iPlanet: Software's not a dirty word

At a time when "software as a service" mantra is seemingly the obsession of top software vendors, iPlanet rolls out a full suite of e-business applications.
The Sun/Netscape alliance rolls out new commerce servers, claiming there's pizzaz left in back-office Web software.

Not every software vendor is hell-bent on hitching a ride on the Web services wagon.

In rolling out new versions of its commerce applications on Monday, iPlanet executives maintained that there's a great business in selling plain-old commerce infrastructure software. Because iPlanet is an alliance of two Web-centric vendors -- Sun Microsystems Inc. and America Online Inc.'s Netscape division -- iPlanet isn't eschewing completely the "software as a service" mantra that is seemingly the obsession of top software vendors these days, from Microsoft, to Oracle, to IBM. iPlanet talks about the kind of "smart services" that its software platform enables.

iPlanet: Software is us
"We don't want to be in the service provider space," said iPlanet chief marketing officer Marge Breya. "Our core competency is software. We're an enabler of smart services."

Breya and her colleagues are betting there's still a lot of life left in the back-end server software suites popularized by companies including Microsoft with its BackOffice Server product family.

The alliance has spent much of the past year and-a-half rewriting and integrating products from Sun and Netscape to build such a platform.

The resulting iPlanet Internet Services Deployment Platform is comprised of a number of interlocking pieces including the underlying directory and security servers, communications servers, and portal servers.

On Monday, iPlanet added to the mix Java-based versions of the Netscape commerce servers -- buying, selling, billing, "market making" and trade-facilitation products.

The BuyerXpert, BillerXpert, and TrustBase products are available immediately. The MarketMaker and SellerXpert modules are expected to ship commercially in the spring of 2001.

iPlanet sells its platform as a single, integrated solution via a subscription or per-CPU basis, but is looking into offering its products piece-meal in the future, according to the company.

Breya said iPlanet is talking to a number of software vendors and customers about deals for some of the individual components of the platform, but declined to provide further details.

She also said that the alliance is considering making its new commerce servers available on operating systems other than Sun's Solaris, but, again, had no details to offer on when and if iPlanet might port these products to Linux, Windows, IBM's AIX and/or Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX.

Weathering the storm
iPlanet has weathered a number of business and strategy changes during its brief life.

It has been forced to cope with the Netscape brain drain that occurred when a number of top employees left following AOL's purchase of Netscape. And the company has endured the growing pains caused by the elimination of competing Sun and Netscape products.

"The last year and a half has been an interesting journey for the alliance," acknowledged Breya. "Some products were 'stove pipes' -- they didn't work with others (in the suite). There were decisions made to kill one product when we had two."

She said iPlanet has figured out the best channel through which to sell the iPlanet products using top-level integrators including Andersen Consulting, Cap Gemini/Ernst & Young, Deloitte Consulting and e-integrator Zephyr. And it has persuaded Sun to add the iPlanet products to its own price list.

International Data Corp. research director Rikki Kirzner said iPlanet is well positioned to play in the closed-loop e-business platform space -- alongside market leaders like Bea, IBM, Software AG and other older, more-established players.

"They have tools, ready-made components, applications, and the (back-end) platform," Kirzner said of iPlanet. "iPlanet is Sun's infrastructure play."


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