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By Jay McCall, networking and managed services editor,
Testing by Eric Brown, CEO, Remote Technology Management
A managed services provider evaluates seven RMM tools and shares the pros and cons of each.
Based on the feedback of our loyal readers, we’re proud to bring you product reviews as a new editorial inclusion this year. Because of the growing interest in the managed services business model, we kicked off our testing with RMM software. Remote Technology Management (RTM), an MSP based in the Boston area and headed up by CEO Eric Brown, performed the testing over a four-week period. Brown, along with his team of technology consultants, tested seven RMM tools and shared feedback on the highlights and lowlights of each one. The seven RMM tools tested were from the following vendors: Continuum, GFI, Kaseya, LabTech, Level Platforms, N-able, and Dell packetTrap.
The MSP met with key product experts from each of the above vendor companies, went through the onboarding process with each one, and personally tested each product at its headquarters. Below is a highlight of RTM’s findings.
Some vendors brag about including NOC (network operation center) support and services with their RMM as a differentiator, but is this real or just marketing hype? According to Brown, “This is a real differentiator that MSPs should be looking at when they evaluate the overall price of an RMM solution. For example, Continuum offers 24x7x365 NOC support as part of its RMM offering, whereas LabTech does not have its own NOC, but it integrates with a third-party NOC. Others, such as GFI, Kaseya, Level Platforms, N-able, and Dell packetTrap offer NOC services, but there are additional fees, depending on criteria such as when the services are needed and which types of end points are being serviced.” Another differentiator among NOC choices is where the NOC is based (see chart above for more details).
Agent vs. Agentless
Installing agents (small programs that capture key metrics and report back to a central host) on monitored end points can be a time-consuming part of a setup. But, does the timesaving nature of an agentless system pay off? According to RTM’s test results, all of the agentless options available (from Continuum, Level Platforms, and Dell packetTrap) performed as advertised, but agents are still required to capture the most detailed information in the customer’s environment. “In situations where you just need to count devices and capture basic information such as computer brand and the type of OS it’s running, agentless is fine,” says Brown. “However, there are always going to be situations where you want to capture much more granular information such as all the software that’s installed on a computer, the bios version, a service tag number, and warranty details, which can only be achieved using an agent.”
SaaS vs. On-Premise
Of the seven products tested, Dell packetTrap was the only one that didn’t have a SaaS option. “Because accessing and managing end points remotely is such a big part of using an RMM tool, we would only feel comfortable using a SaaS-based tool that could be accessed anywhere,” says Brown. “The primary reason for this is that we like to remove our office as a point of failure. If the Internet is down at our office, we still want to be able to support our clients.”
MDM (Mobile Device Management) Support
As the BYOD (bring your own device) trend kicks into full swing, remotely monitoring mobile devices is becoming increasingly important for MSPs. At the time of testing, here’s what Remote Technology Management observed:
Continuum offers on-demand support for smartphones (Android, iPhone, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile), tablets (Android and iPad), and PC- and Mac-based laptops through a single tool. The only caveat is that Continuum uses LogMeIn Rescue, which is not included as part of its RMM product. It is billed at $100 per month per user, which can be controlled through the RMM portal. With LogMeIn Rescue, an MSP can log in to an iPad and make changes.
GFI recently acquired VizualMobile and is expected to be integrating MDM functionality into GFI MAX in the first quarter of 2013. “It’s not clear yet whether MDM will be considered a regular node in terms of pricing,” says Brown.
Kaseya offers MDM support for Android, BlackBerry, and iOS devices with Windows mobile agents in the works. Mobile devices are treated just like any other endpoint with regard to Kaseya’s licensing model.
LabTech supports Android and iOS devices only. Like Kaseya, there is no cost distinction between running agents on mobile devices compared with servers.
Level Platforms offers the most extensive MDM support, according to Brown, including support for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows mobile devices. “Their plan for 2013 is to go beyond remote management and to offer remote control of devices,” says Brown. N-able and Dell packetTrap do not currently offer MDM support.
Besides some of the differentiators mentioned earlier, here are a few special features/functions that distinguished one RMM tool from another.
Continuum includes a feature called Client Communicator. “This is a system tray icon that can be used to gain brand recognition with your clients and provide self-service modules to help reduce client calls and requests for information,” says Brown. “Through the Communicator you can synchronize news feeds, send instant messages, and integrate scripts to provide users with tools to fix problems on demand.”
GFI offers managed antivirus and managed online backup, which eases an MSP’s vendor management. “GFI also offers MSPs the ability to send alerts via email at no cost or SMS messages at 10 cents a message,” says Brown.
The Kaseya RMM tool allows the MSP to define custom views of agents/devices based on any criteria (e.g. software version). “It also allows you to block applications based on an application filename,” says Brown.
LabTech supports an array of AV solutions. Also, the ability to control updates is very granular. Being able to organize agents in an “Active Directory”- like structure was also nice and would be beneficial when managing hundreds of similar agents across multiple sites/clients. The easy access to the Windows command prompt made scripting very easy.
Final RMM Assessment
In summary, here is Brown’s overall assessment of each of the products he and his team tested:
Continuum offers a comprehensive solution that’s especially suited for small to midsize MSPs. Besides the value of its included NOC support, Continuum provides its partners with a dedicated sales technician, mailers, marketing tools, deliverables, and contract templates with preconstructed service level agreements. Continuum was a top performer in the following four categories: fast remote login (thanks to LogMeIn), white list patch management, scripting ease, and virus alerting on its dashboard.
Brown’s team ran into a few glitches with GFI. One example was when their RMM tool failed to detect a manual reboot of one of the test PCs. When they tried running disk checks, they got a message that said, “This action will be performed when the device comes back online.” Also, patch status wasn’t always accurate. In one test, the dashboard said, “No patches found,” but the test PC revealed 18 patches were ready to be installed.
“Because we had several instances where it took more than two minutes to connect to a remote end point and several instances where the connection failed altogether, we would not feel comfortable using Kaseya,” says Brown. “It’s possible that the glitches we encountered were caused by using an unsupported version of a browser or something else that a firmware upgrade would have corrected, but the reality is that the other RMM products didn’t have these problems. Plus, we often use our RMM tool at a customer’s site on their computers, so we don’t always have complete control over browser versions and the latest firmware updates.”
LabTech was one of the quickest installs, and the communication between their management console and agent was fast. Commands executed from the management console were reflected on the agent almost instantly. Client management, data entry, and information storage were also really good. The ability to quickly reference a service or device passwords for all admins to see was very useful. The network discovery worked really well, too. Some of the drawbacks RTM observed with LabTech were: Remote access via the built-in VNC (virtual network connection) was very slow. Linking to the LogMeIn agent was very tedious, too. Scripting was very powerful but sometimes overwhelmingly complicated for simple tasks. “Often we resorted to executing batch files or Visual Basic scripts we created via the command line interface provided by the agent,” he says. “The management of alerts was sometimes frustrating. There are a lot of alerts generated from this system, and turning them down was difficult.”
Level Platforms has the most thorough onboarding process, which is a must-have if you’re just getting into RMM. “They spent 1.5 hours walking us through the server setup process and an additional 3.5 hours with the rest of the onboarding process [GFI had the fastest onboarding — 2 hours],” he says. “Unlike some vendors that assign you an account rep, Level Platforms assigns a client engagement manager that even helps you find new prospects. Another plus with this vendor is that every time we contacted their support line, we were able to reach a person.”
N-able can most definitely be a valuable asset to the MSP that has the need and can take advantage of all the additional features they offer (see chart above). “However, I did find them lacking in the customer service department, as several of my attempts to contact them went unanswered,” he says. “Their Web interface was easy to use, as were most of their feature products and tools, as I almost never had to watch a tutorial to figure out a setup or use a feature. The scope and variety of their tools was impressive, but they ultimately lack luster if an MSP has no use for them. It was disappointing that their MDM was not yet available to test, but it is supposed to be available soon.”
Dell packetTrap was the only RMM that RTM tested that included built-in VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) monitoring for ShoreTel and Avaya. “They also include a basic PSA (professional services automation) tool with their application, which is a bonus for smaller MSPs that want an automated ticketing solution but are still okay with manual billing,” he says. One other highlight with this RMM tool was its patch management capabilities. Dell packetTrap’s RMM offers granular configuration capabilities (e.g. auto-install some updates, manually install others) based on type of client (e.g. certain servers) and based on the category of update. Finally, Dell packetTrap supports custom scripting, which gives MSPs the ability to create alerts based on system logs or SNMP (simple network management protocol) trap events.
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Remote Monitoring And Management Software Comparison
|Website||Continuum||GFI MAX||Kaseya||LabTech||Level Platforms||N-able||Dell packetTrap|
|NOC services||yes, 24x7x365, included||yes||yes, additional fee||integrates with third-party NOC||yes, additional fee||yes, additional fee||yes, additional fee|
|NOC location(s)||India||North America||North America & India||n/a||North America & India||North America||North America & India|
|Agent vs. Agentless||both options available||agent only||agent only||agent only||both options available||agent only||both options available|
|SaaS vs. On-premise||both options available||both options available||both options available||both options available||both options available||both options available||on-premise only|
|MDM Support?||yes||no (coming soon)||yes||yes||yes||no||no|
|Mobile Platforms Supported||Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Symbian, Windows Mobile||n/a||Android, BlackBerry, iOS||Android and iOS only||Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows||n/a||n/a|
|Special Features||NOC support included, LogMeIn integration, white list patch management||no minimum requirements, flat pricing structure, shortest onboarding time||customizable views of agents, black applications based on filename||supports array of AV solutions, granular control of updates, quickest install||most thorough onboarding, most comprehensive MDM||includes: report manager, remote control manager, security manager, backup manager, audit manager, and policy manager||includes basic PSA, Avaya, ShoreTel monitoring; RMM fees end after 36 months|
|Pricing Structure Highlights||fixed cost per agent; three price levels||pay as you go; no minimum requirements||priced per node; 12-month or perpetual licensing||on-premise and SaaS pricing models; prepay required||priced per site; eight tiers ranging from SoHo to enterprise||not available||priced per customer; no device min./max; 5-customer min. req.|
|Expanded Online Review||Continuum Review||GFI Review||Kaseya Review||LabTech Review||Level Platforms Review||N-able Review||Dell packetTrap Review|
|Product Data Sheets||Continuum RMM Datasheet||GFI MAX Product Summary||Kaseya Core Features/Functions||LabTech RMM Datasheet||Level Platforms RMM Brochure||N-able RMM Brochure||Dell packetTrap RMM Guide|