In the spring of 2006, I was frustrated. As an IT professional, my team and I were responsible for 1000 endpoints and we were struggling to manage them all. We had devices at many disparate locations with no way to centrally control them. We used a combination of RDP/VNC along with NAT rules and IP restrictions in order to remote into "jump boxes" at each site. Once in a jump box, we would start another remote control session to other devices on the remote network.
I had a terminal server MMC with all the servers saved in it and I would copy the config file and share it with the rest of the techs.
I started Googling for "remotely control and manage windows pcs" and "remote control without NAT rules". As I researched, an acronym kept showing up in forums that I hadn’t seen before – RMM. It turns out that there was a group of products that solved all my remote management problems and they were called Remote Monitoring and Management platforms.
After several online demos with sales reps, we signed a contract with an RMM called Kaseya. Once we installed and configured the server in our office, we deployed agents on all the machines. For the first time my team could remotely control any PC on any network from anywhere. We were thrilled!
This tool had dramatically changed the way were able to approach device management. By the spring of 2007 we were using some of Kaseya's other features too:
- Alerts when a server went offline
- Schedule and manage Windows updates
- Run backups and push them offsite
- Deploy antivirus and alert upon a detection
- Push scripts to groups of machines
Fast forward ten years. My team was still using the same platform, but we were frustrated.
For starters the product hadn't really changed much. The only improvement that impacted us in a decade was an improved remote desktop module. In that same time span technology was making massive changes: the iPhone, Web 2.0, cloud computing, BYOD, etc! Kaseya did buy a few companies and tried to integrate their products, but they were bolted on to the core product which resulted in fragmented user experiences.
Screenshot from their current product in 2020. In case you couldn't tell, it hasn't changed since we started with them in 2006!
As feature-rich as the software was, we used a small percentage of the product in our daily work. This was because the modules were hard to use and didn't meet our expectations. One year at the annual Kaseya conference they recommended that a technician should be dedicated to managing the RMM to ensure that we were fully utilizing their product. This seemed like a big ask for our growing team.
The RMM didn't do everything we needed, so we started buying other tools to fill in the gaps. PRTG for SNMP monitoring, PingPlotter for fast and frequent testing of latency and jitter, Auvik for network management and alerting, MX Alerts for SMTP round trip monitoring and alerting, etc.
The annual costs were becoming expensive (we were up to 5000 endpoints by this point) and our CEO would challenge the pricing and product's necessity every year. I assured him that an RMM was necessary but one year we bought a cheaper RMM called LabTech. That decision was a huge disaster and we went crawling back to Kaseya a few months later. We did eventually switch to another RMM, Solarwinds N-Central, and that change stuck, but many of the same problems remain.
Perhaps I'm being hard on the RMM vendors; after all they did many things right! But every year we felt like the money we were paying them was not being invested into improving their products.
After using 3 of the largest and most well-respected RMMs in the industry, we see huge room for innovation.
RMMs shouldn't require a dedicated person to help your team leverage its capacity. Yes, effort should be put into configuring the system for your specific needs, but beyond that the tool should be easy to use. The technician's experience should be the focus of product development. It should be as easy to manage 1000 computers as it is to manage a single computer!
The RMM shouldn't just help the techs, it should also positively impact the end-users' experience. I'm not talking about deploying patches and anti-virus; no end-user really cares about that. Every user should have an easy remote desktop solution that can be accessed from a browser. Also, users shouldn't need to call the helpdesk to get an app installed, they should have an app catalog full of pre-approved apps.
All variety of devices should be managed from the same system. Windows, Mac and Linux should have agents that bring parity to desktop and server management. All other devices that are managed by SSH and HTTPS shouldn't be left out and should be easily managed. Wouldn't it be nice to bring mobile devices into the fold as well? I think so too!
Documentation is too hard. Ticketing systems, PSAs, wiki's and knowledgebases house static data, but nothing in IT is static. It's time to merge documentation and the RMM. By the way, password management belongs here too.
The platform should be modern and developer friendly. The roadmap of features should be transparent and there should be frequent, regular releases.
Does this sound like an RMM anymore? A different vision probably requires a different name. I'm not sure what this class of product should be called yet, but we call our product "Level" and it's going to change technology management.
RMMs improved the way IT managed devices. Level does this while also improving the quality of life for the technicians that manage those devices. RMMs brought visibility and metrics to a central location. Level will sift the signal from the noise so that the metrics are meaningful and actionable. RMMs allowed scripting and automation to be run on many endpoints. Level will leverage scripting to allow technicians to easily perform the most-needed actions -- like application management, drive/printer mappings, and new device runbooks.
We have a bold vision and we're excited to share what we've been working on. Our platform has launched with an excellent agent that's small, fast and flexible. Our remote control is done completely in the browser and breaks the mold of today's remote-control solutions. I invite you to join our community of IT professionals. Try out Level and let us know what you think!
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