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iPass chief shares plans for the cloud

Evan Kaplan, chief executive of hotspot aggregator iPass, talks about cloud computing and how he plans to keep the business buoyant in the economic gloom
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Evan Kaplan, the chief executive of hotspot aggregator iPass, has been in the job for four months, having joined from SSL VPN company Aventail.

He faces a tall order: iPass shareholders have been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the company's performance, and he will need to lead the company through the global recession. Kaplan talks to ZDNet UK about how the company will evolve to survive the current economic climate.

You wrote an open letter to shareholders at the beginning of the month, where you said the best course of action to ride the economic downturn was "prudent investment in the company". What form will that investment take?
We're concentrating on a number of things. We have a software-development effort to make our client easier and more seamless to use, and want to make it increasingly easier to connect to. We'd like to increase our free Wi-Fi footprint in coffeshops and hotels, for example, so customers can use iPass independently of whether it's paid for. We also want to train IT managers in enterprises so they can pass knowledge on to users, to get the most out of iPass.

Is that necessary?
The iPass client may be deployed on a laptop, but the employee may not use it. IT managers will deploy 2,000 or 3,000 iPass clients, and employees may never be trained how to use them.

In the letter you said you planned to "accelerate the growth of [iPass's] 3G mobile broadband offering". Can you expand on that?
On the product development side we will move more into the 3G and wireless world. Enterprises have a difficult time procuring wireless data at scale, as wireless has primarily been designed for the consumer. We are creating enterprise-specified products, which will provide pooled numbers and minutes. The products will be integrated with enterprise security platforms, and provide a single bill which covers all data access.

Isn't that similar to services you currently offer?
The programme is already running in the US, but we'd like to get that going in the UK. There are no firm plans or timelines at the moment.

With the European Council making moves to cap European data-roaming charges, do you think this will lead to more use of 3G and a decrease in Wi-Fi?
Certainly we anticipate a shift in demand from Wi-Fi to 3G — this is something we will look at further.

Your products are very much aimed at big business. Are you planning to expand your product line by offering them to small business?
We'd like to do that in the longer term. Improving the iPass management platform will allow us to move downmarket, and partner to deliver to small businesses. Most of our customers are in the Global 2000 — we have a big opportunity to move downmarket.

In the open letter, you said that there would be an overhaul of your cloud-based platform. What can you tell us about that?
We are making an investment in software development to grow our platform. I can't go into much detail, but the gist is to make it more software-as-a-service.

We want to serve the small to medium sectors, and make it easier for IT managers to manage large numbers of users.

We view the cloud as a platform to deliver mobile services and add other services. To build the platform out requires re-architecting [our existing platform].

There is a lot of talk about cloud computing at the moment. Is the cloud just being hyped?
Hype's a funny word. If you look at the simple economic benefits, companies can offer services that reside in the cloud, while software developers can test whether different platforms will homogenise. There are tremendous advantages in losing complexity for software developers.

[However], the real benefit is how software and services scale more successfully over time. Look at how quickly Salesforce.com overtook Siebel. In the cloud, all of the complexity normally associated with enterprise software is gone.

Do you think businesses understand what exactly is meant by 'the cloud'? After all, services can be proprietary or open source, use open standards or not, or use the software-as-a-service model or other models. Do you think this complexity is appreciated?
I think sometimes the IT industry makes things more complex than they need to be. Companies can choose proprietary or open-source services in the cloud, but it shouldn't matter if I can buy good software-as-a-service that is a benefit for me as an IT manager.

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