Serena CEO: Vail Is a Tool for the Non-techie

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2007-08-17

Serena CEO: Vail Is a Tool for the Non-techie

Serena Software is moving in a new direction. The companys leaders who are taking it there, President and CEO Jeremy Burton and Rene Bonvanie, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, partner programs and online services, sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft at Serenas San Mateo, Calif., headquarters to discuss the plans.

You discussed your mashup tool, Vail. Whats the online service? Whos doing that and where is it going to play?

Burton: The data center is down the road at a company called OpSource. What we do is we have our Vail runtime environment down at their data center and they have all the things around that runtime to turn it into an online service. The great thing about the Internet is where the app resides is not that important because weve got this global network.

Bonvanie: Think of it as a subscription model that runs on a very big data center that we dont run ourselves, but that we work with OpSource on where you can subscribe to deploy these applications on a per-user, per-month basis—very much in the same vein as [] and so forth. Then youll see a deployment facility for the mashups that people develop. And then a big ecosystem around it of companies that mash up a lot of these business flows that we will expose through a mashup exchange.

Can you give me your explanation of what you mean by "deploy to the cloud?"

Burton: In some respects its not that different than deploying a regular application on an application server. This is a substitute for [Oracle] JDeveloper or any other development environment. The difference is you dont have to be a programmer to use it.

When you come to deploy, you dont have to come to Serena and say, "We want to buy your application server." The application server market is kind of done. Now were saying, "If you want to deploy, you just go to the deploy menu and it will automatically take you to a place in the cloud, to an application server in the sky, and for 30 days you can run it for free." After 30 days, well ask you if youre getting value out of the application. If the answer is yes, well say you owe us x dollars per user per month.

Read more here about Serena Softwares unveiling of Vail.

But it is running on an application server in a data center down in Santa Clara [Calif.] with OpSource managing it.

This kills the business model of the big software companies, because if BEA [Systems] were to turn around and say, were going to put BEAs application server in the sky, instead of paying them a million dollars, [customers would] be paying like $10,000. And then [BEA officials would] have to go to Wall Street and say, we just turned 15 million-dollar deals this month into $10,000 deals. So part of its technology, but a big part of it is business model.

I see a tradeoff between what Salesforce is doing with its Apex language and the limitations in what this Serena solution seems to have.

Burton: Yeah. If you want ultimate control over the Salesforce environment, and you want to create a real custom Salesforce environment, and youve got the expertise to do it, you would go that route.

Our view is if technical expertise is a constraint or if you have real simple process flows that you want business guys to be able to create and mash up, then this is just an alternate way. Arguably you get less control with this kind of environment than you do with a programming language. So, yeah, there are certain things youre not going to be able to do in this environment, because weve hidden a lot of the complexity. But Im cool with that, because I realize the volume of applications over the next decade are going to be simple apps.

If we werent going to do this, somebody else would. Because you see it in the consumer world—I mean, 3,000 apps on Facebook within three months.

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Where do you see Serena a year to two from now?

Burton: I think we have two businesses. Today we have the application lifecycle management tools to help IT build applications better. But theres an application lifecycle emerging in the business and someones got to manage that, and I think were the only guys in the current ALM space that understands that there is a new application lifecycle emerging

And the beauty of it is that if we can empower the business users, then there are literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of applications waiting to be built.

So Serena in two or three years I think has two businesses—helping IT build complex apps better, but empowering business users to build their own applications. And, if done right, IT will expose functionality using SOA [service-oriented architecture] and the business will consume those SOA interfaces and use our platform for innovation.

What would you do if some bigger company looks at what you have here and says, "I want that"?

Burton: I guess it comes down to money. Youve got a fiduciary responsibility, but I think everyone at Serena wants an exciting, growing company thats relevant to the future. I think if were exciting, growing and relevant, we will attract a lot of interest. It would be nice to be in that situation and have a range of options.

But right now were busy re-inventing the company. If mashups are the next big thing, which I believe they are, then itd be pretty nice to rise as an independent company.

Oracle says they plan to enter the ALM space. Do you think they have a shot?

Burton: Yeah, when youve got the amount of resources that Oracle, IBM and Microsoft have, they can probably choose to enter any market that they want.

The thing with Oracle that has always been a millstone around their neck is they do a great job in an Oracle environment, but if youre using anything thats not in any way related to Oracle, they really struggle. Thats both a strength and a weakness for them; theyre very Oracle-centric.

Oracles entered a number of markets incredibly late. I just think that for them entering the market incredibly late with a very Oracle-centric toolset, youll get some takers, but I think that most folks will probably pass on it.

Why do you think companies like Microsoft and others seem to have such a hard time articulating their strategy around software as a service?

Burton: They have a lot to lose. Youve got to have the belief that if you dont cannibalize your existing business, somebody else will. And its easy to say that, but to put money where your mouth is and go on and do it is the difficult thing. And Im sure when these things go over from the engineering ranks to the business ranks, as soon as the CFO gets hold of that, it would be done.

Bonvanie: With all the guys who are trying to avoid saying SAAS—like SAP, like Oracle, like BEA—if they would go with a model like this thats multi-tenant, theyd have a terrible time getting these things up in an economically responsible way. So even if they were willing to eat the subscription business, theyd go bust. Its very expensive for SAP to put anything in the cloud.

So do you think you can give Salesforce a run?

Burton: I dont think we compete with Salesforce in any way, shape or form. I think with 600 apps on the AppExchange, we would love to match those up so they can interface with each other and move data between them, because Salesforce will be one service probably out of a thousand out there on the Internet. And folks will want to take functionality out of Salesforce and move it over here to the payroll application or other applications. So we look at them as providing a playground for us to play in.

And think folks will pick up Apex and extend Salesforce. I think they will pick up Vail and extend it. But then, if they want to mash up Salesforce with SAP with a bit of functionality in between, the only choices theyve got is to get IT involved or use something like Vail.

By accident or design, we happen to have something thats right in the strike zone. And I believe most folks internally, maybe with the exception of the Vail lead developer, didnt realize what they were sitting on top of.

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