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Thread: The Future

  1. #1
    Untangle Ninja sky-knight's Avatar
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    Default The Future

    Direction is everything, and where we are today is a function of what we did yesterday to get there.

    To that end, we have several issues facing the Untangle community, and the product it supports that need resolved. I don't make this thread with the intention of issuing any sort of mandate. I fully expect the Untangle corporation to do what it needs to do. I'm simply putting ideas on the table to address specific issues.

    1.) The Roadmap

    We don't have it. We need it. I know Untangle has this information internally but it would be helpful if we as resellers at least had some idea of the features that can be expected in the near future. Bugzilla is not the mechanism to to this, it's simply too hard to read. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent wandering the search feature not finding the bug I'm looking for. I'm willing to admit this is possibly just my lack of education with the software. However, we need to find a way to manage features, improvements, and bugs more efficiently so the community feels more active in the process. Resellers also need to be able to plan ahead for future changes to a certain degree, good ideas are slow to come by and having a bit of extra time gives us that much advantage on the sales floor. Put a big red sign over it that proudly proclaims it's subject to change without notice. This isn't meant to be something written in stone, it's just meant to be a guide. The lack of open planning is preventing the community from developing the new features we need. It's really hard to put your heart and soul into building something when you don't know if Untangle is just going to do it for you in the next patch.

    2.) Sales

    Or I should say the lack thereof. This isn't an altruistic venture. If Untangle is to survive it must be able to support the families working to sustain the work. Idealism has a place, but it breaks down when people are starving.

    The current hot button in this category is the recent introduction of advertising into the free product. Now, Untangle has presented this addition as one of cost, and most of us have been concentrating on the realities of ad driven direct revenue. I submit to you, that the revenue stream created by the ads will not come from the ads, it will come from the people who don't want the ads. It will come in two folds, firstly people buying something to get rid of the ads, and secondly everyone that gets upset and leaves because they refuse to pay. To be blunt, its that much less bandwidth for Untangle to pay.

    I realize that reality is going to seem harsh around here, but there it is I said it. I support Untangle's decision to incorporate ads because it has become a sales tool for me. All other resellers should be in a similar boat, I'm curious to hear what they have to say about this issue as well as how to deal with improving the sales of this product over all. My clients have not reacted with any negativity toward the product when I informed them of the change. I do however wish, Untangle would advertise itself, and its resellers as I feel it would be more effective. Constant reminders of what is available in the store. Make free users go through the electronic equivalent of the "walk of shame" we all get at the grocery store. Stores do this sort of thing because it works. I see no reason why it wouldn't work here.

    3) Hardware.

    Hardware issues have been a topic of contention for longer than I've been here. It's simply not easy to provide the testing required to prove a given design is long lived, and still upgrade proof. The pressure on resellers in this avenue has been heavy, we don't have a product to sell if we don't have hardware to put it on. This requires any Untangle reseller that wishes to be competent to do their own q/a, testing, R&D, and so forth. I'm not objecting to this model, I rather enjoy the challenge brought to my table. However, there is a cost.

    These forums are very active on the topic of hitting up new egg or random other sales points for individual components to work with Untangle. This information is counter to the process of actually selling these units. For this reason, I have very rarely if ever given actual model information on hardware in these forums. I always speak in general terms of capacities based on what I've seen in the field. I don't mind sharing that detail, but if I'm going to spend the resources on properly building, supporting, and vetting a given platform, I expect to be compensated. It is unrealistic of forum community members to assume this information is free to pass around.

    This effect, stifles the flow of information and removes the potential of ever building a true HCL for this product. Untangle has in the past tried to do the hardware support, and they chose to remove themselves from this arena due to the complexities involved. Because Untangle doesn't test specific hardware, upgrades are an unknown in some cases, and hardware can cease to function after a upgrade. Resellers need to strengthen their relationship with Untangle to provide access to the hardware they are selling to prevent this from happening. Assuming of course, that Untangle engineers are willing to test on 3rd party units operating elsewhere.

    The bottom line, Untangle is software, it is not a product. You can only sell a product. Therefore, if resellers are going to be the primary source of hardware testing and resources. I suggest that resellers be the only source of information in this regard. Perhaps we build an HCL that is available only to Untangle resellers. This idea also reinforces the need for direct sales to be terminated. Untangle cannot be expected to support the hardware.

    The exception is of course the Windows version.

    4.) Open Source

    Open Source means the community does the work. We do the lifting, we create the new toys. The commercial guys take what we do, polish it off, make it easy and clean. Then they sell it. Our community here is an amazing one with a wide range of talents. Yet, for all that talent there is very little actual development coming in. I haven't been as active in this arena as I should have. I'm not a programmer, but that doesn't mean I can't deal with bugzilla more actively, and be more active in the beta process. I consider the quality reductions in the 7.x series of Untangle to be a direct result of my own failure to get off my carcass and help. These forums shouldn't be about asking random questions about the Untangle product. They shouldn't be about free support because we're too cheap to buy it. They should be about what it takes to move this project forward.

    In many ways we've done it right. We don't flame, we help, we give and give until we can't give anymore. We've got a great start, but we've also got a long road ahead.

    5.) Documentation

    The wiki... why do we have it again? I blame myself here again for not getting more involved. I have the information to fix that thing, yet I have not lifted a finger to fix it. What is especially missing are some of the synergistic benefits yielded by the purchase of some modules. There is sales potential here and it's being missed.

    So there you have it, the major issues I see with the product as it stands. The structure of why things are the way they are. I don't have perfect ideas on how to resolve everything here. We walk a fine line between the free mentality brought to the table from Open Source ideology, and the commercial mentality leveraged by corporate interest. I just ask everyone to remember that Open Source doesn't mean "free" as in no cost. It means "free" as in beer, as in available, as in portable. Untangle has given more than enough free of charge, it's time to build a business that can sustain this product and our community going forward. I've invested a good portion of my life in these forums over the last 2 years. I will continue to do so because I believe in the product, and the people behind it.

    I love my job, I love building businesses, I love watching the lights come on and the users going to work. Give me the means to keep doing this, and I will continue to do so.

    Great job to Untangle, it's been a world of work and pain, but here you are! There is much work to be done. There will always be something else to add, some exciting new feature, or some frustrating bug to kill.

    If you've made it through my wall of text, thanks for the time. If you have any ideas you feel can be positive and help move this project forward feel free to share. I have every confidence this community will drive this product. So let's make 2010 the year Untangle takes its rightful place as a key part of every network.
    Rob Sandling, BS:SWE, MCP
    NexgenAppliances.com
    Phone: 866-794-8879 x201
    Email: support@nexgenappliances.com

  2. #2
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    Thank you very much, Sky-Knight, for putting this post together - your points are well taken.

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    Untangler CECSD's Avatar
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    Refreshing and well posted Sky-Knight. I enjoyed the fact your thread addressed the current and future of this platform. Some, including myself in the Untangle community have seen our share of rift raft lately on the forums in relation to the subjects you touched on. Thanks for settling the nerves.
    Last edited by CECSD; 02-16-2010 at 06:13 PM.
    "Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so."

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    Untangle Ninja YeOldeStonecat's Avatar
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    Good post Rob.

    I agree with points 1, 2, and 3 quite strongly. I'm not disagreeing with the others, just..the first 3 ring exceptionally strong as far as I'm concerned.

    A roadmap is important for us, the resellers. We need to know what's in the pipeline, as we think about our projects down the road. Knowing if a certain feature is on its way soon may allow us to hold out or implement Untangle early on in a project, where as we wouldn't consider it and use another product if we assume it will not have this feature.

    Sales...consistency in pricing. Some better pricing models have come about recently, which is good.

    Hardware..ahh...hardware hardware hardware. In my opinion, a key to success in getting SMB consultants to become resellers of Untangle, is to provide a list of tier-1 hardware to run your platform on. I don't want to experiment, I don't have time to experiment, and I don't feel like spending the money to experiment. I'd have to sell 8x or so Untangle packages just to make enough money to purchase a 1U server to experiment with...and keep dong that until I find a make/model that works well...and then repeat the process in another 2 years when the model gets disco'd.

    ...in my opinion, Untangle could get a lot more SMB consultants onboard if we were provided with a consistently updated list of current....available...on the market, reputable well known brands of units that the UT team tests and blesses to run Untangle. 3x tiers would be good...small form factors for tiny offices/branch offices, mid-sized 1U server and a higher end server. We want hardware that's widely available and easily supported.

    ...the current HCL is made up of mostly a lot of older mix-matched hardware. May help some home enthusiast builders....but lets face it, what is the target of Untangle? SMB. And SMB wants good solid hardware, hardware with 3+ year warranties, widely supported, etc. Not having a good consise updated brief list of this I'm sure turns away a lot of potential resellers..and thus sales.

  5. #5
    mdh
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    The HCL was my pet project, conceived specifically because it was essential. The OS platform has changed since then, and people tend more to post their hardware in the forums rather than update the HCL. It isn't updated anymore because it isn't owned by anyone anymore.

    As far as resellers and the roadmap, I'll take that one further. To a large extent, resellers make or break Untangle, and Untangle can make or break a reseller. I think that there should be a well-managed open communications channel between Untangle Product Management/Developers and the resellers so that both sides are clear about what works, what doesn't, and what the wants and needs are with regard to paying customers in the field. Looking at a Top Ten list in Bugzilla is nice, but that can be as misleading as the voting on American Idol. Untangle needs to be responsive to the marketplace while managing its resources, and resellers want to know that their best interests are taken into primary consideration whenever feasible.
    Last edited by mdh; 02-16-2010 at 06:55 PM. Reason: Another of those profound thoughts...

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    Untangle Ninja sky-knight's Avatar
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    Thanks for the feedback guys, lets keep it going and hold onto this level of sanity.

    Stonecat brings up good points. I don't use T1 OEM equipment because it simply doesn't survive in my environment. 3 Year warranties are only good if you don't have to use them. My clients don't want to deal with the downtime, so I'm expected to build things myself.

    So, that said, we now have two distinct classes of reseller represented. The system builder, which is me, and the consultant which is Stonecat. There are days I wish I could stop designing equipment... but as long as Arizona gets those amazing light shows during monsoon season... I'm going to be building boxes.

    I guess that means after I get my website online and people can buy boxes direct from me like they can from proactivens, I'm going to have to track down a way to do 3 year warranties. :P

    As a final note, points 1 - 3 were the first things I came up with on impulse when I decided to create this thread. 4 - 5 showed up during proof reading. There are certainly things we can do to help the business model, but I felt it was important to also start thinking about how to better leverage the open source model. It really does give us resellers the ability to do some special things with this product we can't do with anything else. Yes it enables the competition to a degree, but I think that issue can be overcome with some creative branding.
    Last edited by sky-knight; 02-16-2010 at 08:20 PM.
    Rob Sandling, BS:SWE, MCP
    NexgenAppliances.com
    Phone: 866-794-8879 x201
    Email: support@nexgenappliances.com

  7. #7
    Untangle Ninja YeOldeStonecat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mdh View Post

    As far as resellers and the roadmap, I'll take that one further. To a large extent, resellers make or break Untangle, and Untangle can make or break a reseller. I think that there should be a well-managed open communications channel between Untangle Product Management/Developers and the resellers so that both sides are clear about what works, what doesn't, and what the wants and needs are with regard to paying customers in the field. Looking at a Top Ten list in Bugzilla is nice, but that can be as misleading as the voting on American Idol. Untangle needs to be responsive to the marketplace while managing its resources, and resellers want to know that their best interests are taken into primary consideration whenever feasible.
    I agree with this. I think this is important. We are the people interfacing with our clients day in and day out. We hear what they want, what they like, and we get direct feedback from on products we implement into their networks. Our clients are SMB, SMB is what makes Untangle money. The communication across this channel IMO should be important.....we have the pulse of our clients.

    I know we haven't done a lot of sales yet....it's been difficult to get the idea of paying for a UTM across to our clients, and my colleague is hesitant on getting a relatively small unknown (brands) into his clients...but I did get him to make his first Untangle sale coming up in a month or so for a small town that he does the IT for. I know one of his primary concerns is the hardware aspect. He'd usually rather go with a Fortinet appliance or a Cisco appliance...and feel comfortable about the hardware.

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    Hey guys, I've got to say I appreciate your comments very much. One of the things I've always wanted to get help from the Untangle Community for is competitive comparisons of Untangle features compared to "popular" other vendors. I realize this information will help the competition in identifying their weaknesses compared to Untangle's strengths, but a lot of customers are looking for this information from resellers and from Untangle directly. It's hard to keep this information accurate and updated because it isn't something Untangle is using or coming across in our day to day business. The word on the street from community members, whether they be resellers or end-users familiar with Untangle, IMO are our best source of information for that info. This is probably better for another conversation string, but thought it might be appropriate to bring up here given the Open Source comments posted previously.

  9. #9
    Untangle Ninja sky-knight's Avatar
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    That's a whole other thread...

    Created, here
    Rob Sandling, BS:SWE, MCP
    NexgenAppliances.com
    Phone: 866-794-8879 x201
    Email: support@nexgenappliances.com

  10. #10
    Master Untangler Evil_Bert's Avatar
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    I'm obviously not an Untangle reseller, but I have been involved in technology businesses, and a few other things, for many years. I have a few comments. Take these as counterpoint to sky-knight's suggestions.

    Quote Originally Posted by sky-knight
    Idealism has a place, but it breaks down when people are starving.
    True, but companies that retain core values (not idealism, but strong core values) are likely to succeed more often than not. Has Untangle (the company) ever had a strategic planning meeting/conference where they've thrashed out what their core values are? Vision? Mission? Strategic goals? Knowing a little more about this might help the community "tune" their involvement.

    The current hot button in this category is the recent introduction of advertising into the free product. <snip> It will come in two folds, firstly people buying something to get rid of the ads, and secondly everyone that gets upset and leaves because they refuse to pay. To be blunt, its that much less bandwidth for Untangle to pay.
    Other than a near-monopoly (like Microsoft), or company with absolutely stellar brand value (like Apple), what supplier can afford to p*ss off a fair proportion of its users and still profit without a concurrent and fundamental shift in values and strategic direction? What Untangle is doing is a strategic change, but it seems the implementation has been ham-fisted so far. I agree with sky-night that "Direction" is lacking.

    I'd suggest that the preponderance of feedback from resellers, rather than from clients, distorts the true picture of Untangle ... but I don't necessarily suggest that such distortion is harmful, at least not so far.

    Hardware issues have been a topic of contention for longer than I've been here.
    OK, there are hardware issues, but I think something has been overlooked - Untangle is virtualised and runs atop Debian. Hardware compatiblity is fundamentally tied to Debian and the Linux kernel. That may not be the whole story but it's a very large part of it.

    These forums are very active on the topic of hitting up new egg or random other sales points for individual components to work with Untangle. This information is counter to the process of actually selling these units. <snip> It is unrealistic of forum community members to assume this information is free to pass around.
    Here I disagree strongly. In the open source community, it is very realistic to expect this informaion to be shared freely, as occurs frequently. What you're talking about is changing the nature of the forum community from an open source community to a business grouping of resellers who aim to profit from direct sales, using, in part, information they gained from the community. If that happens wholesale, then the forum may as well be closed to the public and restricted to authorised resellers.

    It's a fundamental shift in strategy.

    The bottom line, Untangle is software, it is not a product.
    Software IS a product.

    You can only sell a product.
    Not so. Ask Red Hat, for example.

    Therefore, if resellers are going to be the primary source of hardware testing and resources, I suggest that resellers be the only source of information in this regard.
    That would forever change the "community", but then I guess that's what you're talking about: in your world, "community" equals "channel partners".

    Open Source means the community does the work. <snip> The commercial guys take what we do, polish it off, make it easy and clean. Then they sell it.
    I think that's a misrepresentation of open source, altough open source can mean different things to different people. See below.

    Yet, for all that talent there is very little actual development coming in.
    In my experience, very, very few "community" members do development. Testing, bug filing and general feedback are much more common.

    We walk a fine line between the free mentality brought to the table from Open Source ideology, and the commercial mentality leveraged by corporate interest.
    Some companies seem to do this quite well. I suggest it takes clear vision from the top, which may or may not be present at Untangle.

    I just ask everyone to remember that Open Source doesn't mean "free" as in no cost. It means "free" as in beer, as in available, as in portable.
    I think you're missing something here - and that might explain a lot. The saying is, "Free as in beer, or free as in speech." Open source can be both, as it often is. It's explained better here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source

    Untangle has given more than enough free of charge, it's time to build a business that can sustain this product and our community going forward.
    Again, this is a fundamental shift in strategy that needs to be thought out clearly.

    I have every confidence this community will drive this product.
    By adopting the changes you've suggested (or at least I think you've suggested) then the "community" will become, mostly, a business grouping of resellers. They'll drive the product in the direction that most benefits them.

    So let's make 2010 the year Untangle takes its rightful place as a key part of every network.
    Untangle is a good product, but believing it has a "rightful" place anywhere is, IMHO, a distraction. I realise that may just be a turn of phrase, but I think a more earnest belief in the quality of the product and a more sober attitude to the business will produce better results in the long run. One shouldn't confuse the vision with the mission.

    But we agree Untangle should advertise itself better.
    There are many alternate universes, but only this one has beer.

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