We’ve held the guys in Scotland to their promises though – and one of the commitments GFI Max made was to plug the gap in their tool where there was no centralised Patch Management capability. Since Hound-Dog (as GFI Max used to be known) became part of the GFI Software family, we’ve been itching to see the GFI product line such as GFI LanGuard integrated into GFI Max. This past week, David Hay and Mark Petrie at GFI Max shared with us a sneak peek at Agent v8.5.0 Release Candidate, which would incorporate Patch Management into the GFI Max tool. I thought I’d share that sneak peek with the readers of this blog, as I know many of you are fellow GFI Max users yourselves.

Patch Management and Vulnerability Scanning

The new Patch Management and Vulnerability features are incorporated into the existing Advanced Monitoring Agent deployed to Workstations and Servers when Agent v8.5.0 RC is deployed.

Once deployed, you’ll find a new folder called “LANguard 10 Agent” appears on the C:Program FilesGFI directory of workstations and servers, and a new GFI LANguard 10 Agent Service begins to run. You’ll also spot a new Windows Process called “lsass.exe” running.

LanGuard 10 Agent Install ScreenshotWe’re told that a more white-label approach to conceal this directory and service will be used in an upcoming Agent release, in line with the rest of the GFI Max suite.

GFI Max Patch Management Settings ScreenshotThen you can enable the Patch Management settings from the Dashboard Settings menu, under a new menu item.
From this new settings section, you can be very granular about how Patch Management is handled – doing so via a hierarchical structure which is inherited down by Server/Workstation, Client and individual machine. The feature can be turned on or off, or customised, at any level.

As well as patches, there is the capability to scan for Vulnerabilities – using known many of the well known Vulnerability databases.

Talking of databases – both patches and vulnerability scans cover Microsoft plus a lot of 3rd party software too. Mozilla, Adobe and other products are already scanned for.

You also have the option of enabling the feature to scan only (where you can manually view the Patches and Vulnerabilities in a report) or by generating an Alert, which will be highlighted on the GFI Max Dashboard and/or within your PSA tool.

Those of you familiar with Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) will also appreciate the ability to auto-approve Microsoft Patches at different levels – from Critical only, through to all updates.

After enabling, deployment and scanning should start to happen within two 24×7 Check schedules – so around 30 minutes or so.

GFI Max Checks ScreenshotOnce the scans begin to happen, and if Alerting is turned on, you’ll see a Vulnerability Check appear on the Checks section of the Dashboard for each deployed agent – this will show the number of missing patches and any Vulnerabilities identified.

If you click on the blue underlined details next to the Alert, you’ll be able to drill down into a report that shows the Missing Patches and Vulnerabilities.

GFI Max Patch Management Settings Screenshot

From this screen, you’ll then be able to select Patches for deployment as you choose. Simple!

Points to note – Vulnerabilities are highlighted, but you’ll need to manually go and fix them. Naturally there is no simple way (nor would you want to) click a box to patch a MySQL installation, or update a Firewall.

Also, if a patch is deployed which *doesn’t* have a silent installation option, when deployed this will need user interaction.

Additionally, if a patch requires a reboot, you’ll need to make arrangements for this. GFI Max won’t automatically reboot your machine.

Thankfully, most vendors provide silent installation options which don’t require a reboot, so this won’t be an issue – but GFI tell us they’ll provide a feature to highlight those patches that *do* experience these issues in an upcoming release so you can be aware of the additional steps you need to make.

Site Concentrator Feature

It’s worth noting that you can also specify a Site Concentrator – a server agent which will act as a Cache from which all other Agents will download their updates. This gets around the problem of dozens or hundreds of agents all trying to download the same updates via the Internet and clogging up the bandwidth.

One caveat to be aware of is, that at this RC release of the Agent, you can’t specify the directory to download patches to. Therefore if you’re short of space on a Server C: drive, it may be worth re-installing the Agent to a drive where there is drive space free to store downloads.

There is also what looks like a strong reporting facility for generating documents to share with clients – perhaps when doing a Network Admin visit or up-front assessment of a new client, it’d be possible to highlight all the areas that are vulnerable or require patching.

Additionally, the Vulnerability and Patch scan can be incorporated into the Daily, Weekly and Monthly reports – so you can highlight patches installed, missing or Vulnerabilities therein.

Demo of GFI Patch Management

If you’re more a visual person then I’d encourage you to head to YouTube – GFI’s Chris Martin has made a Demo Video available of the new Patch Management features across on YouTube

Closing Notes

Closing notes – Release date for the Release Candidate Agent should be sometime this week – in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time you’d read this and visited your GFI Max Dashboard, you see the Patch Management features available!

If you’re a GFI Max client and would like to feedback to them anything about this new feature or anything else – I’d strongly urge you to check out the LinkedIn Discussion group at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=1986499 – there’s a ton of talk going on which the GFI Max team actively monitor and respond to, and it’s a great example of a vendor engaging with their clients in a proactive fashion. We use the group ourselves and there is a good vibe there!

So there you have it – a one-stop-shop for deploying Patches and highlighting Vulnerabilities on client workstations and servers! We’re excited to have this functionality after patiently waiting for it, and it re-affirms our faith in GFI Max to deliver on their promises. Thanks to David and Mark at GFI Max for taking the time to share this with us, and in turn, allowing me to share with my blog readers!

 

Join me for “Marketing your IT Company” Webinar with GFI

One of the biggest decisions we made as a business post-merger in 2009 was to choose our RMM (Remote Monitoring & Management) tool. With Netlink IT and JamesCash.co.uk coming together, we had both Kaseya and GFI Max in the mix and sadly, there was only room for one tool going forwards.

We chose GFI Max, based on the very strong long-term relationship we’d enjoyed with the guys from Scotland over a number of years, and the roadmap for new features they shared with us for the product going forwards.

I’m glad to say we don’t regret that decision for a moment, and our relationship with GFI Max has gone from strength to strength!

So when the team at GFI Max asked us to participate in a series of Webinars to help other GFI Max Partners, we were happy to help!

Therefore I hope you’ll join me this Thursday, September 16th 2010 between 1600 and 1700 BST as I discuss “Marketing your IT Company” along with Rick Dibbert of Central Washington, US based Parsec Computer Corp. You can register at http://bit.ly/9uhARZ

As a bonus, if you register for this webinar, you’ll receive a free White Paper entitled “Making the Move to Managed Services” by GFI’s own Chris Martin.

“Rick Dibbert of Parsec Computer Corp (running 28 years) and Richard Tubb share experiences and ideas on what works when marketing an IT businesses.

This webinar includes:

  • Early days …. How to convince your first few customers on board
  • Machining your marketing …. Turning your small customer base into something larger
  • Marketing messages/tactics which worked best
  • What to avoid
  • Can your customers become part of your marketing department?

To register, visit http://bit.ly/9uhARZ

 

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