The pickings were big but scarce when IntelliNet Corp. opened its doors in 1998. The consulting and management services firm had big ambitions. But the cost of implementing enterprisewide network management limited IntelliNets prospects to the Fortune 500.
"Blue Cross, Sherwin-Williams and OfficeMax were among our early clients," recalls co-founder and business development VP Edward Taton. "We soon realized that we wanted to expand into the SMB[small to midsize business] marketcompanies with fewer than 5,000 employees who need an integrated network management platform."
Penetrating the SMB space would require a much more affordable solution than was generally available at the time. The first years cost of hardware, software, facilities and staff for a small network operations center (NOC) often exceeds $200,000, according to The Tolly Group (www.tolly. com). Midsize businesses with thousands of network devices can expect to spend several million dollars on an in-house solution.
IntelliNet built its own NOC in order to sell "a blending of best-of-breed tools and specifically trained engineers, offered as a service," says Taton. That put IntelliNet in the managed services provider (MSP) business, which has rapidly attracted competitors in recent months. But IntelliNet wisely chose a partner that enables the company to offer some key benefits that most other MSPs lack.
Backed By SilverBack Most MSPs host several management applications at their own NOCs. The applications monitor the clients network over fragile Internet connections. Lose the connection and the client loses its network management teama possibility that deters potential customers. These MSPs also face ongoing challenges of integrating various vendors apps and their upgrades, delivering reports that clients can understand and explain to their nontechnical management, and maintaining histories of network events, trouble tickets, problem resolutions, etc.
SilverBack Technologies solves all of those problems, enabling IntelliNet to satisfy customers reliability concerns, focus on high-value network planning, diagnosis and repair services instead of the mind-numbing grunt work of monitoring and reporting, and earn recurring revenue from SilverBacks subscription-based network monitoring and reporting service.
SilverBacks InfoCare solution puts all management software at the customers premises, inside SilverBacks InfoNest 650 appliance. Its an Intel-based box running Linux.
"The fact that a portion of InfoCare sits on customer sites is a differentiator for us," SilverBack CEO John Igoe told Sm@rt Partner in May (www.smartpartnermag.com/stories/news/0,4538, 2571243,00.html). "Customers are not relying on a dial-up or Internet connection to get to the data center where their apps are being hosted."
The applications running on the InfoNest include asset inventory, performance monitoring, security scanning and administrator-alert engines (see diagram below). The data generated by these four front-line apps are correlated by XML-based middleware dubbed SAIL (SilverBack Application Integration Layer). For example, an alert needs to integrate asset inventory information about the device being reported in order to be actionable. The correlated data is stored in a database. The SEIL (SilverBack External Interface Layer) extracts only the event information that is deemed useful according to customized business logic. The SEIL presents this information to users via the SIP (SilverBack InfoPortal), an intuitive dashboard-like GUI that can be viewed with any Web browser.
The SIP also transmits the sifted information to SilverBacks InfoCenter via a VPN connection. The InfoCenter provides continuous backup of historical data, trend analysis, access to SilverBacks problem-resolution database, trouble-ticket storage and forwarding, and other services.
A Happy Customer Marconi Medical Systemsa medical imaging equipment manufacturer at the high end of "midsize" with 5,000 employeesis a recent convert to the IntelliNet/SilverBack partnership.
"When I came here about a year ago, one of our Achilles heels was network management," says Dave Wither, Marconis manager of corporate network infrastructure. "We had one [network management] guy, who went home at night. We wanted a 24 x 7 management scheme." He also wanted to free his small staff from daily crisis management so they could work on more profitable long-term projects, such as documenting all network resources and planning for future needs.
Ten years ago, Wither had worked at American Greetings Inc., where he often expounded his vision of how network management should be to then co-worker Brian Stengel. "Why cant someone plug into my network and tell me whats going on before my boss asks me whats going on?" Wither complained.
Stengel, who joined IntelliNet as executive VP a year ago, immediately called Wither at Marconi. "You have to see what these guys have for you," he urged Wither.
It was pretty easy to sell Wither the answer to his prayers, especially when he saw IntelliNets price and terms: $7,500 per month, and a mere 90-day commitment.
"I figured it would cost me a million dollars to build an NOC and more than three months to install and configure management software like Tivoli, CA, (HP) OpenView, etc.," says Wither. "Then Id be looking at another million per year for six or eight network engineers to staff it."
About $5,000 per month goes to SilverBack, whose fee is based on the number of SNMP devices to be monitored. The rest goes to IntelliNet for system administration, troubleshooting and problem resolution services. IntelliNet also gets a substantial portion of SilverBacks fees under their partner program agreement.
The ease of implementing InfoCare also impressed Wither and his bosses. "Two guys walked in and had it running in two hours," he recalls. "When I went to upper management and said we could have this paradigm shift for less than $100,000 a year, be up and running in under 30 days, and go as deep or shallow as we wanted to with IntelliNet, they just asked, What are you waiting for? "
"Actually, two guys walked in and had it running in two hours," he adds with a chuckle. That was four months ago. Since then, Wither has documented some dramatic reductions in network downtime. "It used to take four hours to isolate and fix a broken router; now it takes just 27 minutes," he crows.
"I didnt have to build a coalition of support for IntelliNet, either," Withers says. "My server guys dont believe in real-time monitoring; they take a take two aspirin and call me in the morning approach. But all I had to do was turn on the SilverBack service; I didnt have to sell it to all my people."
Wither does plan to build a coalition of his biggest complainers, though. "You have to become a partner with your users, build a community and share trust with them," he says.
"Were taking a tiered implementation approach," Wither continues. "First, IntelliNet took over tier-one monitoring and troubleshooting of our Sprint frame-relay network. Then they took over our internal ATM network down to edge devices. Ultimately, theyll handle all NT boxes everywhere on our network."
No doubt, IntelliNets and SilverBacks revenues will grow commensurately. Eventually, says Stengel, IntelliNet hopes to extend its MSP services to firms with as few as 100 employees. With a partner like SilverBack, IntelliNet will be able to profitably serve such small customers.
So could you.