Lightweight Software Hits the Enterprise

Opinion: Atlassian's focus on lightweight software for the enterprise appears to be paying off.

Lightweight software is emerging in the enterprise, and if Atlassian Software Systems has its way, this is only the beginning.

First off, what is lightweight software? Well, there are lots of things, from lightweight development frameworks such as Ruby on Rails to Web 2.0 solutions such as wikis and other things.

Atlassian—based in Sydney, Australia, with a U.S. office in San Francisco—is a company that built its name on lightweight software.

Jonathan Nolen, director of developer relations at Atlassian, said there are two kinds of software in the enterprise: open-source software and traditional enterprise software.

"We think theres a huge middle ground between open source and enterprise software that hasnt been addressed—lightweight software," Nolen said.

The companys primary product is a wiki builder known as Confluence. Atlassian was founded by Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, is self-funded, has been profitable since day one, and continues to turn away venture capitalists, Nolen said.

Atlassian has four key products: Jira, a bug-tracking, issue-tracking and project-management tool; Bamboo, a continuous integration server; Confluence, the wiki product; and Crowd, a single sign-on tool. The company has 7,500 products in 90 countries.

"We have a strong commitment to open source," Nolen said, adding that Atlassian is "an opinionated software company and lightweight software is about values."

The main difference from typical software is that the lightweight software should be sold like consumer software, Nolen said. It helps organizations to spread their risks and keep the organization lean, while addressing the needs of many and having a greater impact overall, he said.

"Our lightweight model shows no sales people, no dog-and-pony shows. The software has to be able to sell itself," Nolen said, "People need to get all the information up front, particularly about pricing. Companies should have transparent pricing. … I would rather have 10,000 [people] buying our software at $5,000 than 1,000 buying it at half a million dollars."

He said the company has no sales force because "the customer becomes your sales force."

Moreover, the company is "transparent," Nolen said. Atlassian makes its main bug tracker available publicly. "Were all on the same side," he said. "An open bug tracker empowers users to solve their own problems."

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Yet, Atlassian also sells proprietary, closed-source software. "But we think people should be able to modify the software, so we ship the source. Users can do anything they want with it except redistribute it."

The benefits of Atlassians openness include that openness helping to sell software and that the company benefits for its users efforts, Nolen said. "You have to give up some control to get value," he said.

Wikis and blogs are the first lightweight software in the enterprise, Nolen said. Wikis are flexible and can do what knowledge management and content publishing systems can do, and then some, he said.

"An open collaboration tool is better than what came before it," he said. "Knowledge management tools struggle for adoption; wikis see viral adoption." Moreover, "knowledge management tools promise users benefits on the back end," Nolen said. "People just want to get their jobs done."

Wikis start with individual value, but also foster social and organizational value. They harness the natural actions of others, Nolen said.

"The wikis greatest strength is its ability to democratize information," he said.

In addition, Nolen said Atlassian set out to be a different kind of software company. "We decided to sell enterprise software through a lightweight business model," he said.

One element of that lightweight model included pricing the software so that customers could buy it with a basic credit card and get straight to work using it.

"We sell primarily in the development tools space," Nolen said. "Our software goes for less than $5,000 a copy for your entire organization."

According to Atlassian history on the companys Web site: "Five years ago, dissatisfied with the current state of enterprise software, which was difficult to install, expensive and hard to use, they decided to go into business—to offer customers an alternative. Using only a $1,000 credit card loan, Scott and Mike formed Atlassian. Ignoring all advice that they could never sell enough to make a profit, they decided to apply a consumer model to selling enterprise software."

The duo had many detractors who pooh-poohed their strategy, but Atlassian has consistently doubled or tripled its revenue every year, with fiscal year 2006 revenue of $12.2 million.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 1, Atlassian announced it was buying Cenqua, a supplier of market-leading software engineering tools. Cenqua also hails from Australia.

Thus, the new Atlassian product line includes its own Jira, which gives users insight into the number of open issues, bugs and tasks associated with every project, including the rate at which these issues are resolved, how many issues are resolved, progress made on product road maps, and more.

Atlassians Bamboo offers what officials call build telemetry—the ability to monitor and track automated software builds. It helps teams determine which builds break, the frequency at which builds succeed or fail, what tests are working, and more.

Meanwhile, FishEye, from Cenqua, makes it easy to view a source code repository to help developers better understand their changing source.

Cenquas Crucible makes it easy to review code changes, make comments, and record outcomes in an efficient, distributed and process neutral way.

Clover, also from Cenqua, is a configurable code coverage analysis tool that discovers sections of code that are not being adequately exercised by unit tests. Developers and team leads use Clover to quickly find untested java code and measure testing completeness. This feeds back into the testing process to improve tests.

Atlassians Confluence is used by developers for documentation, product road maps and planning, and more.

And Crowd, also from Atlassian, will allow for single sign-on across all these products, as well as third-party development tools such as Subversion.

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