Srivats Sampath, vice president of product marketing for the Server Product Division at Netscape Communications Corp., is responsible for managing the overall product strategy for Netscape SuiteSpot servers and for growing the Intranet market. He recently spoke with Ameet Patel, Contributing Editor of AD Trends.
Q. Can you define Netscape's
business strategy for the next year? Where do you see Intranets
going? As well as, I have heard a lot of things that the Extranets
is really the next wave after Intranets.
SS. Let me give you a
little quick historical perspective. We started in 1995, which
is around the time the whole Web revolution happened, where the
Internet protocols have made the standards, and took the world
by storm. In 1996, we saw these technologies come into the corporations.
Browsing was suddenly very applicable within the company for creating
and consuming content. For the first time in the short history
of computing, we found that the protocols of the services that
ran inside the company were the same ones that ran outside the
company. Suddenly, the doors opened on building applications that
bridged the company with their customers, their vendors, and their
If you remember back a few years, the big automotive
companies tried to do EDI, right? But EDI was basically a band-aid
solution. Companies would route their own proprietary protocols;
there would be multiple different document formats; it was just
a mess. And as you can see EDI never took off.
But with the Internet, now we all agree on a standard
set of protocols, we all agreed on a standard way to render a
document (which is HTML), and we all agree on a standard way to
write an application, and that is using Java.
The walls are coming down between the customers,
partners, vendors, and suppliers because of the standardization
of the technology.
Q. What kinds of applications
do you find your customers are building?
A. The one interesting
trend, is the ability to support both internal and external customers.
For example, Netscape has implemented an internal home site for
HR. We go to HR, to a place that says "Forms". There
is a change of address form, 401K form, and so on it. We click
on it and get an HTML form. We fill it in, hit a button, and at
the backend it automatically updates the database. You can do
this from anywhere in the world.
Another example of this is a job posting system that
allows managers to post jobs and allows people with browsers who
are coming in to take a look at this to look at what jobs are
available and to apply for them on-line. Another example is expense
reports. When I was at Comdex on the road, I filled out the expense
report, hit a button, and bank, it's gone. These applications
just make you more productive.
We recently launched a program called AppFoundry
on the Netscape web site. It is a collection of applications written
by our partners, and we have source code with them. In the first
six weeks, we had something like 20,000 downloads.
I'll tell you why this marketplace has seen such
a rapid pace of acceptance. In the client/server world you've
got the server all done and then you had to go deploy the client
physically on every desktop. Typically you would do it through
Windows and then the Mac people would get extremely angry and
then the Unix people, you never even thought that they existed.
It takes a long time to roll out a client/server application for
20,000 people. With Network-centric applications, the rollout
The Netscape homepage is, for example, actually a
complete application. There are Java applets in there; there's
stuff. It is a full blown application with a database backend.
And we update that application almost on a daily basis.
We have 3.5 million people who come visit our site
every day and spend an average of nine minutes on that site.
So the application deployment is instantaneous. In fact, one of
our customers said, "This is one of those few cases where
I have five people testing the application at 8 in the morning.,
and I can have 5,000 people using it by 5 in the evening."
Q. Recently at Comdex,
you announced your Constellation product. What is its importance
to your future strategy?
A. The four things that
we allow you to do today with our product is one is to create
information, second is to consume information, third is to communicate,
and fourth is to collaborate. That is what communicators are,
those are the four C's.
Now, with the breaking down of the barriers, the
user is privy to information from all over the world, gigabytes
and in some cases terabytes of information. If you are the knowledge
worker and if your business is to be information aware, as I call
it, the distant metaphors of application and going looking for
it no longer hold true. You need to have some very smart ways
by which, information comes to you. So we undertook an initiative
called Constellation, which right now is a technology initiative.
Now, with Gigabytes of this information coming your
way we wanted to find ways by which you could set up filters,
channels or views, of the kind of information you wanted to see.
So that's what it is, it is a productivity add-on that allows
you to be more effective at getting information or getting to
the right information. Whether it will manifest itself as a component
or communicator is still to be decided. We are in a very early
Q. My understanding
of Constellation is that it could make the operating system environment
sort of mute. I know that Microsoft is planning to bundle Explorer
within the operating system environment. Communicator acts as
a shell on top of the operating system and sort of abstracts away
the OS so that you are not OS specific. Is that understanding
A. No, that is not right.
What it is, like I said, it allows you to be productive. If you
have seen Communicator, there is a toolbar for mail, for the browser,
for Collabra, for Composer, and so on. There will also be a button
for Constellation. A lot of people will choose to live in the
native operating system view. Some people will choose to live
in their E-mail. That is primarily what they do. I live in my
E-mail all day because that is where I do most of my work. But
there are some people, knowledge workers, or information workers
who will choose to click on Constellation and get that view of
their information. The native windows desktop is just a click
It is not our intention to replace Windows or any
of the operating system. Our intention is to provide a component
to Communicator that allows people to get the information easier
than they would have normally.
Q. About Microsoft's
Explorer and IIS strategy: What are some of your key differentiators
that cause your customers to pick SuiteSpot's servers.?
A. That is a very good
question. We have ten servers. We have Enterprise server, which
is our high end content management and Web server. We have Media
server, which is our low-bandwith streaming audio server. We have
a Messaging server, our enterprise-class SMTP/Pop 3 class messaging
server. We have Collabra server, an NNTP-based based discussion
server. We have Catalog server, basically an indexing and a cataloging
system for all the documents that you create. There is an LDAP
server which provides LDAP-based directory support. We have Proxy
server for all the proxy stuff.
Basically, we are the only suite in the marketplace
that has ten servers that providing standard-based services all
the way from managing your content, to managing your directory,
to sending messages, to having group discussions, to having streaming
media, to doing proxies. And we are multi-platform: Unix, Windows
(3.1, 95 and NT), AIX.
Granted, there are customers that are only Windows.
They are not the multi-national, they are not the Global 2000.
There is a subset of small companies with 100-200 users that stand
by Windows because it is very easy for them. But if you look at
the global 2000, which is our target marketplace, it is basically
a multi-vendor environment, and our solutions for that space absolutely
fits the bill.
We support over 17 client platforms. We support all
of the Microsoft-based operating systems and we have the most
flexible licensing policy that you'll ever find. We are 1/3 the
price of Microsoft BackOffice.
There is one other thing. We tell our customers not
to be on a vendor. We are saying, bet on a standard. When you
bet on a standard, you cannot lose.
I'll tell you why we believe so passionately within
this company. It comes straight from the top. It comes straight
from Jim Barksdale. The CIO at FedEx has a favorite story. He
says that every night when he goes to sleep he always wonders
which software vendor is going to go out of business the next
morning. Especially when you are running a billion dollar enterprise
on your network. We are finding - and this is a very interesting
and amazing observation for us - is that enterprise deals typically
take nine to 12 months. Why? Because they are big decisions.
We are finding that when we go to the customers,
our sales cycle is in the three-month time frame. We are getting
$10 million deals closed in 3-4 months. Why is that? We go to
our customers and say, "Bet on the Internet and the standards,
and you can rest assured that you will not be wrong." Because
the Internet is bigger than the sum of all these companies put
Q: One of the key things
in any of these standard based environments is that you are always
going into a legacy environment made up of proprietary standards.
Be it mostly made up of Microsoft and IBM technologies, how do
you sort of play into that kind of integration perspective?
A: Let me address that
question two ways. We have an embrace and integrate strategy with
Microsoft. We realize that our customers have invested a lot of
money in Microsoft technology, and in order to take our customers
forward, we need to build a bridge to the past. What we have stated
publicly that we will support ActiveX OLE controls. We will support
Microsoft SQL server. We will support pass-through authentication
to NT. And, basically we said "Customer, you tell us what
you want us to do, and we'll do it, and we have done it".
That's one. We support all the databases natively: Oracle's, Sybase,
Informix, Microsoft, on any platform. Right?
Also, we just annoucned that we are licensing IBM's
3270 applets. You can do a 3270 terminal emulator right from Browser
into the high-end servers. In every case, it is our stated intention
that even though we are standards-based, we will embrace and integrate
with proprietary solutions out there primarily because we want
to make sure that the customers investment is always maintained.
Q. What are your plans
for integrating with environments that firms have invested in
heavily, such as Lotus Notes and MS Exchange?
A. You bring up a very
good point, We have a two phase strategy there. One is, for people
who want to migrate from all these environments, we are building
migration tools. That's one. We are building migration tools that
allow you to migrate from CC mail, and MS mail. Second is, this
is the beauty of the whole standard story. We go to the customer
and say "No, you don't have to throw out Exchange."
Exchange supports LDAP. We will talk to the exchange directory
store. SMTP gateway will all work seamlessly together. With the
Notes Domino thing. All of a sudden just put Domino around it
and we come all the way, we subsume Notes within us.
Q. What about vendors
such as some of the enterprise application vendors such as, SAP,
BAAN, People Soft, and Oracle?
A. We are putting a program
together to actively work with them. I might be getting ahead
of myself a little bit to talk about it, but they are definitely
in the plans. And it's a must. For us to go from a browser company,
to an Intranet company, to an enterprise company, we have to have
these things in place.
Q. What would you characterize
as Netscape's core competencies?
A. Our core competencies
are two things. We build the best set of clients, the best set
of servers, and the best platforms to build open standards-based
content management, collaborative and E-mail groupware systems.
We are the standards bearer for this whole new way of computing
to create, consume, communicate, and collaborate.
Q. Do you see Netscape
playing a role in trying to shape the electronic commerce marketplace
or is that primarily being taken care of through your Actra joint
A. Basically, one of the
nice things about Netscape is our ability to focus, and again
the core competency issue. We strongly believe that the electronic
commerce business is very important for our future. We work very
closely together, a lot of our customers are funneled to Actra,
a lot of Actra's customers come to us. But basically what we have
done is we have optimized for focus. Navio, for another example,
is focused on the consumer space, which we believe, I think the
market going to evolve to become something really big on that
space. Again, for us to focus we've spun it off into a separate
entity, invested in a management team and a whole bunch of people,
and we share technology back and forth. We have a big executive
team on each other's boards. So this is our way of making sure
that we are focused on the right thing at the right time.
Q. Maybe I can ask
you where you see SuiteSpot progressing. One of the observations
that I have in terms of looking at your products, you have about
ten products, they are very good from the standpoint that you
can pick and choose different types of products. But the competition,
especially Lotus Notes has this "one product fits all"
model. Sometimes it's hard for an end user to grasp, "What
is SuiteSpot?". Sometimes it looks very fragmented and disintegrated
from the standpoint of different components. Does Netscape somehow
plan to create a more bundled approach, more solutions-oriented
towards their product offerings on the server side? Right now
it looks more like a technology offering, or 10 technology offerings
that probably need some clarification.
A. You bring up a good
point. The reason we did SuiteSpot that way and that was because
a lot of our customers came back and said "Look, when I bought
Notes, I bought everything. I bought the entire enchilada. I
bought a securities server, I bought a database server, I bought
document repository, I bought a messaging server." And it
was all proprietary, right?
For them, once the Internet/Intranet wave hit, for
them to even contemplate going to standards on any one of those
areas became extremely hard.
When we first came out, the switchboard was based
on being able to provide modular mix and match servers. When we
talked to our customers they absolutely said "That is exactly
what we want". When we talked to our customers again, that
is what they are saying because it is so simple for them.
Let's take for example, Directory. They buy SuiteSpot,
and the customer says "I want to implement a Directory."
So they take the CD, plop it down, and load up the Directory server,
and lo and behold, for the entire company there is a Directory
server. Now every server in SuiteSpot is a Directory server client.
The next thing would be the MIS manager or the LAN administrator
says "O.K., I want to set up a messaging server." So
they install the messaging server. This is way people think.
Contrary to a lot of popular belief out there, networks
are organic. They grow one at a time. It's almost like putting
on a layer on top of an onion. The first thing is HTTP services,
the next is directory services. Third, messaging services. Fourth,
discussion services. Fifth, sophisticated content managing services.
SuiteSpot allows MIS managers, LAN administrators and Web masters
to deploy these services when the time is right.
Q. What about support
for replication and agents and the ability to do system management
better on the servers? And also, one of the key things with a
lot of Web Masters, whether it is internally or externally, is
they have been asked by their end-users organizations to really
mine the information on who's using what type of information and
when. How do you plan to address that?
A. Enterprise sever 3.0
is a high end content management system that supports agents and
versioning. It has a complete version control and a check in/check
out system built into it. It totally, seamlessly integrates with
all office documents.
We have also built in the IIOP (Internet/Inter ORB
Protocol. So now you can have a Corba-based standard for doing
out of process communications. Seamlessly. And also to bridge
to all their legacy applications, legacy database applications,
whatever. So, it is a very powerful platform for building content
and managing content.
The way we do our replication is through NNTP. Let
me also set the tone on replication, which is Lotus Notes did
replication first. They didn't have a choice at that time. There
was no standard protocol that they could use to communicate both
inside and outside the company. If I had a Notes server in Zurich,
and I had a Notes server in San Francisco. There was no protocol
that linked Zurich to San Francisco, just absolutely seamlessly.
But they had to have their own little schema that would take information
from that database and drop it in that database, take it from
that database, drop it in this database. What has happened with
the Internet taking over, is that I could have a server in Zurich
and a server in San Francisco, and I know for sure that if I sent
out a HTTP request to the server in Zurich, it will automatically
find it. When you have that level of accessibility, and that level
of support at the protocol level, you don't really need replication.
Now, there are instances where the data is just so
much that you may want to replicate. In which case we use NNTP,
which is the right way to do it because that is again a standard.
We don't have to require that a Notes system or our system limit
the other end as long as that system is NTTP-compliant. We can
replicate to that.
Q. What about system
management and integrating into some of the higher levels of system
management tools such as Tivoli TME, CA-Unicenter, and HP Openview?
A. We support any product that is SNMP-compliant,
including HP Openview, CA-Univcenter and Tivoli. We also have
our own administration server that allows you to manage the entire
enterprise of Web servers off a browser.
Q. How does the network
computer play into your server product line?
A. We believe that we
are ideally in a position to be the back end for a lot of these
NC devices. We have the performance, we have the services. Everything
is done at the server site.
Q. Would it be safe
to assume that the SuiteSpot and the enterprise servers would
also act as a potential applet server down the road?
A. If for example, if
somebody ran aMarimba transmitter on our server. Absolutely. Also
with Corba and IIOP I think it will serve up all the objects that
Q. Here is a philosophical
question. I think the press and a lot of the end users have been
focused too much on the browser wars. My feeling is that it is
just the tip of the iceberg to this whole Internet/Intranet/Electronic
Commerce Marketplace, and the future. Maybe you would like to
give us some of your thoughts on that.
A. Absolutely. You know
we started our lives in the browser space. In reality, 80% of
our revenues came from the global corporations in this world,
the Global 1000. Everybody was saying, "Oh, you're going
to get killed by Microsoft". Microsoft came out with 1.0,
2.0, 3.0, whatever. And we have still maintained a 75%+ share
of the browser market. To give you an example, we shipped the
Navigator mail client in the 3.0 verison, nine months ago. In
those nine months, we gained a total of 11 million users using
our mail client.
Q. And how does that
compare to your competition?
A. I think CC mail is
between 11-12 million. But it took a long time to get there. So
our focus is to be the premier vendor of Web based, E-mail, and
groupware for corporate Intranets. That is our rallying cry, that
is what we are going after, and that is what the business is.
And the browser is one component of everything we do, messaging
is another component of everything we do, collaboration is another
component of every thing we do, and creating content is a part
of everything we do, so we try to basically provide an environment
which, I keep bringing up the four C's, which allow you to create,
consume, communicate, and collaborate.
Q. IBM/Lotus, and Microsoft
are trying to scramble to try to catch up to you in terms of the
Intranet market. You have taken a very standards approach to where
you are going with the future. You really don't have any so called
barriers to entry from that standpoint. How do you keep them
from catching you and surpassing you? Is it really just the innovation
angle, and providing a more business value to your customers and
consumers? I have read a lot about 1000% ROI, and 2000% ROI,
and a lot of Intranet solutions that have used your products.
A. It is amazing that you brought that up because
it was the same study that was done on Lotus Notes in 1994. And
they got 124% ROI, and a 2 1/2 year payback. The same identical
ROI study done on Netscape's Intranet came up on an average of
between 1,200-1,600% ROI. Now here is the killer, the payback
was three months. That is what totally impressed us. The fact
that in three months, you basically made your money.
We build the best products, with the best features,
based on standard protocol and standard documents formats like
HTML. Our commitment to the customer is that we will always be
open and there will be no proprietary bone in our body. Our second
commitment to our customer is that we will allow them to mix and
match whatever solution that they want and the only way you can
do that today is to go with the standards based solution.
So, the challenge that Microsoft and Lotus have is
taking this proprietary baggage and putting a veneer opening on
top of it. The challenge that we had about six months ago, was
taking a product that was fully standards based but was not feature-complete.
What we have done now is that we have bridged the gap and gone
beyond that. So now we are fully standards-based, and we have
all the features of products like Lotus Notes and Exchange. That
is why we are seeing the landslide of design wins.
We have to be on, what I call the technology treadmill
and the feature treadmill and win the business of our customers
the right way. We give them the product, and they should like
it enough that they will install it. They should not, like it
because they don't have a choice. That is the fundamental change
in the business model which is bringing Microsoft and Lotus kicking
and screaming to the table.