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Interviews With Mobile Computing Vendors
- XcelleNet / Afaria -

MobileInfo.com Interviews Joe Owen, CTO of XcelleNet!
(February 2001)

Afaria is one of the leading solutions that help companies manage its mobile devices, applications and content from a central location. Since asset management will become an increasingly important issue of tomorrow, MobileInfo.Com interviewed CTO of Xcellenet in February 2001 to gain some insight into this topic. Here is our version of the interview in easy-to-understand (net, net) format - devoid of marketing hype. That is our style at MobileInfo.Com.

Question #1.
Please give us a 5-minute introduction to XcelleNet– its mission statement and vision giving highlights of its progress during the past two years. Are you essentially on track from inception or has the economic climate slowed your progress? Explain your product name and word choice "Afaria".


  • XcelleNet has been in business since late 1980’s. In 1989, we shipped our first product called Remoteware. Dennis Crumpler was the founding principal of Sales Technology, which he left to form XcelleNet. Since he had "non-compete" clause in his contract, he chose to concentrate on SFA for fixed location remote access. In fact, Remoteware was extremely successful and XcelleNet sold over one million seats of Remoteware licenses.
  • In the early to mid 90’s - Dennis’ non-compete clause expired and he got right into mobile computing with a vengeance. Remoteware had 1000 clients at that time; ii has over 2500 clients now.
  • Afaria is a brand new product (distinct from Remoteware) for medium & large fleets of mobile workers. It is a truly mobile client product.
  • XcelleNet went public in 1994. Several years later, Dennis accepted an offer from Sterling Commerce who wished to absorb it in larger application development space that they wanted to pursue. XcelleNet lost its identity and place for one or two years.
  • In1999, Sterling Commerce sold XcelleNet division to SBC Corporation, which was pure commerce play. Unfortunately, XcelleNet did not fit in with their investment picture and agreed to a management buy out in a partnership with Francisco Partners of California. Fortunately, most of the original team stayed and that’s where XcelleNet is right now.
  • Presently, XcelleNet is a private company and it is very well funded.
  • XcelleNet consists of 2 parts - mature Remoteware division for remote access of fixed location devices and Afaria that is focused completely on WIN 32 notebooks, handheld devices and pagers

Question #2.
The wireless and mobile computing market is quite large. It also consists of a number of companies in diverse fields of IT and networking fields. It touches on almost all aspects of business endeavor – front-end customer service, backend application integration, server application development, wireless infrastructure, networking and systems management. Please describe your core competency and services – starting with your short-term goals and how will these goals evolve into your long-term vision.


  • XcelleNet offers two key products in broad systems management arena of IT – Remoteware for fixed remote locations and Afaria for truly mobile clients. While Remoteware deals with systems management, session automation and APIs for fixed remote devices, Afaria addresses systems management, asset management and configuration management of mobile devices.
  • We have teamed with Pumatech as application development partner. Pumatechoffers Satellite Forms Server and Java-based forms tool. However, we at XcelleNet are agnostic to application development platforms and can work with other application servers, including IBM’s WebSphere.
  • Our strategy is to do three things better than competition. First, we intend to support the broadest set of devices. Secondly, we want provide the most management functionality – not just backup and security but performance and availability management in the future. Thirdly, we intend to provide the broadest support for various networks. While we can co-exist with special wireless middleware products like Broadbeam’s Smart IP, we do not depend o it. .

Question #3.
How big is this market? Who are the four major players? How many user seats do you claim to have? What is XcelleNet’s market share?


  • We are the leaders in our field. We categorize competition in this space in four buckets. In the first category, we have systems management vendors, such as Tivoli (IBM), Computer Associates, HP and SMS who tend to manage the entire IT infrastructure. The second category is for LAN management – Microsoft, Intel, Landex and NovaDigm. In the third category, you have XcelleNet copycats like Mobile Automation and Celesto. In the fourth category, you have those vendors who are focused primarily on handheld devices. This includes Synchrologic, Extended Systems, and Aether Systems with Scout. They offer synchronization products with poor man’s device management function. They just do basic management.
  • XcelleNet can work with Tivoli, CA and HP system management using unified console. However, we do not interface with them at the directory level.

Question #4.
What sets XcelleNet apart in the market – what are your key differentiators? Imagine that you are pitching to a team of experienced consultants advising a client on selecting asset management and application development software. Can you support these claims as demonstrated in competitive situations?


  • Our strategy is to do three things better than the competition. First, we intend to support the broadest set of devices. Secondly, we want provide the most management functionality – not just backup and security but performance and availability management in the future. Thirdly, we intend to provide the broadest support for various networks. While we can co-exist, with special wireless middleware products like Broadbeam’s Smart IP, we do not depend no it.
  • We have a strong systems management capability but we do not offer synchronization at the field level. We only offer file synchronization.

The reason that we have not added synchronization is that these are two completely different functions. You cannot become a synchronization vendor and still provide the same level of management device management. There is a risk in not providing synchronization in our core product but we fill the gap by partnering with companies such as Pumatech who offers a good synchronization engine called Intellisync. XcelleNet partners with Wireless Knowledge also in the messaging arena. Another danger with synchronization embedded in the management product is that database vendors, such as Oracle and Sybase are strengthening their synchronization capability. IT managers may put a greater weight on DBMS integration and may choose big players’ DBMS for synchronization function.

Question #5.
Synchronization of personal and business information at all times across all devices that one may use is a difficult task. A professional may work on a desktop, laptop and handheld device at different times. Your software attempts to address this important need. Nobody questions the requirement. Yet adoption is relatively slow. Why?


  • The reason adoption has been slow is that systems management is a second order requirement and is met only after first order needs of the enterprise are met. After rollout of a large number of devices, management problem becomes acute. Only then, IT managers will start focusing on systems management and start spending money on it.

Question #6.
Turning our attention to systems management – asset management (hardware, operating software applications and database versions updated at all times) is still another problem that you address. If IDC research states that it costs 2500 per year per mobile device, why are we unable to sell millions of seats?


  • We find that IT managers do not contest the numbers and costs significantly.
  • There are two factors to note. First that in the enterprise, first priority is application development. Secondly a vast majority of handheld devices being purchased today are not really being used as enterprise application devices but by individuals as personal information devices. In late 1999 and during 2000, there was a perceptible shift - enterprises started acknowledging that mobile handheld devices need right level of support from IT staff. After awareness will come action during the next few years.
  • Our rule of thumb costs are $50 per device for the enterprise.

Question #7.
Is enterprise market in asset management bigger than the consumer and professional market (Afaria) in your space?


  • "Enterprise all the way!" "Always have been, always will be!"

Question # 8.
Are you trying to become a Wireless ASP or you will let the customer manage its own infrastructure?


  • No, we are focusing on our core strategy of selling to medium to large enterprises, including ASPs. Becoming a wireless ASP for wireless is not our strategy.
  • We would license our software and provide consultative services but customers will run their own show.
  • We are partnering with Verizon. We have sold an ASP license to them.

Question #9.
Your competition has started offering solutions for the consumer and professional market-do you intend to join them?


  • Only through ASPS and portals. We will support Bluetooth devices and 802.11 devices.

Question #10.
Your competition says that it has a good war chest in terms of funding. How do you stand in terms of third round funding and on your way to becoming self-funding? When do you expect to become profitable?


  • XcelleNet is a self-sustaining company. We do not need new outside funding. We have a good maintenance and services revenue stream.
  • We have a 2 Billion dollar partner fund behind us and if we are doing the right things and are profitable, they will support us.
  • Out of 230 people working for XcelleNet, approximately 100 work on the Afaria product.

Question #11.
Wireless & mobile computing market is hot right now. Every day new forecasts come in from respectable market research companies and indicate even greater numbers for wireless data. Yet, most of these forecasts have not come true in the past except for the number of cellular phones sold in Europe and Japan. Do you think these forecasts are going to come through even when we had an egg on our face with lots of dot com startups and dismal track record of forecasts including those from established market research companies. If our caution is unwarranted, what is so different in the wireless and mobile market that history won’t be repeated?


  • We are generally optimistic about the marketplace. Gartner Report points to cumulative growth for PDA / handhelds at 46% and for notebooks at 12-14%.
  • We believe in these numbers but with one caution i.e. the numbers represent a combination of consumer (individual, professional and SOHO) market with the enterprise market. Therefore, these numbers are not a true reflection of your enterprise marketplace!

Question #12.
Finally our industry has more startups than established companies. There is an inherent danger in picking the right startup for a lasting and reliable relationship. What advice can you give to our subscribers and your customers while selecting their suppliers of core technologies?


  • Make sure that the vendors you select are profitable with solid funding behind them.
  • Make sure that they have proven track record – a lot of enterprise experience
  • Make sure that they can support holistically your mobile environment
  • Ensure breadth of devices and networks that they can support.

MobileInfo Advisory and Comments: XcelleNet is one of the leaders in systems management of remote and mobile devices. As a mobile computing vendor, they have a very good understanding of the marketplace and its dynamics. They have a good combination of technical and marketing management. They are also appropriately focused on their core strengths.

We agree that data synchronization and mobile systems management do not mix very well, even though the two functions are required in an enterprise technology architecture. Their experience with Remoteware gives them a distinct edge because you must have a holistic view of systems management of all devices – desktop, remote fixed devices and mobile devices. After all the mobility during the day, you must come home and use your desktop. You must have a unified systems management view of all devices – not just of the mobile devices. Afaria's ability to interface with enterprise systems management software like IBM/Tivoli, CA and HP is a distinct plus even if it uses a single console as the method of integration and even if there is no integration at the directory level. We wish that the big boys (IBM, CA and HP) would accept the superior granularity of systems management function that second tier systems management vendors like XcelleNet provide and make it easier to integrate the best-of-breed systems management components. Users will benefit from such an effort. We encourage XcelleNet to pursue this effort by using their large customers as levers.

We would recommend XcelleNet the same recipe as we are doing to IBM in the previous paragraph by suggesting that it should forge strategic OEM relationship with vendors, such as Broadbeam for wireless network link level support and wireless bandwidth optimization. We are of the opinion that XcelleNet will gain more by this strategy than by re-inventing the wheel – it is a tough game out there in the wireless network arena with lack of standards and tens of different networks. If you depend on the network provider to provide you with an IP pipe or a gateway, you may be using an inefficient pipe. Finally, we would suggest that it should be open to using synchronization engines other than Pumatech with whom it has a close business partnership relationship. This does not suggest that we do not like Pumatech (we do) but some customers may want to use other engines.

Finally, we urge all systems management vendors to incorporate diagnostic side of device management by importing SNMP type alerts about device and/or software failures into a centralized database. Remember that this need comes before managing assets. What is the use of an asset that fails and you do not know about it? From an IT management perspective, it is the same support team that manages resolution of operational problems as the one that handles asset management and keeps application versions synchronized. If you do not do it, somebody else or the big systems management boys will have to do it.

On the whole, we were quite impressed with XcelleNet and its products and would encourage enterprise IT mobile professionals to evaluate their products.

MobileInfo.Com thanks Joe Owen, CTO of XcelleNet for this interview.

All comments in this interview are the property of MobileInfo.Com website. They may not be reproduced without written permission from us.

Related Resources:
> Afaria Solutions


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