Cloud computing has transformed what small and medium businesses (SMBs) can accomplish. SaaS applications require little to no infrastructure, no up-front capital expenses, and provide enterprise-class capabilities, thus removing many of the barriers associated with traditional software suites that kept the SMB customer segment from using them. A new SaaS company, GridVision, has made SMB management and automation easy, and taken a bold step in its product pricing model to make it very attractive for the whole segment.
GridVision is the brain child of Christian Ehrenthal, former CEO of the Blackbird Group, a highly successful compliance management company which was acquired by BeyondTrust in 2012. GridVision aims to solve the problem of managing the small business environment in three ways: Ease of setup and use, easy automation to customize management needs, and an extremely low cost of entry. It's a cloud-based service that uses a lightweight management agent on workstations and servers; the agent communicates back to the service via SSL on port 443.
The first thing you notice in setup, and a really nice touch from my perspective, is that GridVision is forward-thinking in how it manages user identities: It doesn't. Instead of building its own identity store of userids and passwords, users sign up for GridVision via a federated login with a user's Microsoft account (figure 1). This makes it easier and more secure for users. Would you rather have a small startup (I count about 31 people in the company's "About Us" photo) protecting your identity data, or the Microsoft Online Service division? It also makes it easier and more secure for GridVision. I'd like to see more ISVs adopting this identity architecture.
Figure 1: Federated login
Once logged in, the setup process has a "concierge service" to automate common setup tasks (Figure 2):
Figure 2: Setup concierge service
The wizard steps you through common management tasks and the time they should execute. Once that's done, you need to deploy the management agent to the workstations and servers you wish to monitor. How you do this depends on your local environment; you could share and install the .msi file from a common file share or, if you have Active Directory on premises, use Group Policy software deployment. Once the agent is installed and data collection has begun, there are a variety of reports you can run and tasks you can manage. Figure 3 is what the home screen looks like after you've deployed agents.
Figure 3: Overview
"Automation" is a foreign word to SMBs. Small and medium businesses are right at the cusp of where automation can save time. Performing processes manually again and again is a time sink for admins, but the return on one's time for learning an automation language like PowerShell isn't as clear as it is for enterprise shops. (And even the enterprise shops are slow in picking up automation skills.) So, SMB administrators continue to slog along manually. GridVision has a drag and drop automation interface that dramatically simplifies a wide variety of tasks, making it much easier to manage one's environment.
The real eye-opener for GridVision's solution, however, is its pricing model. It's pretty straightforward: If you have less than 100 devices and managed users - which covers a wide segment of small businesses - the product is free. If you go over either of these levels or are supporting a multitenant environment it's $.50 per device and $.25 per user per month. The free, "community" level has community forum-based support only. The service was designed from the outset to be very community focused, and to quickly grow a user base that answers questions, provides guidance, and shares task automation scripts with one other.
I expect to see this product rapidly grow in popularity. It fulfills a solid need in the SMB market, and does it easily and cheaply (or free). The team has a roadmap of features (such as a self-service portal) planned and is very interested in community feedback to help guide the product's direction.
You can find out more about the product at http://www.grid-vision.com.