Posts Tagged 'GFI'

Thoughts on the first GFI Max UK Customer Conference

GFI Max LogoLast Thursday 20th October, 2011 I travelled to the Williams Formula One Conference Centre in Oxfordshire for the first GFI Max UK Customer Conference.

Around 100+ IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Providers attended a full day of Workshops, Seminars and Presentations.

GFI Max Users at the Williams F1 ExhibitionFirstly, the venue was superb. Friendly staff, free and open Wi-Fi Internet connectivity, and if you are a Formula One Racing fan – as many of the attendees were – you’d be in heaven thanks to the exhibition area and F1 memorabilia everywhere. Kudos to GFI Max for finding a venue that was a great Conference location and a lot of fun.

GFI Max General Manager Alistair Forbes kicked the day off outlining the companies growth from Hound-Dog Technology, to their acquisition by GFI Software, to the additions of GFI Max Mail and Monitis to the Max family – through to a look the future product Roadmap.

Some time was then put aside for groups of users to discuss and give feedback to GFI on both product feedback, and service feedback. I wrote recently about GFI’s growing user community, and this session vindicated the fact that GFI users are both passionate about the product, and vocal about what they want it to do! There was almost across-the-board praise for GFI Max’s Technical Support team – who I know first hand are top notch – and a lot of constructive feedback on what GFI Max need to improve on. A really good session that had the room buzzing.

The morning’s key-note speech was given by the Research company, IDC. It was focused on the industry changes involving Cloud services – but was fairly academic in nature and heavy with statistics. I personally felt it missed the mark in terms of relevance to the SMB audience in attendance, and it wasn’t well received by those commenting using the #MAXCC hash-tag on Twitter. That said, others I spoke to after the presentation enjoyed it – so mixed feedback.

GFI Max UK Customer ConferenceTalking of Twitter, I observed a *lot* of positive networking going on between Max users who were using the Conference to cement on-line relationships with face-to-face meetings. I spoke to a dozen or so partners who said they’d like to see the atmosphere of networking, sharing ideas and feedback replicated through regional user group meetings in the future – something I hope GFI will be quick to support their user base on.

The team from the recently GFI Max acquisition of Cloud-Monitoring provider Monitis was also in attendance, demonstrating how their service could help GFI Max customers to monitor and report on Hosted Services. I initially felt an interesting sense of “How is this relevant to us?” from Max partners about Monitis, but as the day grew I saw lots of partners talking about the potential for using Monitis as an offering to their clients. I think the Monitis acquisition is a smart move by GFI as the MSP world moves further towards a Cloud Hosted environment.

The day then broke into two streams, Technical and Business, allowing partners to mix and match sessions.

Before Alistair Forbes closed the day by thanking everyone for attending and their feedback, Autotask CEO Mark Cattini then presented an outlook on the changing face of the IT Solution Provider market. It hit all the right notes, and felt relevant to the audience who weren’t so much interested in statistics, but how the changes affected their business and their clients. A strong way to finish the day.

Throughout the day I was roaming the halls and corridors with my trusty Flip HD camera (more videos to follow) and amongst those I spoke to, towards the end of the day Alistair Forbes was kind enough to record a short video interview with his thoughts on the Conference.

Interview with GFI Max General Manager, Alistair Forbes

Chatting to attendees at the post-event drinks GFI put on, the underlying feeling I picked up on was that the most popular sessions throughout the day were those presented by GFI Max Customers who were talking about their experiences. I’d be interested to see if the feedback GFI Max received matched that observation, as it further suggests Max users want GFI to facilitate their ability to get together and meet, but then direct the topic of conversation themselves.

Overall, the day was a huge success and was very well received by all attendees. It wasn’t without it’s issues – both in timing and some content – but GFI Max have a great community of critical friends who will guide them to improve. I’m going to bet the next GFI Max User Conferences in Europe, Australia and North America take that feedback on-board.

The important thing is that the GFI Max User Community that I recently wrote about has now taken a big step from the on-line world into in-person meetings. I see that Community only growing and getting stronger as a result of this.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him atrichard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Building a Community – Lessons from GFI Max

One of the ways you can tell if a good product or company is gathering momentum and becoming popular is by how much of a community is building up around that product or company. When people are passionate about something they want to talk to other likeminded people about it.

GFI Max LogoOver the past couple of years, GFI Max is one such company where I’ve observed a growing community of people who want to spend time together talking about the Max RMM tool.

Whilst this isn’t something that has happened entirely by design, it’s not something that happened by accident either.

GFI have helped facilitate their community by providing the GFI Max LinkedIn Forums – a place where Max users can chat, exchange ideas and give feedback to the GFI team – good or bad. Whilst these forums are monitored and members of the Max team participate in discussion themselves, they aren’t moderated in the sense that if a Max client has a gripe about the product or the company that they air with their peers – the GFI team don’t delete the message or shy away from it, they respond to it directly. This attitude towards being open and transparent hasn’t gone un-noticed by the SMB Community.

Members of the GFI Max LinkedIn forums are usually the first people that get to hear about new features and the forthcoming Max Roadmap too, further building a sense that the community is valued.

Earlier this year, GFI responded to a request from the Thames Valley Small Business Specialist User Group led by Chris Timm. The group, which has a high proportion of GFI Max users within it, was looking for a new sponsor, and GFI agreed to step in and help that group continue to grow.

All of these things on their own aren’t enough to persuade people to use GFI Max products. You still need a really good product and service delivery (which I believe GFI Max has). But if all things are equal, and an IT company is faced with choosing between two or more really good products – as is the case in the RMM market populated by GFI Max, Labtech, Kaseya and others – people tend to choose the product that their peers have recommended to them.

You can’t fake this stuff. Building a community of raving fans isn’t something you can acquire. People can tell the difference between a paid endorsement and genuine goodwill towards a company or product. It takes time and it’s not easy. Most IT vendors give up because it’s too hard. They want immediate returns. Those vendors will still sell stuff, because generally their product is good, but retaining clients and as importantly, having clients who will talk about their product to others? That takes commitment.

GFI Max Global Conferences 2011Over the next few weeks, GFI Max will be taking another step towards supporting their community and will be hosting their first GFI Max Global Conferences at four locations across the globe.

The UK Conference takes place in Oxford on October 20th.

The USA Conference takes place in Florida on November 8th and 9th.

Not forgotten, Australia gets it’s Conference in Sydney on December 1st, and Europe has a Conference on November 23rd in the Netherlands.

I’ll be attending the UK Conference on October 20th, and will be looking forward to getting together with a whole load of GFI Max users.

Are you a GFI Max user and attending too? Let me know!

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with ambitious IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the elected chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Taking a Sneak Peek at GFI Max Patch Management

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that one of the vendor relationships we’ve really committed to since Netlink IT and JamesCash.co.uk merged in October 2009 was GFI Max. Prior to the merger,, Netlink IT were using GFI Max and JamesCash.co.uk were using Kaseya – and we had to make a choice over which RMM (Remote Monitoring & Management) tool to use as a merged company going forwards.

All signs pointed towards using Kaseya – it was more powerful, with greater scripting capabilities and more advanced features. But it required an investment in time to un-tap that advanced functionality, time we didn’t have with everything happening as part of the merger process. Additionally, Kaseya required a significant financial investment. In contrast, GFI Max had a smaller feature set, but could do 80% of what we wanted “out of the box” with little or no training required, and a much smaller up-front investment.

We were upfront with both vendors about our feelings, and it was the GFI Max team who came through strong here – being open and honest about their plans, sharing their roadmap with us and committing to it.

The decision was made to the GFI Max guys, and I’m pleased to say we’ve never regretted that. I know many similar companies that have really invested time and money into their relationship with Kaseya, and are reaping the rewards, but for us GFI Max is now one of our key vendors.

We’ve held the guys in Scotland to their promises though – and one of the commitments GFI Max made was to plug the gap in their tool where there was no centralised Patch Management capability. Since Hound-Dog (as GFI Max used to be known) became part of the GFI Software family, we’ve been itching to see the GFI product line such as GFI LanGuard integrated into GFI Max. This past week, David Hay and Mark Petrie at GFI Max shared with us a sneak peek at Agent v8.5.0 Release Candidate, which would incorporate Patch Management into the GFI Max tool. I thought I’d share that sneak peek with the readers of this blog, as I know many of you are fellow GFI Max users yourselves.

The new Patch Management and Vulnerability features are incorporated into the existing Advanced Monitoring Agent deployed to Workstations and Servers when Agent v8.5.0 RC is deployed.

Once deployed, you’ll find a new folder called “LANguard 10 Agent” appears on the C:\Program Files\GFI directory of workstations and servers, and a new GFI LANguard 10 Agent Service begins to run. You’ll also spot a new Windows Process called “lsass.exe” running.

We’re told that a more white-label approach to conceal this directory and service will be used in an upcoming Agent release, in line with the rest of the GFI Max suite.

Once deployed, you can enable the Patch Management settings from the Dashboard Settings menu, under a new menu item.

From this new settings section, you can be very granular about how Patch Management is handled – doing so via a hierarchical structure which is inherited down by Server/Workstation, Client and individual machine. The feature can be turned on or off, or customised, at any level.

As well as patches, there is the capability to scan for Vulnerabilities – using known many of the well known Vulnerability databases.

Talking of databases – both patches and vulnerability scans cover Microsoft plus a lot of 3rd party software too. Mozilla, Adobe and other products are already scanned for.

You also have the option of enabling the feature to scan only (where you can manually view the Patches and Vulnerabilities in a report) or by generating an Alert, which will be highlighted on the GFI Max Dashboard and/or within your PSA tool.

Those of you familiar with Windows Software Update Services (WSUS) will also appreciate the ability to auto-approve Microsoft Patches at different levels – from Critical only, through to all updates.

After enabling, deployment and scanning should start to happen within two 24×7 Check schedules – so around 30 minutes or so.

Once the scans begin to happen, and if Alerting is turned on, you’ll see a Vulnerability Check appear on the Checks section of the Dashboard for each deployed agent – this will show the number of missing patches and any Vulnerabilities identified.

If you click on the blue underlined details next to the Alert, you’ll be able to drill down into a report that shows the Missing Patches and Vulnerabilities.

From this screen, you’ll then be able to select Patches for deployment as you choose. Simple!

Points to note – Vulnerabilities are highlighted, but you’ll need to manually go and fix them. Naturally there is no simple way (nor would you want to) click a box to patch a MySQL installation, or update a Firewall.

Also, if a patch is deployed which *doesn’t* have a silent installation option, when deployed this will need user interaction.

Additionally, if a patch requires a reboot, you’ll need to make arrangements for this. GFI Max won’t automatically reboot your machine.

Thankfully, most vendors provide silent installation options which don’t require a reboot, so this won’t be an issue – but GFI tell us they’ll provide a feature to highlight those patches that *do* experience these issues in an upcoming release so you can be aware of the additional steps you need to make.

It’s worth noting that you can also specify a Site Concentrator – a server agent which will act as a Cache from which all other Agents will download their updates. This gets around the problem of dozens or hundreds of agents all trying to download the same updates via the Internet and clogging up the bandwidth.

One caveat to be aware of is, that at this RC release of the Agent, you can’t specify the directory to download patches to. Therefore if you’re short of space on a Server C:\ drive, it may be worth re-installing the Agent to a drive where there is drive space free to store downloads.

There is also what looks like a strong reporting facility for generating documents to share with clients – perhaps when doing a Network Admin visit or up-front assessment of a new client, it’d be possible to highlight all the areas that are vulnerable or require patching.

Additionally, the Vulnerability and Patch scan can be incorporated into the Daily, Weekly and Monthly reports – so you can highlight patches installed, missing or Vulnerabilities therein.

If you’re more a visual person then I’d encourage you to head to YouTube – GFI’s Chris Martin has made a Demo Video available of the new Patch Management features across on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crGBSsic0-w

Closing notes – Release date for the Release Candidate Agent should be sometime this week – in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time you’d read this and visited your GFI Max Dashboard, you see the Patch Management features available!

If you’re a GFI Max client and would like to feedback to them anything about this new feature or anything else – I’d strongly urge you to check out the LinkedIn Discussion group at http://www.linkedin.com/groups?mostPopular=&gid=1986499 – there’s a ton of talk going on which the GFI Max team actively monitor and respond to, and it’s a great example of a vendor engaging with their clients in a proactive fashion. We use the group ourselves and there is a good vibe there!

So there you have it – a one-stop-shop for deploying Patches and highlighting Vulnerabilities on client workstations and servers! We’re excited to have this functionality after patiently waiting for it, and it re-affirms our faith in GFI Max to deliver on their promises. Thanks to David and Mark at GFI Max for taking the time to share this with us, and in turn, allowing me to share with my blog readers!

 

Richard Tubb is an Independent Consultant who works with IT companies to enable them to feel more in control and to grow their business. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.


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