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In a perfect world, managed services providers (MSPs) would do the brunt of their work remotely. Site visits would be limited to physical equipment installations and how-you-doing sessions with customers.

In the real world, interoperability and integration issues with some technologies get in the way of managed services nirvana. Security vendor Untangle believes the answer is open source technology.

Open source products, argues company brass, are cheaper and more flexible, and integrate more easily with other technologies. Untangle competes with security heavies such as Symantec and SonicWall with its technology to block spam, viruses, spyware, adware, and unwanted content. The company has forged partnerships with managed services platform vendors N-able Technologies, Kaseya and Level Platforms to integrate with its Gateway security platform. The N-able partnership was made public on June 17.

“The goal for this alliance between Untangle and N-able is two-fold: remove the complexities associated with integration and interoperability and really make it easier for partners to build out their managed network security offerings with the use of our N-central technology and Untangle’s open source applications,” says Derik Belair, vice president of business development at N-able.

MSPs looking to keep their overhead low, and for easy interoperability and integration, see Untangle’s technology as a welcome solution, says Dirk Morris, Untangle’s chief technical officer.

Often, he says, MSPs learn about Untangle from their customers, who download the products for free. The MSPs, in turn, have been bringing the company to the attention of managed services platform vendors, Morris adds.

 “We started contacting the platform vendors a while ago,” he says. “What we have seen is that over time, their interest in us has gone up.”

Belair says a lot of N-able MSPs already do business with Untangle. “It made this a really natural alliance that benefits all three stakeholders — N-able, Untangle and most importantly, our partners,” he says. “Our alliance with Untangle not only simplifies integration and, as such, speeds deployment, but it also enables our partners to extend their services capabilities beyond the basics.”

Partnerships such as Untangle’s alliance with N-able, Kaseya and Level Platforms are a step in the right direction, as far as Bob Vogel, chief marketing officer of Autotask, is concerned.

 Autotask’s business management software, which solution providers use to run their business processes, integrates with the platforms of Kaseya, N-able and Level Platforms. Vogel believes the managed services industry should embrace an open services architecture that facilitates flexibility and collaboration.

The significance of Untangle’s relationship with managed services platform vendors, says Vogel, comes down to this: “Just like end users, service providers want IT to work. “They want to use technologies that are proven to work well together, whether they integrate or interoperate,” Vogle adds. “The last thing a service provider wants to do is standardize their business on a technology that locks them up with proprietary software and prohibits customization. They want flexibility to meet the customers’ needs and collaborate on their services efforts.”

As solution and service providers take on the role of CTO for customers, Vogel says, open architecture will become more desirable.

“The future of IT is channel collaboration among all players, including vendors, networks, manufacturers and service providers,” he says.

Vogel isn’t just preaching. Autotask’s technology, he notes, is based on an open services architecture that allows its customers, the MSPs, freedom in choosing which managed services platform to use. This, he adds, ultimately facilitates collaboration between providers, vendors and other players, such as IT staffing firm OnForce and distributor Ingram Micro’s Ingram Micro Services Network.

 Kenneth Meeks, president of MSP Vtech Support, says his company partnered with Untangle in March after concluding through a review of the company’s technology that it provides a solid managed services solution. Until then, Vtech had been using a SonicWall.

“We partnered with Untangle simply because Untangle assembled many different and functional open source projects into an easy-to-deliver-and-monitor product for our client, Meeks says. The Untangle technology, Meeks says, has proved its mettle as a firewall.

 “In addition,” he says, “Untangle provides consistent upgrades, bug fixes and knowledgeable technical support personnel.”

Untangle’s Morris says he believes his company is an early participant in what is sure to become a trend among managed services and vendors – to build more of their technology and services on open source technology.

Open source has strong adherents, though until recent years it was often dismissed because products are typically available for free. But what an increasing number of solution providers are finding is that they can use open source to pull different applications and services together, therefore creating deliverable services for which they can charge the customer.

Untangle offers its basic products for free, but charges for technical support and for premium applications that handle functions such as security policy management and integration with Active Directory.