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For iPlanet, software's not a dirty word

Releasing new versions of its commerce applications, the alliance maintains that there's a great business in selling plain old commerce infrastructure software.

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

In releasing new versions of their commerce applications 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 companies--Sun Microsystems and America Online's Netscape division--it isn't eschewing completely the "software as a service" mantra that is seemingly the obsession of top software companies these days, from Microsoft to Oracle to IBM.

"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 made popular 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 comprises a number of interlocking pieces including the underlying directory and security servers, communications and portal servers.

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

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

iPlanet sells its technology as a single, integrated solution via a subscription or per-CPU basis, but is looking into offering its products piecemeal, according to the company.

Breya said iPlanet is talking to a number of software sellers and customers about deals for individual technology components, 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 offered no details about when and if iPlanet might port these products to Linux, Windows, IBM's AIX 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 after AOL's purchase of Netscape. And the company has endured 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 in the suite were "'stove pipes'--they didn't work with others. 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 its 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.

IDC research director Rikki Kirzner said iPlanet is well positioned to play in the closed-loop e-business technology market, alongside leaders such as BEA Systems, 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."