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.

Srivats Simpath

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 partners.

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 is instantaneous.

The Netscape homepage is, for example, actually a complete application. There are Java applets in there; there's JavaScript code running behind it; there is HTML script, all that 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 stage.

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 correct?

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 away.

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 together.

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 venture?

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 you need.

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.