Mandriva aims for the enterprise

Q&A: Following the launch of Corporate Server 4.0, ZDNet UK spoke to Mandriva chief executive François Bancilhon about how the company plans to win over the enterprise

Mandriva has been no stranger to trouble since the dot-com crash of 2001. Like many, the company went from crisis to crisis and Mandriva — then MandrakeSoft — filed for bankruptcy protection in early 2004. More recently it has faced increased competition with Suse Linux's acquisition by Novell and Red Hat's continuing growth, not to mention a new version of Windows coming on the horizon. On the consumer front, traditionally Mandriva's strong suit, Ubuntu has become the Linux flavour of choice.

Recent quarters have seen the company recovering, mainly as a result of relentless cost-cutting — the most recent round of layoffs claimed co-founder Gael Duval among others.

Now Mandriva is hoping a completely new product lineup will help change its fortunes and win more enterprise customers. Last year it acquired Brazilian Linux distributor Conectiva and on 14 September it released a revamp to its enterprise product — Corporate Server 4.0. The next few weeks will see the release of Mandriva 2007 for consumers as well as for corporate desktops.

Mandriva's big customers include enterprises and public sector accounts such as HSBC, IBM, HP, Siemens, Generali and the Brazilian Army, Navy and Air Force, and the company has a strong consumer presence in Brazil, where it sells 30,000 Mandriva-equipped PCs a month at retail.

Following the launch of Corporate Server 4.0, ZDNet UK spoke to Mandriva chief executive François Bancilhon on how Mandriva plans to win over the enterprise.

Q: After a bad quarter at the beginning of the year, Mandriva did some cost cutting. How have things been going since then?
A: After Q1, we decided to cut back on staff in Europe and South America. Those cost reductions have been effective, and the situation is much better. We should be back in the black in the next quarter, that is, Q4 of 2006. It took a few quarters to re-establish the situation, but we're happy with what we see now. We have two sets of new products, for the consumer, with Mandriva 2007, and for the corporate market with Corporate Server 4.0. That will give us a boost.

What are you doing to attract enterprises with Corporate Server?
With the new version we changed the way we did things a bit. A key feature is we found that most of the time, when you deploy a server, you specialise it into a mail server, file/print server, firewall server, and so on.

This is how we built the new installer, so that people can choose to focus on one type of function or the other, making it very simple. You can install a specialised server in less than 10 minutes, which is a pretty good number. We spent a lot of time working on the installer, which is called FIBRIC. We tested this on about 300 beta testers, and incorporated that into the product.

The second thing is virtualisation. There are a lot of virtualisation technologies out there, and we serve all of them, to give people the ability to choose one or another. We support Xen, VMware and something which is a little bit newer, SWsoft's OpenVZ. We have a strong relationship with them. It has whatever you need to get started, built into the product. We're the only one to support the three types.

The third thing is directory integration. We found people spend a lot of time connecting a server to a directory, whether it's Active Directory, LDAP or another, so we made sure all the components of the directory are properly integrated, so that it's easy to do.

Of course, we've also ported Corporate Server onto many different hardware architectures, through working closely with Intel, HP, Dell, IBM and others. We believe we've got pretty good coverage of what the market needs.

We came from the consumer market, and we've come a long way. We believe what we are offering now is very robust; we've got a very strong corporate product we can be proud of.

How does all this compare with what competitors such as Red Hat and Novell have to offer?
We're the only one that supports the three virtualisation types. The directory integration is pretty new. On the time needed to install and deploy the server, we're way ahead of what you can get from our dear friends and competitors.

There are a few other...

... ways we're competing. We've got a product called Pulse, which is a distribution management product, for maintaining a large number of servers or workstations.

People who deploy Linux technology across an enterprise tend to be very sensitive to the total cost of operation, and the need to be able to administer a server is sometimes more critical to the choice people will make than the actual technology. That's why we've invested heavily in Pulse. It allows you to administer, at a very low cost with only a few people, a very large number of servers or workstations.

Another differentiation is that we present ourselves more as a solution provider than a box pusher.

Finally, we have a fairly flexible licence cost. We believe a per-box licence doesn't make sense in a large environment. Having to register a new licence or subscription each time you connect a new server doesn't make sense, and isn't what open source is all about.

How much of your current business does the enterprise account for?
Roughly 55 percent of our business is in the enterprise, in terms of revenue, and our enterprise business is growing a bit faster than the consumer side. We have a few smaller business customers, but mainly we are after large organisations. In Brazil there's HSBC and Casas Bahia (the largest retail chain store in Brazil). We have US sites at companies such as Verizon. In France, there's France Télécom, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Agriculture, and so on.

How important are markets outside Europe and the US?
We're strongly established in one letter, the letter B. In Brazil we sell an average of 30,000 per month at retail. In that market, a very sizeable part of the consumer market is going to be Linux. We have a very strong partner there, who happens to be the leading integrator, Positivo. In other areas we are hoping to duplicate this opportunity.

We see opportunities in most of the countries in North Africa, Azerbaijan, Venezuela, Georgia, and so on. There is a good match between Linux and the emerging market. There's a strong political will behind it in some of these countries. It's a long process, but once we get established we believe it will be a strong market for us.

How does your installed base of consumers fit into your strategy?
Doing both a corporate and a consumer version makes sense. There are two synergies. One is technical, in that all the work we do on the kernel, the hardware qualifications, the core components are the same for both versions.

The second thing is that very often people who have bought or downloaded Mandriva for their own usage are those who recommend or prescribe it for the company where they work.

What's coming up with Mandriva 2007?
There is some 3D stuff that's amazingly cool. One of the differences there is that we will support both AIGL and XGL. One is more oriented towards supporting open source drivers, and the other towards proprietary drivers. We have introduced a mechanism to diagnose the hardware and tell which one to download and use, which gives us a wide coverage. We are the only ones to my knowledge that are supporting both.

The commercial version will include LinDVD, giving you the full ability to legally watch DVDs. There will be some new games, virtualisation built in, and we've done a lot of work on firewalling.

How will it compare with Windows Vista?
It's here! That's the main advantage over Vista.

Besides the standard distribution with Mandriva 2007, you will have a version called Mandriva One, which is a live install disc. How do you see such versions fitting in with your overall strategy?
We need to keep investing in the technology. As we're cranking out 2007, we're already working on the next one. We're going to wait a whole year this time, and come out with something new in the spring.

What can we expect to see from Mandriva in the near future?
The next thing is the corporate desktop, sometime before the end of this year, in November or early December. Then, that's it — we'll have a fully new lineup, with Corporate Server, Corporate Desktop and Mandriva 2007. The whole set is brand new, and now we're going to focus on selling it.

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