It is likely my own employees will approach me with confused expressions and ask why I would take time to defend Solarwinds’ earning announcement yesterday. My product management and development teams can point to the deliberate design differences WhatsUp Gold is built with that make it more usable than Orion and my sales staff will argue that the WhatsUp Gold pricing model with unlimited monitors per device is a higher value and better integrity solution than the exploitive SolarWinds model of charging per instance of a monitor per interface. I enthusiastically agree with my product and sales teams! We are a better choice but that war is won in the field, within the network environments of all size companies. Today, what is more important to me is addressing the macro issue of transformation the network management and performance market is undergoing. It is a revolutionary change and companies like Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold and SolarWinds are leading and the market will not be the same again.

Wall Street Process Has No Regard for the Road Less Traveled
Wall Street reacted negatively to SolarWinds’ earnings for Q2 and forecast for Q3 and 2010. That’s what Wall Street does – mathematicians and bean counters dedicated to predicting the economic fate of companies like SolarWinds. The decision to go public is filled with sexy connotations of wealth and power and for some those dreams are realized. For others however, the aspirations of money and parallel the 2 wheel car driving the mountain road designed for four wheel drive trucks. You set out and quickly discover the ride is going to be hellish and there is 90% chance you will break down before your reach the destination. SolarWinds lowered its earnings outlook but I think they still represent a model business in terms of growth and profit. Public markets are demanding and when you show up to the game having the reputation of hitting home runs every time you’re at bat; solid singles and triples get you boo from the street. Solarwinds will be fine. They will acquire accretive businesses to boost growth numbers while sacrificing margin and the Wall Street critics will continue their predictable judgments. In all this drama, the fact that the marketplace has and is undergoing a huge shift in the way it buys and uses software will be lost to the financial noise of Wall Street.

“No One Gets Fired Anymore for Not Buying HP Openview
Up until the genesis of the recent recession, the famous line thrown around by some buyers was “no one gets fired for buying HP”. I am sure it’s still true that the IT management teams of the upper echelon of F250 companies still feel this way and who can blame them – heck, with all the golf outings and high priced dinners they receive from the HP, CA and IBM guys, it’s real hard to say no.

However, this recession and the ongoing humility brought by global markets have changed the IT landscape forever. Budgets are slashed and we (Ipswitch) predict based on our prospective interviews with thousands of IT buyers that budgets are permanently reduced but most importantly; for the first time in many of their careers, IT staff is expected to look at non-Big 4 solutions specific to network and performance management. The strong, double digit growth both Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold and Solarwinds are experiencing is proof positive that IT buyers are not only looking outside the big 4, they are buying outside the big 4. Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold and SolarWinds have had their best financial years in recessionary years.

“Solutions are Replacing Platforms”
There is no magic nor any tricks. We are selling more because we have designed solutions that are replacing existing platforms – Yes it is that exciting and that powerful. The notion that large firms have more complexity is true. The notion that the complexity can be managed with more complexity is not true. Solutions can now replace platforms. And…a side but important benefit has also been realized. Because buyers can buy best in class solutions from different vendors, the onus in now on every vendor including Ipswitch to build the best in class solution in every area we compete on or our buyers will go to a different a vendor. That is a world of difference away from yesteryear when you bought the HP platform and then were forced to buy ONLY HP plug-ins at a high cost and low usability standard.

Wall Street will continue its ferocious review of SolarWinds and others and the consequences will be seen in attractive headlines on yahoo finance and the WSJ. Take a step back and look beyond the boundaries of Wall Street’s cares. The network management and performance space is officially changed and Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold and SolarWinds will be leading that change by bringing the simplicity that enables management over complexity.

And…don’t fall victim to the idiotic and verbose statements made by the on sleuth of new entrants looking to cash in to the opportunity in this new market. Hardware solutions are the wrong alternative. The MSP space is alive simply because usability by vendors including us was too lax for a little while but we are back with better than ever usability that enables every company of every size the opportunity to manage and drive the sacred network assets.

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I have entered many discussions with industry players arguing for MSP models as the future of network management for small and medium businesses.  For the record, I believe the MSP model is a good delivery vehicle for services to small businesses and even some medium sized businesses who have limited resources and / or inadequate technical competence in-house.  I also like the concept behind MSP delivery as a model for other business applications and migration into cloud environments.  For me, the MSP debate is not a discussion about technology as the delivery of monitoring and management technology is mature enough to handle most market and customer demands.  My doubt in the MSP model comes from the business model side which I find often lacks depth in thinking about pricing models that will enable the provider to stay in business while offering the end user business an affordable service.  Second, I attend webinars from leading MSP pure plays in the market and I am often disturbed by the reckless comments I hear.

Last week I attended a webinar for curiosity reasons and this Big 3 MSP provider claimed that ISV’s like Ipswitch WhatsUp Gold and SolarWinds had abandoned the SMB and mid-market and the only choice the SMB market would have over the next year is an MSP based offering.  Further he said the SMB business would be in danger of extinction because of the lack of products and services available to manage the SMB network. He said, “The only way small and medium businesses that rely on the internet for business will stay in business are to take a lifeline from an experienced MSP provider who can monitor and manage their assets and applications.   The more I listened the more I chuckled and worried about the sanity of this salesman.

As he spoke, he reminded me of an environmentalist interviewed last week regarding California’s diminishing population of steelhead trout.  In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead into the Santa Monica Mountains to prosper, California is planning to spend $1M to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.  The project is the latest in a steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent $16 million dollars on concrete fish ladders and fish ways.   Problem is the trout don’t seem to be playing along – not the natural path they instinctively follow and in full disclosure, this public project like many others has real issues like an eight foot jump the trout are supposed to execute between two waterways.  I am no expert in steelhead trout but an eight foot jump seems ambitious.

Many of the lessons learned regarding the trout seems applicable to the MSP efforts.  The MSP model is a cluster of confusion today.  Within this one interactive seminar I attended both end-users and service providers from different companies were present and confusion between providers cost and end-user average cost was abundant.  By the end I estimated the sales person had mentioned traditional software like WhatsUp Gold as bad 10 times.  More interesting to me was that he labeled service-based offering like his as new and exciting but failed to specify the benefits that would make both end users and service providers react positively.

The lesson I took from this experience is one we all aspire to master as product and service providers; provide clear and actionable evidence why your offering is important to the audience you  address.   The recessionary times we are exiting from have made IT buyers smarter than they have been in 20 years.  Either because of economic pressure and or competitive threat, buyers are willing to explore alternatives to existing systems today but they are compelled by pain relief more than ever or solely claiming to be new and exciting will not get you there.  The same trend is handicapping the cloud movement.  Attend a WebEx on “the cloud” and you are inundated with reasons old process and systems are bad and then finally if you don’t close your browser prior; you’ll hear about the benefits the cloud brings.  I am hopeful cloud providers learn the lesson early.

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