Customers and partners of open-source CRM (customer relationship management) vendor SugarCRM will be able to deploy and manage a number of instances of the software through a new management console, the company has announced.

The enterprise version of SugarCRM Data Center Edition will let customers tailor and manage instances for different business units, while partners will be able to more easily customise SugarCRM based on users' needs and resell it in on-demand form, SugarCRM said.

The console can create an instance with "the click of a button," and its reporting capabilities allow customers to track usage levels and performance across multiple instances, according to the company.

It is in beta now and will be generally available within a few months. Pricing is tentative while the product remains in beta, according to a spokesman. Under current plans, partners would pay on a tiered basis, depending on the number of end users. Enterprises would pay $100 per year for each user being managed with the tools.

SugarCRM's move is "quite interesting," said Ray Wang, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Its ramifications go beyond a customer's CRM needs or helping partners resell SugarCRM's product, by providing the basis for a broader open-source business software platform, Wang suggested.

"Here you have an open-source product that is already compatible with other open-source technologies, including PHP and ZEND, the open-source email tool Thunderbird, mySQL, and Linux," he said in an email. "If they are successful, this is quite powerful given the current adoption trends towards hosting, multi-instance virtualisation, and SaaS."

The announcement is the latest in a steady stream as SugarCRM attempts to gain credibility with larger customers.

"They need more of an enterprise story, and the [datacentre] move will play to that," said China Martens, an analyst with the 451 Group. "Going hand in hand with that, they need some name customers - they have BDO Seidman, their largest user by far, with 9,000 users - more of that level of usage would be very handy as SugarCRM tries to engage more with Salesforce.com."

However, as SugarCRM courts big enterprises, "one challenge will be to ensure that in doing so, they keep all parties happy, particularly the bulk of their customers, who have 10 to 20 seats," she said.

SugarCRM, which recently garnered an additional $20 million in venture funding, claims to have about 3,000 customers in all.