With Mobile Computing Vendors
- XcelleNet /
Interviews Joe Owen, CTO of XcelleNet!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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. .
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Our rule of thumb costs are $50 per device for the enterprise.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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!
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
Make sure that they have proven track record – a lot of enterprise
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
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
MobileInfo.Com thanks Joe Owen, CTO of XcelleNet for
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