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News & Articles

November 10, 2020 |

RMM Innovator Peter Sandiford Returns as CEO of Cloud Management Startup

Multi-cloud identity management vendor Zerotek is one of two SaaS administration companies founded by a pioneer of RMM software this year.

The most surprising thing about cloud management vendor Zerotek isn’t that it was founded by a pioneer of RMM software. It’s that the company is actually one of two cloud management vendors founded by a pioneer of RMM software.

This year.

The other one, named Augmentt, is led by former N-able CEO Gavin Garbutt and Derik Belair, a senior member of N-able’s leadership team. That company introduced the first two of what will eventually be a suite of tools for selling and managing software-as-a-service applications in August. 

Zerotek, which quietly emerged from stealth mode in March, is led by Peter Sandiford, formerly CEO of RMM vendor Level Platforms. Its foundational solution focuses on what Sandiford considers the essential core of any cloud management platform, identity and access management. But the system also includes administration functionality for Microsoft 365 and will support other SaaS applications based on MSP demand.

Unlike any other centralized cloud management system available, moreover, Zerotek is built on top of cloud directory software from Okta. “We’ve kind of taken Okta, which is an enterprise product, and completely re-imagined it as an MSP product,” Sandiford says.

Okta, and therefore Zerotek, integrates with some 6,500 software- and infrastructure-as-a-service systems, including offerings from Salesforce, Google, and Amazon Web Services, in addition to Microsoft 365 and Azure. It will soon leverage FastPass, a technology introduced in beta by Okta earlier this year that relies on hardware-based biometrics rather than passwords to authenticate users.

“You just log into your device and you have secure access to all your applications,” Sandiford says. “It’s truly password-less.”

Zerotek aims to provide the multi-tenant management capabilities MSPs need to scale an identity and access management business leveraging Okta’s enterprise-grade security. The system provides single sign-on functionality, multifactor authentication, and adaptive artificial intelligence technology designed to keep intruders out of cloud environments even if they’ve stolen a user’s credentials. 

MSPs can employ Zerotek to oversee existing Azure Active Directory implementations as well. “Okta sits on top and it federates into Azure AD and into Office 365,” Sandiford says.

According to Sandiford, mastering Okta basics is typically a quick process for newcomers to the platform. “Any good systems engineer can learn all about this in two or three days,” he says.

At present, Zerotek doesn’t integrate with PSA solutions, but a link to ConnectWise Manage is in development. Once it’s up and running, Sandiford says, the integration will alleviate a common headache among MSPs by supplying accurate, comprehensive SaaS and IaaS subscription data. 

“They’re all doing per user billing, but they’re not sure who the user is,” Sandiford observes. “Now you’ll know exactly who all the users are exactly at the end of the month, and what applications they were using.”

Pricing for the solution is consumption-based and billed monthly, with no annual commitments. Fees range from $2.50 per user a month for entry-level functionality to $8.50 for the most complete edition of the product. That leaves plenty of room for margin, according to Sandiford.

“We’ve got people that are maybe doubling their money on the cost of our platform and the labor it takes to actually deliver the service,” he says. “They set it up and then run it as identity as a service.”

In doing so, he adds, they’re freeing customers from the vulnerabilities and inconvenience associated with juggling multiple online identities, while also transitioning themselves out of the old endpoint-focused era of managed services and into the new cloud-focused one.

“They’ve moved out of the business that’s dying, which is looking after devices and servers and networks and all that thing, and into the business that is growing and relevant,” Sandiford says, adding that making such a move is an increasingly urgent imperative. 

“If MSPs don’t figure out how to manage SaaS applications and incorporate that as what their business is about, then they’re going to be stuck,” he states. “They’re going to be in a declining business. The servers are all gone. The devices are trivial. It’s all about applications and identity.”

That’s the same market analysis underlying Garbutt’s return to managed services with Augmentt and the recent launch of other cloud management tools from vendors such as SkyKick and NetApp, among others.

In contrast to those companies, however, Zerotek decided to make identity and access management its calling card. Sandiford cites two reasons for that decision. First, ransomware is arguably the greatest danger to businesses in a crowded and treacherous threat landscape. 

“The biggest source of ransomware is identity theft,” he says. “If you can control identity, you’ve already put the lid on the biggest threat that MSPs have.”

In addition, he continues, IAM is the stickiest element of a cloud management stack. Switching directories, after all, isn’t easy. “MSPs who want to own the customers need to own identity management,” Sandiford declares.

Other leading names in managed services software see promise in IAM too. Kaseya unit ID Agent, for example, rolled out an MSP-friendly IAM platform of its own named Passly in April, while SolarWinds purchased password management and documentation vendor Passportal a year earlier.

To date, Zerotek has signed a little over 50 MSP partners, despite maintaining a deliberately low early profile in the channel. “We haven’t done any marketing yet. It’s just been all word of mouth and referrals and so on,” Sandiford says.

Sandiford sold Level Platforms to security vendor AVG in 2013, and spent the next few years doing consulting work. “I started getting restless as entrepreneurs do, and I started to get thinking about what is coming after RMM, because it was clear to me that RMM was already commoditized,” he recalls. “It’s obvious the answer to that is cloud.”

Or cloud management, more specifically. “If you look at the average SMB, they’ve got something like 15 to 20 SaaS applications,” Sandiford observes. “Those need to be managed.”

Zerotek initially planned to base its solution on Azure AD before growing frustrated by “gaps” in that system. “If you look at the average business, they’ve got hundreds of different applications that are outside of the Microsoft stack,” Sandiford explains.

Okta also offers functionality Sandiford considers years ahead of the competition. On the flip side, however, it has a single-tenant interface and annual license fees that users pay in advance.

“It’s designed for a large enterprise, not an MSP,” he says. Zerotek, which worked closely with Okta’s security and R&D teams during the three years it spent building its solution, is designed to address those problems and extend Okta’s existing functionality. 

Sandiford launched the company with his own money, and has no plans to seek venture capital funding in the near term. “The simplicity of our business model allows us and our MSP partners to grow quickly in this fast-growing market with minimal investment,” he says.


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