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Progress Meets Déjà Vu, Entrepreneurial Style

Change the math around POCs: reduce the install, setup and configuration time to zero

What do a day at the beach and bringing absolutely unique technology to market have in common?  They are two of my favorite things.  Half educator, half evangelist, I spend my days carving out the difference between virtualizing server applications (AppZero) and virtualizing the servers they run on (Hypervisors VA/VM).

I've been here before.  In 2000, I had the opportunity to gather some of the best and brightest people together as I co-founded Sonic Software with Bill Cullen (product brain and Sonic CTO; now AppZero CTO).  At the time, we saw a market-making opportunity to take the AppServer world standards (formal/XML or market driven/Java) and apply them to the EAI market.  The first ESB to market -- Sonic XQ (Xml Queue) -- was shipped in February 2002.  Sonic itself was bought by Progress Software.

In an entrepreneurial act of déjà vu, I'm at Progress Software's Revolution conference in Boston.   I am struck by the irony of how very much I could have used the technology I now bring to my fellow software executives, who are struggling to balance revolution and cost.

If you sell software, you'll appreciate this observation
Growing Sonic Software, we faced two universal hurdles that significantly impacted our business - and that of pretty much everyone who sells software:

  1. Winning or losing - labor-intensive demos, proof of concepts (POC), evaluations, and trials had a huge impact on our growth rate
  2. Installs that did not go perfectly, resulted in fire drills, lost business,  and a sharp dip in customer confidence

(These facts of software life are some of the acute pain points we solve here at AppZero.)

At Sonic, we were often faced with a 5 day evaluation for a prospect:  1 day to setup our software on their environment, 3 days to do the work they requested, and 1 day show off the results.  When the 1st day did not go as planned, we always lost.

Always.  Every single time. No exception.

A cautionary tale:  If you sell software, you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent
Oh, and here's how I learned that an imperfect install can still bite you long after you have successfully fought to win a customer (in this case a market icon).  A full year after having won the business and implemented our product at the New York Mercantile Exchange, I received a call from the CIO.  He had some new concerns, "Sonic messaging system appears to slow down under load".

Arrgggh.  How could this be possible?  Sonic was ahead of its time with elastic scaling, continuous availability, and best in class through put.  This could not be correct.  As it turned out, it wasn't.

But determining and fixing the "root cause"  took 6 labor-intensive weeks filled with tons of anxious phone calls, numerous pointing fingers (with chewed fingernails), and a couple of flights to NYC by our top troubleshooter .  Life got very unpleasant before it returned to good.

The culprit? A bug in the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) and Java Runtime Environment  (JRE) that would not do garbage collect (free memory) under load.  Now, long before that fateful phone call, we at Sonic knew all about this issue.  We had documented it, changed our install and packaging to make an easy fix.

(Cue scary music) But then the customer got involved.

Someone, somewhere along their line had installed their company's "certified" version of the JVM/JRE thereby putting our product and reputation at risk.

"It wasn't my fault" just doesn't matter.  It took a long time, involving many smart people to find the 2 files that needed to be changed so that all the oil futures in the world could once again flow over the Sonic messaging system.

Morale of the story: Once a customer has your software, things happen.

If I had a time machine, I would bring the AppZero product to my(then)self
AppZero
not only solves the PoC puzzle for software vendors, but protects their Windows and Linux server applications from customers.  We make it possible for applications to be pre-installed, pre-configured and then provisioned onto a physical or virtual OS -- in minutes, perhaps over lunch.

This capability effectively changes the math around POCs in a big way: we reduce the install, setup and configuration time to zero.  If I had been able to use AppZero at Sonic, I would have freed up a whole day to actually do the customer requests on every single PoC.   What would a 33% increase in productive time have meant?  I'm going to guess a higher win rate against the competition, faster company growth, bigger promotions, and more time spent with the wife and kids.

And if I had had AppZero at Sonic, our very cool software would have been safely isolated from the customer's operating environment instead of deeply enmeshed in it.  Innocent from the start.  Hey, how's this for a new tag line? "AppZero -- protect your software from your customers."

I am always looking for a way to communicate better and cut to the heart of any discussion. So, if you have thoughts on this subject drop me a line at GregO {@} Appzero {dot} com or tweet me at http://twitter.com/gregoryjoconnor.

Register to attend: "SAP technical drill down: SAP apps up and running in hours not weeks" The fact that AppZero VAAs are 10-100 times smaller than VM-based VAs is good news for big SAP applications on the mover.  Encapsulated without a running OS, SAP applications can be executed with "copy and run" speed and simplicity.  Join us Thursday, October 6th @1pm EDT, as we take a technical view of OS-free virtualization and distribution of SAP applications. Register now>>

More Stories By Greg O'Connor

Greg O'Connor is President & CEO of AppZero. Pioneering the Virtual Application Appliance approach to simplifying application-lifecycle management, he is responsible for translating Appzero's vision into strategic business objectives and financial results.

O'Connor has over 25 years of management and technical experience in the computer industry. He was founder and president of Sonic Software, acquired in 2005 by Progress Software (PRGS). There he grew the company from concept to over $40 million in revenue.

At Sonic, he evangelized and created the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) product category, which is generally accepted today as the foundation for Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Follow him on Twitter @gregoryjoconnor.

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