Tech Insights

rss

Contributor Columns on Information Technology and Security

Interview: Startup Soluto Makes Remote PC Management Easy For Enterprise IT Pros

If you're an IT manager or enterprise employee, you are surely aware of the pain involved in dealing with PC problems. What usually happens is that the employee's computer needs to be taken from them for some time to repair the problem or handle any upgrades or other issues, leaving the person without their PC - and frequently frustrated or annoyed. 

Luckily, a startup named Soluto has a solution for to quickly and easily handle all PC issues remotely without interrupting the user.  IT Specialist is pleased to speak with Roee Adler, one of the founders of Soluto. Today, Soluto is launching a new product specifically designed for IT managers in small businesses, and for IT service providers who serve the SMB/SME market.

IT Specialist: Thanks for joining us today Roee. To start with, can you provide our readers an overview of the background of Soluto's history, and what inspires you to build your service?

Roee: Soluto was founded in early 2008 by Tomer Dvir and Ishay Green, and in 2009 I joined the team. All of us were techie kids growing up (I started programming around the age of 10). It was in that ancient past before the word "geek" became a positive term, when the word "nerd" was more commonly used, and usually not positively...

As computer geeks in the early-to-mid-90s (as Microsoft's vision started to unveil and PCs started getting onto every desk), we all found ourselves doing tech support for our families. Tomer, our CEO, even took it a step further and built a PC training and repair business when he was 14! In a sense, all of us expected that computing would eventually become frustration free by 2013. However, with more and more people using technology, and with large OEMs struggling to find profitable business models by putting tons of crapware on people's PCs, it had not decreased as we hoped.

Tomer and Ishay decided enough is enough, and started what was initially a research project into the most common causes of PC frustrations, from a deep technical level. Soluto's first product was a very strong kernel-level agent that analyzed and transmitted all the signals on a PC, which in turn, were then aggregated against data from other PCs that essentially formed our first "PC Genome". As a result, Soluto now has information on hundreds of millions of PC crashes and frustrations, a foundation that allowed us to build our PC management service.

At our next major milestone, we launched our first public product, a boot-shortening desktop application, at TechCrunch Disrupt in May 2010 and to our great surprise we won the show. I'm saying "great surprise" because it seems there wasn't a single PC user among the 2000 people in the audience who saw our presentation. I remember standing on stage, looking at all the Apple notebook logos shining at me in the dark, thinking - those people have no clue what I was even talking about. However, we presented the most solid case for solving a serious industry problem and as a result, won the judges’ votes (the main judge was Marissa Mayer which we remember for her super-sharp questions).

In addition, it’s interesting to note, that neither of us had any marketing experience before the publicity onslaught from the TechCrunch event. We were totally green, so we were blown away when we got approaches from The New York Times, BBC and other big names who hailed our product. Even more awesome –some of the leading tech blogs started recommending us to their readers on an ongoing basis, creating a huge flow of consumers who became fans. It was really amazing and crazy to witness the snowball effect that publicity can have on your startup.

Winning the Disrupt event and the resulting media reaction were a humbling experience. I'm not saying "humbling" because I'm trying to be overly modest, but because a couple of weeks after the win (and hundreds of thousands of downloads of our Soluto client agents), with the avalanche of frustration data being sent to our servers, we came crashing down. And boy, what a meltdown it was! We were offline for 34 days while we migrated our entire back-end from dedicated hosted servers to a scalable solution on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform. We're now running Soluto on 700+ servers and handling 100,000,000+ data points per day. Essentially, we learned about "web scale" the hard way...

I think our main source of inspiration is simply the everyday frustration we see among people using technology. We love PCs, we love the choice we have with PCs. We also love smartphones and tablets, but as people "doing actual work", we believe the form-factor of a big screen, a mouse and a keyboard is here to stay, and that people should have a great computing experience.

IT Specialist: Can you provide a high level overview of the Soluto mission and value proposition, and how IT professionals can benefit from using your solution?

Roee: We set out to relieve the world from computing frustrations. That's a big goal, and we obviously have a lot left to do, but when we plan our product roadmap and when we measure our progress, we always ask ourselves: are we reducing an individual’s frustrations when using technology? And then, are we making them happier? Moreover, are they more productive because of us? When the answers are yes, yes and yes, then we're happy!

The service we're launching today is for IT managers in small businesses, and for IT service providers who serve the SMB/SME market. We took our very successful consumer PC management service and adjusted it for the small business IT environment, where areas such as tech support, employee frustration with technology, general lack of transparency and expensive tools now exist.

With Soluto for businesses, IT pros can see all the PCs they manage in one place and receive email alerts when a specific problem requires their attention. Each e-mail received is directly actionable –by providing an action button that a service tech can execute from the email itself, whenever they want, even when the PC they are "fixing" is shut down or offline. That's the power of the cloud combined with an installed agent. With our consumer background, we also put lots of emphasis on the experience from the supported person's perspective, trying to make IT almost fun for them as well. In fact, we believe we have the most user-friendly remote access solution in the tech market today.

And to top all that, we decided to introduce this service at a disruptive price that is about 90% less of any relevant or comparable service. You can start with a free account (up to 3 PCs) to try it out or use at home. If you run a business with up to 10 PCs, Soluto will cost you $8.33 per month (not per PCs, that's the total cost). We have another package for a business with up to 50 PCs, where you also get data history, grouping and branding, at $49.79 per month. Larger packages are also available. If you're interested, simply go to soluto.com and sign up.

 

IT Specialist: That sounds like a really interesting product that could be of great interest to IT professionals. As I gather, one of Soluto's primary value propositions is your ability to solve PC issues and do standard maintenance without needing remote access? Does this mean that people can literally keep working on their PC without being interrupted or turning their PC over to their IT manager? I am thinking of how an IT manager might access a PC using Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection or RDP, or even my own previous experience where I literally turn my entire PC over to an IT specialist for a day for upgrades.

Roee: In the past you had to physically give your PC to your support person, or they would have to come over to you in order to figure something out. About 10 years ago this field changed completely with the introduction of modern remote access. Of course Microsoft RDP (aka mstsc.exe) existed beforehand, but companies such as LogMeIn, Citrix and later TeamViewer made remote access possible from any device to any PC, breaking the geographical walls and firewalls that existed with RDP. But remote access has its limitations. The most important one is having to schedule a session, and interrupting someone's work. This is often fine for a company with in-house IT, but it's often a nightmare for remote IT service providers. Many people have a hard time letting "some stranger" peek inside their PC, having access to absolutely everything. One of the things we're trying to do at Soluto is to automate lots of the mundane boring IT stuff and streamline it through the cloud, allowing the offline nature of our service - you can update someone's Adobe Reader when their PC is shut down. Now don't get me wrong - remote access is an important tool and that's why it's part of Soluto, but the less remote access you do, the better for everyone.

IT Specialist: Can you go over some of the specific tasks that an IT professional can do maintaining remote PC's? For example, can they troubleshoot or install new applications? If this is the case, it would be helpful if you could give a couple of examples, for instances of the types of apps that Soluto allows an IT professional to install or update?

Roee: The best thing to do here is just to try the service (it has a free version). But in a nutshell, you are able to monitor background processes, installed applications, state of the antivirus, firewall, windows updates, default browser and plugins,as well as complete hardware information including battery wear and CPU temperature, to name a few.

When it comes to actual actions you can take remotely without accessing the PC, this is a list we're constantly growing as we develop the service. Today, for example, you can remove applications from running in the background, delay applications from running in the boot sequence, install and configure applications (e.g. Dropbox, Skype, Open Office, 7Zip, and many more), upgrade applications (e.g. Adobe Reader, Java, iTunes, and many more...), install Anti-Virus, enable Firewall, push Windows updates, defrag, disable browser plugins, again to name a few.

IT Specialist: What type of feedback have you seen from both those who use Soluto to manage remote PC's as well as from PC users themselves?

Roee: I think the main points that resonate with most people are 1) how easy it is to execute complex things and 2) that the user experience is so great that it makes IT "fun" - for the IT pro as well but especially for the people being helped. IT managers, especially service providers, don't often get a big THANKS from the people they help, unless it's around some major event. With Soluto, there's constant communication between IT and the employee in a way that creates lots of appreciation towards IT.

IT Specialist: Turning now a bit more to the technical side Roee, can you explain a bit more about how Soluto's software was designed, with what computer language was it coded (if you feel comfortable revealing that), and how it actually works? As I understand, it is a cloud-based management solution?

Roee: Sure. It's great to have an audience with which we can share such details. Soluto is based on three components:

1) Low-level PC agent installed on supported machines. The agent has several responsibilities. First and foremost, it monitors the PC and detects various anomalies or abnormal behaviors (e.g. when there's a CPU spike by an application not currently in use, when a new plugin is installed, when an application that was removed from the boot returns itself to it, and much more). The agent is able to take some actions by itself, but for the most part it uses local data to query our cloud servers (see below). The great thing about this relationship between the agent and the cloud is that lots of things can happen locally without an Internet connection, but when you're connected - it's like magic. Whenever the agent needs to "understand" a piece of data encountered on a PC, it queries our servers with this data, an action that suddenly creates a comparable context from millions of other PCs who may have encountered this before. The agent has other responsibilities as well - allow remote access, show the user a friendly notification when IT has taken action, allow the user to ask IT a question via the F8 function key and lots more.

2) Big-data cloud servers: today Soluto runs on over 700 servers in Microsoft's cloud (Azure). In case you're interested, we use Azure's PAAS or platform-as-a-service, and most of the machines are Worker Roles writing to and reading from Azure Tables, Blobs and Queues. Note this is not SQL Azure - our data is too big for relational databases, so we use Azure's key-value tables instead (called Azure Table Storage). Microsoft actually wrote a case study about this deployment. This interview is way too short to detail our cloud architecture, which is wide and deep and beautiful. We have tens of different types of servers and all are elastically scalable. That means, if at some data-junction there's a sudden spike, additional servers are automatically added to reduce the load. We love solid software engineering :)

3) A web interface: this is the main IT-facing area of Soluto. The web service, also running on Azure, is a highly scalable service talking to our cloud servers to allow for offline support, and when remote access is needed there's also a semi-direct connection to the accessed agents.

Here's a grossly over simplified illustration of our architecture:


 

Most of the code in the agent, server and web services is .NET. We use the MVC framework and the web naturally requires lots of HTML/CSS/JS (the border between markup, script and actual code gets fuzzy these days). Some of the agent is coded in native C++ (we do have our own driver for the lower-level stuff).

 

IT Specialist: Roee, you were very open in one of your blog posts from 2013 about how Soluto experienced a major 62 hour outage in your Cloud service from Microsoft's Azure that rendered Soluto'ssolution unusable for your users. I personally think these types of events can cut both ways - they can either bring a company's employees closer together as well as actually deepen its relationship with its customers, or else they can cause real damage to a company's progress. Do you mind sharing how with us how this situation played out for Soluto both internally and externally, as well as measures you took to avoid a repeat? I gather from your blog post that Soluto must have decided fairly early on to be as open as possible with your customer base?

Roee: This downtime was probably the most difficult time in Soluto's history. There were hundreds of thousands of incidents where users tried to reach our service and couldn't use it, lots of anger and frustration, exactly the feelings we're trying to help people avoid.

But, in a sense - it is what it is. Soluto is a cloud service reliant on a cloud provider. In this case, the second largest one in the world (the first being Amazon). I'll quote below some of the sentences we wrote to our users in our apology letter to them:

"Now's a time to mention a key point about being a start-up. Our most precious resource is product development time. We can buy everything else. We prioritize our work by the hour, to move as fast as possible to improve our service. Whatever we execute is always measured against what we could have otherwise executed.

We could have obviously spent time building various mechanisms to make sure that whatever happens to Azure, we'll be able to provide our service (the extreme example would be creating a fully redundant deployment in Amazon). But that's not the startup way. Because by doing so, we wouldn't have created hundreds of features for our users at the same time. And for well over a year, we hadn't experienced severe downtime except for a single case of several hours in February, but once a year is acceptable."

You can read the full apology letter here.

We definitely lost users due to this downtime, but we feel that many others came closer to us due to the detailed explanatory apology letter we sent. We received over 1000 responses from people, mostly praising our openness and wishing other vendors would do the same.

We strongly believe in transparency and explaining everything to our users in a simple way

IT Specialist: How has your traction been in the in the market to date, and can you give our readers a sense of how many people are using Soluto's solution?

Roee: We've been very successful in the consumer space, with millions of downloads of our agent. We've also seen tens of thousands of small businesses IT pros using our consumer version. Over time we received lots of feedback from those IT pros, and have recently decided to build a specialized service for them.

IT Specialist: Who are Soluto's current investors and how much have you raised to date?

Roee: Soluto has raised roughly $18M to date, most prominently from Bessemer Venture Partners (who also invested in LinkedIn, Yelp, Staples and more) and Index Ventures (who also invested in Dropbox, Skype, Last.fm and more). Additional investors are Eric Schmidt of Google (through his Innovation Endeavors fund), CrunchFund and Chris Dixon.

IT Specialist: Finally Roee, are there any future plans or particular new initiatives that you might want to share with us, beyond the new service you're launching today for small businesses?

Roee: We're working on several exciting things in parallel - mobile, Mac and more features to our core service. One thing I can promise: you're going to see more exciting things from Soluto in the near future.

And it's worth adding that for readers who are interested to learn more about Soluto's solution, we have also prepared a video overview which I would encourage readers to watch as well. Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions at feedback@soluto.com - we're looking forward to hearing from you.


Soluto for Business, PC Management - made easy from Soluto on Vimeo.

Showing 0 Comment
Your comment will be shown after administrator's approval







b i u quote

Save Comment
The Number One Menace to All Organizations
 

Learn more about how to protect your organization against this growing menace
https://info.knowbe4.com/ransomware-simulator-tool-its