Call it the latest shot in the emerging MSP software wars. Autotask -- in an apparent bid to counter ConnectWise, LabTech Software and maybe even Kaseya -- has reached out to several RMM (remote monitoring and management) software companies with a free Autotask Go offer. Level Platforms and PacketTrap embraced the offer, but not all RMM players are joining the Autotask Go freemium effort. Here's the update ... plus the potential implications for VARs and MSPs.

First, the facts and latest competitive moves:
  • Level Platforms and PacketTrap each are offering free Autotask Go licenses (for a limited time) to customers that sign up for Level Platforms or PacketTrap managed services software.
  • Dan Wensley, VP of partner development at Level Platforms, confirms the freemium relationship with Autotask Go, but he says Level Platforms has no plans to actively market the Autotask Go freemium relationship.
  • Sources at PacketTrap confirm that the company is offering up to three free Autotask Go subscriptions, which are good for one year. To receive the free subscriptions, MSPs have to sign up for PacketTrap's RMM software, the sources say. PacketTrap is actively promoting the offer through email marketing.
  • Autotask has not responded to MSPmentor requests for comment, but sources say the company continues to reach out to additional RMM providers and master MSPs for potential Autotask Go freemium engagements.
Not all RMM vendors are involved in the Autotask Go freemium effort. Two prime examples:
  • Kaseya CEO Gerald Blackie and Executive VP Jim Alves say they have not been approached by Autotask about the Autotask Go freemium effort. To me, that suggests Autotask views Kaseya as a potential long-term competitor in the PSA space.
  • N-able declined to join the Autotask effort because N-able didn't want to show favoritism between the three major PSA players (Autotask, ConnectWise and Tigerpaw), according to VP of Sales Mike Cullen. Instead, N-able remains confident in its own competitive product set and will look to offer the best integration possible with all three PSA offerings, Cullen said.

Countering ConnectWise, LabTech... And Kaseya?

From where I sit, the Autotask Go freemium offer seems to be a response to the ConnectWise Capital-LabTech Software relationship as well as Kaseya's potential push into the PSA market.

As you'll recall, ConnectWise Capital invested in LabTech Software, an RMM provider, in February 2010. Since that time, LabTech has grown rapidly from about 100 MSP partners to roughly 1,000 now, MSPmentor has heard. LabTech has mostly targeted Kaseya's installed base, but LabTech's progress most certainly involves some competition with other RMM providers like Level Platforms, N-able and PacketTrap. At the same time, Kaseya has been promoting an xSP product road map that includes a Business Center PSA tool.

The bottom line: Autotask doesn't want to get in to the RMM market. And a number of RMM software companies don't want to get into the PSA space. So Autotask and some RMM players seem to be partnering up to counter potential ConnetWise and LabTech competition, and potential all-in-one developments from Kaseya.

Asked to comment about the Autotask Go freemium offer, ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini offered the following perspectives:
"I guess they may be trying to get back at ConnectWise Capital for investing in LabTech but I won't retaliate. I'm not afraid of Autotask Go. My reaction my be a suite offering with LabTech. But they [Autotask] are right to look toward partnerships. The reason we made the investment in LabTech was to really focus on integration. I wish them luck.
Whether we like the [Autotask] moves we see or not, I hope they’re successful because I look forward to the competition. It’s like the NFL. When the games on, it’s on. But you also have to walk to midfield and shake hands and respect them. But we want to beat them."
Bellini didn't seem overly distracted or concerned by the Autotask move, and our conversation gradually shifted back to the news at hand at the ConnectWise IT Nation conference.

How Did We Get Here?

Competitive moves between Autotask and ConnectWise aren't new. But the competitive landscape certainly has been shifting for the past year or two. Traditionally, PSA and RMM companies partnered with each other... while PSA companies focused on ticket management, business management and CRM-type capabilities, RMM providers offered remote management and troubleshooting capabilities.

How have things been changing? Just follow this timeline of MSPmentor coverage:
  • Mid-2009: Rumors emerge about about Kaseya (the RMM provider) developing some PSA capabilities.
  • December 2009: Rumors emerge that ConnectWise has been closely watching an RMM provider located in Toledo, Ohio. (See tip 3 here.)
  • January 2010: Kaseya Executive VP Jim Alves confirms the RMM company has PSA plans.
  • February 2010: ConnectWise Capital invests in LabTech Software, the Ohio-based RMM developer.
  • August 2010: Kaseya describes its Business Center PSA strategy in an xSP 2010-2011 road map document.
  • August 2010: Autotask contacts N-able to discuss potential free Autotask Go strategy; N-able declines, according to N-able VP of Sales Mike Cullen. Autotask also approaches PacketTrap at the CompTIA Breakaway show in San Antonio, Texas. PacketTrap agrees to move forward with the Autotask Go Freemium Offer, according to a PacketTrap source.
  • October 2010: At the SMB Nation Fall conference, more rumors about the freemium Autotask Go strategy emerge.
  • November 2010: PacketTrap launches email marketing campaigns that promote the free Autotask Go offer. One recent email states: "In addition to our low cost of ownership and advanced functionality by signing up with PackettrapMSP you can receive a free 1 year subscription for AutoTask GO and/or a free Server.  Save time and money and improve you operational efficiency with PackettrapMSP."
  • November 2010: Level Platforms confirms free Autotask Go involvement, though Level Platforms doesn't plan to market the effort.
  • November 2010: Kaseya makes multi-million-dollar acquisition that focuses on financial software. Is this another PSA-related move? I'm not sure.

Freemium... And Beyond

Over the past year, freemium strategies have become common in the MSP software space. In late 2009, N-able launched a freemium endpoint security strategy followed by a freemium backup strategy in September 2010. Now, Autotask is promoting a freemium Autotask Go strategy. And soon, a major RMM software provider expects to promote a freemium strategy with a major distributor. The effort, MSPmentor has heard, will likely include as many as 1 million managed nodes. (Stay tuned...)

Meanwhile, there are signs that the competitive PSA and RMM moves are benefiting MSPs. In recent days, I've heard directly from three MSPs that are re-negotiating their Kaseya licensing agreements based on intensifying competition that Kaseya faces from LabTech. Without ConnectWise Capital investing in LabTech, I doubt that scenario would have emerged.

The age of shelfware in the MSP software market seems to be ending. Prices are coming down. Vendors are getting more flexible in their MSP dealings and licensing agreements. Long live competition... with one caveat: MSPs need to keep pushing software providers to keep their APIs open. As long as the MSP software APIs stay open, competition and cooperation (coopetition) can thrive.

Longer-term Questions

Of course, plenty of questions remain about the Autotask Go! freemium strategy. They include:
  • Will Autotask cannibalize its own Autotask Go revenue growth with the freemium offer?
  • How many of RMM partners and software partners does Autotask plan to sign up?
  • How many Autotask Go freemium customers will convert to paid customers and/or higher-margin Autotask Pro subscribers?
  • Will other PSA players like Tigerpaw Software jump into the freemium battle?
We'll seek to answer those questions -- and your questions -- in the days ahead.

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