Ensim sees Microsoft CSP program, Office 365 driving business to its automation platform

Ensim sees Microsoft CSP program, Office 365 driving business to its automation platform

OCTOBER 27 2015 BY LIAM EAGLE

Ensim has served the service-provider market for Internet infrastructure with automation and provisioning tools for more than a decade (and for several years with a revamped platform). According to management, Microsoft's Cloud Service Provider (CSP) partner programs, particularly the Office 365 and Azure services, are among the core drivers of new business for the platform-software vendor – to the extent that in September, the company launched a CSP Quick Start product, aimed at new entrants to the program.

This new business is coming as the opportunity to distribute these Microsoft-hosted services adds new facets to the business of existing infrastructure-focused service providers, and is bringing new entrants into the service-provider business. With new offerings come new demands around billing, provisioning, automation and bundling, and for the tools to do so

The 451 Take

Office 365 and the CSP program represent a notable new opportunity in the service-provider market. In particular, it represents a near-term opportunity for asset-light businesses in adjacent managed-services markets to begin delivering cloud-based services. This introduces new competition for existing infrastructure-based service providers, which may also be moving in that direction. Ensim's decision to reengineer its platform from the ground up may prove well-timed, as programs like Microsoft's CSP enable a new breed of service provider to enter the market. In the hosting space, there are several notable cases of an infrastructure service provider having the opportunity to engineer its platform from scratch after seeing remarkable growth. Examples include SoftLayer, Digital Ocean and, of course, Amazon Web Services.

Context

Ensim was founded in 1998, and is primarily focused on delivering automation, billing and marketplace software to infrastructure and cloud service providers. At one time, the company offered an end-user control panel for Web-hosting providers. In 2007, it sold that business to SWsoft (which later rebranded as Parallels, and then Odin). The company indicates it made the decision to reengineer its platform approximately five years ago, and that its new platform has been in the market for roughly three and a half years.

Approximately 20 of its 400-plus customers are on the newer platform, and it is seeing 60-70% revenue growth year-over-year from that new platform. The company is reluctant to share specific details relating to revenue; however, we believe annual revenue to be more than $10m. Management indicates Ensim is an extremely development-focused business. It has a staff of roughly 120, with 110 of those being code-level engineers.

Technology

Ensim's core technology is its software platform, which is mainly designed around the use case of telcos and other infrastructure service providers. To these, it offers a suite of modules for operating marketplace and service catalog, subscription management, billing and invoicing, and provisioning. Because the company deals primarily with very large service providers, this modularity means these components can be deployed as needed by customers that may already have an in-house billing system, for instance.

While the primary target is service providers, the platform is also gaining some traction among enterprises, as a means of operating the internal service provider through which IT departments increasingly want to provision services. For Ensim, serving service-provider requirements includes building connectors to the technologies those service providers look to deliver. According to the company, the anchor services (most commonly delivered through the platform) are infrastructure products based on the Microsoft and VMware stacks, as well as services based on Microsoft applications such as Exchange and SharePoint and, increasingly, cloud-based services such as the Office 365 and Azure services made available through Microsoft's CSP program.

The company also built connectors for technologies that attach directly to the aforementioned services, such as security tools from Symantec and McAfee, and adjacent services such as Mozy and Box. Ensim is seeing increased interest in using OpenStack, for which it has a connector. The advantage of having rebuilt its software during the last several years is that the platform is more integrated and scalable on the back end than some competing platforms. According to Ensim, it frequently wins customers that have had challenges with other platforms, or have specific requirements around product modeling and database structure.

The rebuilt platform is written in Java, and uses a single database across modules and components, rather than requiring multiple database instances, like some older platforms. The customer deploying the platform can choose from a selection of supported databases, operating systems and application servers, based on what they're already familiar with running. Ensim is typically deployed internally (or in a self-managed cloud or colocated environment) by both service provider and enterprise customers.

Ensim is also seeing increasing demand for the managed delivery of the service from a third-party cloud – in this arrangement, Ensim will work with the customer to pick a third-party cloud environment, help set it up and operate it as a service. The company can also operate an on-premises install of the platform as a managed service.

Strategy

Ensim indicates that Microsoft's CSP program represents a model of user that the company actively targets with its services, and a sort of natural source of interest in its platform. In September, the company launched its CSP Quick Start Program, offering new entrants to the program a lightweight version of its platform, available as a virtual machine image, pre-integrated with the CSP APIs, and pre-populated with automated provisioning, price plans and sample marketing material.

The company says the offering can enable a small service provider to get up and running with CSP services in as little as a day. Because the CSP program itself enables new entrants to the service-provider space from adjacent businesses, including VARs and MSPs, in many cases it comes with a built-in demand for enablement, automation and billing tools. Ensim indicates it is among a short list of vendors Microsoft points its CSP partners to in these cases.

Among these recommendations, Ensim reports its sweet spot is mainly among the larger service providers with significant volume. In referring these users, Microsoft fills a kind of informal channel role for new business. VMware similarly drives the company some leads, as do a few other technology partners. The company has a large OEM partnership with Hitachi, and about a dozen regional VARs reselling or referring the product internationally.

Competition

For service-provider automation – particularly when it comes to enabling Microsoft's CSP services – Ensim's main competition comes from Odin (formerly the service-provider platform division of Parallels) and AppDirect. In general brokerage-of-cloud services, it competes with Gravitant, Jamcracker and ServiceNow, and in the broader billing and provisioning of service-provider business, it may see competition from Ubersmith.

SWOT Analysis

  • Strengths

    Ensim believes that the opportunity to reengineer its platform has given it an advantage in terms of scalability and product modeling relative to some of the older platforms.

  • Weaknesses

    Ensim's products are less well known than some of its competition, owing to the relatively small portion of the company's staff devoted to sales and marketing.

  • Opportunities

    Microsoft's CSP program represents a significant new opportunity for Ensim, because it introduces additional services to its existing base of users, and adds new service providers to the market it serves.

  • Threats

    The opportunity for platform vendors presented by the CSP program may encourage software vendors in related spaces to adjust technologies and strategies to attract new distributors of these services, potentially leading to new competition.