Net Integration Technologies may not be as well-known of a Linux system purveyor as Red Hat or Novell, but the Markham, Ontario-based software company plans to change that, according to CEO Ozzie Papic. In a direct challenge to Microsoft Small Business Server for dominance of the small- and midsize-business market, Net Integration is integrating a variety of proprietary autonomic management tools with its own Linux platform. As part of the effort, the company this week signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Ingram Micro, and it already claims to be signing up 100 VARs a month as partners. Papic explains why he thinks Net Integration can change the server market status quo in an interview with CRN Editor In Chief Michael Vizard.
CRN: With all of the heavy hitters in the Linux market, why should the channel be paying attention to Net Integration Technologies?
PAPIC: We're really making Linux possible for everyone. Through the development of some unique technologies, we are making Linux simple, easy, deployable and a transparent replacement or add-on to your existing Microsoft-based infrastructure. Our solution is designed in such a way that if you're sitting at a notebook or desktop, you can use Linux and feel like nothing has changed in terms of your regular Microsoft back end.
CRN: How is that different from Red Hat's or Novell's Linux offerings?
PAPIC: The difference is that Red Hat and any other distribution is very much a complex, Linux-based OS that requires a very high level of know-how. They really require you to do a lot of work, and you have to know what you're doing. We have managed to let Linux retain all its capabilities and features in terms of security and other qualities. But we have also simplified it to the point where it's easier to deploy and maintain. We're taking Linux to the next step. We're evolving it into an operating system that is now accessible by everyone.
CRN: Why can't Red Hat or Novell do the same thing?
PAPIC: They will certainly try to work on it. But I would almost call it an unfair advantage for us in that we have structured Linux around a very small kernel. Maintaining 4 Gbytes of code compared with our 20 Mbytes of code is an entirely different proposition.
CRN: Microsoft would argue that the noise around Linux outweighs any reality when it comes to adoption, especially in the SMB space. What's your take on that?
PAPIC: I would tend to agree that Linux, as it exists today, is very much happening in higher-end applications running Oracle, Web sites and things like that. Those are specialized deployments, usually high-end data centers or traditional Web hosting. In a small or a midsize business, that's very much Microsoft territory. But with us, the whole equation drastically changes. In terms of total cost of ownership [TCO] and installation complexity, Microsoft does have an advantage over traditional Linux. But we are further reducing complexity--and therefore TCO--almost by a factor of 10. So we're really doing another technical leap ahead of Microsoft on top of a Linux platform.
CRN: Beyond Microsoft Windows Server, can Net Integration compete effectively against Microsoft Small Business Server?
PAPIC: Every time we sell something, we are essentially being benchmarked against Microsoft Small Business Server. We definitely have a huge value proposition, both on the initial acquisition cost of the solution as well as in the ongoing TCO.
CRN: What form does Net Integration's version of Linux come in?
PAPIC: It can be delivered on a CD. And there is really no installation process, because the OS is so small you essentially boot it from the CD and then it places copies of itself on every drive that you have in the system. It will boot from whatever you have. Later on, it will boot from the hard drive or CD, whatever you have. You can deploy it pretty well on any X86 type platform.
CRN: Where does pricing start for Net Integration's offering?
PAPIC: The base level is around $599 for a five-user [license]. We basically have a model that's similar to Microsoft's in the sense that there is licensing on a per-user basis. But the price per user is significantly lower, and the ongoing maintenance and upgrade fees are not being paid on a per-user basis. You're paying for the server deployment. So in essence, you're paying just an upgrade fee for your OS software. That's different from Microsoft--they hit you for every user. Also, our pricing is generally structured in such a way that there is no artificial barrier at 75 users. As you know, Small Business Server stops at 75 users, and then you have to throw that away and buy a whole new set of servers. Our server scales from literally five onward, or you can have a general license, which is pretty inexpensive. This way, you can use as much as you need for your particular environment, and you are not forced to buy a $100 license, which is the way Small Business Server works.
CRN: How well is Net Integration doing in that battle?
PAPIC: We're currently at around 1,600 direct channel partners, [and] we just signed an exclusive agreement with Ingram Micro. We're acquiring new partners now, without Ingram, at the rate of about 100 a month. Obviously, with Ingram, we'll now have access to their massive partnership base.
CRN: What's next for Net Integration?
PAPIC: There's something called Unicorn, which is essentially a next-generation directory service that will allow a multiserver Linux deployment. It also will allow Linux to tie in to other directory services, such as [Microsoft] Active Directory. The most important aspect of that is the Linux autonomic engine will now have the ability to control and configure other servers on the network, as well as other dissimilar systems.
CRN: Is Net Integration making contributions back to the open-source community?
PAPIC: A number of our technologies have been put in open source, although we're not completely an open-source product. Unicorn is being placed into open source as one of the vital pieces that will make Linux a very interoperable platform, not only with other Linux platforms, but with any other platform out there. We feel this is one of the key technologies that will make Linux overall a much better play and much easier to integrate into existing infrastructures, which is one of the key problems Linux faces today. It will be a vehicle through which our autonomic technologies will be able to configure and run dissimilar networks. We feel that that is so crucial to the success of Linux.
CRN: How does Net Integration's system integrate with other Linux deployments?
PAPIC: We have something called Sandbox, where you will be able to run something like a Red Hat distribution. That distribution will be running in its own, self-contained 'sandbox,' and it will be treated very much like any other Linux server. In other words, it will run in a protected space. You will not be able to destabilize the rest of the Linux control system. But you will be able to run Red Hat and deploy Oracle on it and then essentially zip it into a container that you can redeploy on any number of Linux installations anywhere in a rapid fashion. And if something explodes or goes wrong, our net intelligence will be able to go back in and clean that up and bring it back up--just as you would do with, let's say, a mail server if it went down.
CRN: Do you think having proprietary technologies integrated with a base open-source platform will confuse the market?
PAPIC: We feel that this is the only viable way for open source to establish itself. For open source to really make sense, it needs to be commercial. People have to have ability to call somebody for help. I think the way Linux will ultimately win is through people like us. You will have heavy use of the open-source technology at some level, and you will have proprietary, advanced intellectual property that is being developed by companies to create viable solutions. I would call it a symbiotic relationship in which you actually have the best of both worlds. You have the best of open source, and you have the best of a traditional corporate environment that is very focused on delivering real products for real customers.