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LinuxWorld Expo 2006: San Francisco

I walked the LinuxWorld Expo 2006 floor and wanted to highlight a few companies for you. I did not have time to dig in with everyone, so this is just what caught my eye.

General Observations
Each year, it seems that the LinuxWorld Expo continues to grow in size. And, each year, there appear to be more and more "suits" (which is a good thing). There were plenty of folks doing storage & continuous data protection &  iSCSI , lots of virtualization management, lots of 10Gb ethernet,  lots of old acquaintances, and lots of freebies. There was plenty of Open Source and a renewed focus on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME/SMB) marketplace, and product pricing is getting better (cheaper for customers). Finally, there were a bunch of anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-spyware, IDS/IPS companies - trying to keep the bad guys at bay.

I listed to a couple dozen product pitches. Many of them needed way too many words to get the core product idea and differentiation across. Don't ask me to pull the interesting pieces of your product out of you. Marketers note: Get your pitches nailed by everyone at the booth, keep the pitch short and simple, and hit the important points quickly. Geoffrey Moore of Mohr Davidow Ventures provides some advice on the components that should be part of an elevator pitch, as well as David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners.

I would have to say that the company with the most unfortunate name would be: "LeWiz Communications". They are a San Jose company, yet all I could think of was, well, a French version of  "The Wiz", or, ahem, worse.

Disclaimer: I obtained the stats below by talking to folks in the booth. I could be completely wrong.

FiveRuns has built a nice monitoring tool and are selling it in a SaaS model. They think most customers will install between 35-50 servers at a cost of $60/month per server. They are squarely focused on the SME market. They've done a nice job with the UI. trying to bubble up the important information and hide the unnecessary detail through progressive disclosure. It's the less-is-more philosophy. It looked like a good start, and something that would be valuable to the SME customer (who don't have big-budget IT folks on hand, typically). Lots more work to be done, but I like the style of this first pass. They've received $2.9M from Austin Ventures and Goodrich (from Wilson Sonsini) at the end of 2005, so timeframe for a Series B is likely soon.

Side note: I prefer to think of the $60/month price as "$2/day... less than the cost of your Starbucks drink to monitor and manage your server".

GroundWork Open Source sells a suite of IT infrastructure monitoring and management tools. Somewhat similar to FiveRuns, but their tools are not hosted as SaaS - you install them locally in your network. They've based some of their offering on the Open Source Nagios 2.0 tool, and are active in that community. The product looks to be more industrial grade than the FiveRuns solution and, perhaps, harder to use. GroundWork is also targeting the SME marketplace. They've priced the GroundWork Monitor Professional at $16K/year annual subscription, and that gives you the right to install it on a single server, but you can manage thousands of other servers from it.

So, entry cost is certainly higher for GroundWork than it is for FiveRuns. However, if you've got a big enough shop (266 servers, say), the costs balance out. Also, GroundWork sells add-on products for a one-time fee of $9K each. The add-on modules available are: Network Discovery & Configuration Control, Network Traffic Analysis, Scalable SNMP Polling. I don't think these add-ons are given back to the Open Source community.

SWsoft provides a tool that does what they call "OS Virtualization". It's not like VMware or Xen or Microsoft Virtual Server or Parallels. Those tools will allow you to run multiple operating systems on a singe physical piece of hardware. SWsoft's Virtuozzo allows you to ruin multiple, and isolated, application stacks on top of a single operating system. Think closer to Solaris zones/containers, I suppose. From system libraries up to the application software itself. And, the virtualization layer allows you to move application stacks between physical servers - even while the application is live. I've been watching SWsoft for some time. I think they've got a pretty cool hybrid approach to getting the goals of "virtualization", without having to virtualize the whole machine.

They've priced it at $1,250/cpu + management tools (if you wanted a GUI). I think that's too high, but the folks working the booth thought it was a bargain compared to VMware ESX. I'd be pricing this for market adoption right now.

XenSource was showing off their XenEnterprise 3.0 product, due to be released in a couple of weeks. The GUI is simple and pretty clean. Not much fancy going on here, which is probably a good thing at this stage. It will support Linux today and Windows guests in Q4 of this year (running under Intel's VT and AMD's Pacifica hardware virtualization chipsets, and with some Xen para-virtualization drivers loaded).  I think they have priced it at about $750 per 2-socket CPU server plus $200/year maintenance. I don't think this version will support Vmotion-like migration of virtual machines between physical servers, but the underlying Xen hypervisor will be able to do that on its own.

XenSource also recently announced a deep partnership with Microsoft to get their virtualized worlds to play together nicely someday. Basically, XenSource will provide a Xen-Enabled version of Linux that Microsoft's Viridian hypervisor will be able to run. Microsoft will support their OS running on top of XenEnterprise, much like it supports Windows on top of VMware ESX.

Future versions of XenEnterprise will support Virtual Framebuffers, enhanced storage/SAN support and iSCSI capabilities.

rPath builds some very cool software, for Linux only, which allows you to build a custom and easy-to-manage appliance from your application and Linux distribution. And, given how well Linux is being received as a perfect OS for embedded and appliance applications, this is all goodness. VMware certainly has a nice focus on their Virtual Appliance market, and rPath can help turbocharge it (for Linux). They have a total OEM model, which I like, but is usually hard to get started. However, once a design win is won, the two companies are locked together and the success of each breeds more success. I don't have specifics on pricing, but they get paid for every copy that their customer ships - a nice, scalable business model. They raised $6.4M last September from North Bridge Venture Partners and General Catalyst Partners, so it's likely time to do Series B.

Openbravo is an Open Source ERP solution out of Pamplona, Spain. They have a nice product, which isn't too surprising since they have been bootstrapping the development since 1999. They received about $6.4M in January, 2006, from Sodena, an investor in Spain. Again, they have an SME focus, which could work well for them. And, they've gotten good activity traction of after they put their code up. Their business model is the "professional services and support" form of the Open Source business model, as well as strong enablement and support of other installation "partners".. I would rather see them offer a SaaS version and do some proprietary add-on modules to pump up the traction and differentiation (but that's just me).

If they want to go big with this, they may very likely need to do what Compiere has recently done in order to scale to the size of the opportunity - get a large US VC to fund the Series B and move the headquarters to the US. Very hard things for some entrepreneurs to even consider, and they should only consider it if it matched their goals for the company. Compiere recently closed a $6M round with NEA.

Cassatt had a booth and it was nice to see the old gang peddling the wares, and quite a few new faces too. There appeared to be a good buzz around the booth. Disclosure: I am co-founder and was the original EVP & CTO of Cassatt (and a shareholder).

All in all, it was a good day. Unfortunately, I didn't win any of the drawings for the good giveaways. Maybe next year.

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