Cloud-based approach to system administration took off quite some time ago. However it was missing some important ingredients and lacked performance in certain areas until recently. As of 2014 it’s safe to proclaim that this technology has matured enough for easy adaptation in a wide range of network environments and technologies. In this article we’ll focus on SolarWinds – a well-balanced system for managed service providers.

To suit most of our readers we’d assume the perspective of an end customer (Small or Midsize business) and break down the functionality of SolarWinds system; we’d also touch-base on advantages for a Managed Service Provider and overall savings for the customer.

Monitoring of the system health (servers and workstations)

Staying proactive is one of the main principles of Allora Consulting’s business model as illustrated in this video. And this is where SolarWinds shines. It’s true that Microsoft products like Small Business Server 2011 or 2008 provide basic monitoring and reports, however it’s a far cry from the robust capabilities of SolarWinds. Unlike Microsoft system SolarWinds has been developed with a prime focus on SMB’s customer-base and their Managed Service Providers. SolarWinds platform pays close attention to practical issues and IT needs expressed by end-customers. An extensive system of routine checks such as unusual patterns of memory consumption, disturbing levels of failed login attempts, alarming amount of critical errors in a system log permits a system administrator to intercept a developing problem and resolve it before any harm comes to the customer’s IT infrastructure.

Managed AntiVirus

This is a critical component that was missing out just a couple years ago. Thankfully, GFI has acquired VIPRE AntiVirus and integrated it in SolarWinds system under the name of "Managed AntiVirus". While end-user have some control over AntiVirus protection (like launch custom scans) most settings and actions are controlled via SolarWinds console. This ensures customer's employees are unable to tamper with the protection and the status of the protection is monitored 24x7. Another great feature is the option to manage Quarantined items from the cloud-based SolarWinds console. 

Remote Access

SolarWinds provides a top-of-the-line Remote Access through its alliance with TeamViewer. Furthermore End Customer have an option (which must be enabled) to access their workstations through SolarWinds as well (essentially having a corporate level subscription to TeamViewer which runs at ~$3,000)

Managed Updates and Patches

Most workstations and server get compromised because of unpatched vulnerabilities. Windows Update Services only focus on Microsoft products whereas a huge amount of exploits target browsers other than IE, Adobe Acrobat, Java, Flash, etc. SolarWinds can handle all popular software packages and enforce updates as soon as a new version is released to address the latest security holes.

Inventory Tracking

Any system administrator needs to keep track of the network infrastructure: network diagram and specifications of servers, workstations, routers, etc. Again, it's true that one can acquire certain specs through a Domain controller on a Server-based network however it's quite limited and there are 3rd party solutions like Belarc which focus on gathering this data. With SolarWinds it's simply another embedded feature. Tracking inventory allows timely upgrades for it's much easier NOT to overlook an aged or not longer adequate component.

Online Backup

Backup is one the top-level responsibilities for a Managed Service Provider. In certain scenarios (modest amount of data to be backed up) Online Backup is a great solution. Again, there's no need to seek a 3rd party solution like Carbonite: an MSP can simply activate Online Backup on any given workstation. 

Now, that we completed the overlook on functionality we can finish this article with a summary on the pricing model and customer agreement model:

  • there's no commitment, it's а month-to-month billing system. In perfect alignment with Allora's Philosophy the creators of SolarWinds share the same belief that a client should only pay for what has been provided.
  • Most features above are modular in nature. Per your request or their own preference your MSP can turn on any given feature a-la-carte style. If you choose to stop using AntiVirus or Online Backup functionality - it simply gets turned off and its associated cost goes away of course.
We have found that SolarWinds allowed us to provide a great deal of functionality to our customers. It also greatly simplifies system administrator's life because there's no need to purchase and handle separately various packages like Remote Access Software (Logmein, GoToMyPC), AntiVirus (Kaspersky, Avast), Inventory data (Belarc), Online Backup (Carbonite, Mozy, etc) - all critical solutions that a Managed Service provider generally needs can be found within SolarWinds.
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