Article

The Mind Electric connects with developers, looks ahead to grids

Nick Patience

Young Web services player The Mind Electric (TME) is already looking beyond Web services to its equally anticipated cousin, grid computing. The company has closed a round of funding and released version 3.0 of its Glue Web services development and integration platform; next up is a grid-computing tool called Gaia.

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Context: TME founder and CEO Graham Glass, who also founded ObjectSpace, comes from distributed computing background and believes grid computing is the way the industry is going. He decided to concentrate on Web services development first, though, in order to learn how to walk before running. The result was Glue, which has been a huge hit among developers and has been downloaded 20,000 times since its first release a year ago.

Glue's popularity is based its on ease of use as well as the unusual license – the standard version is free for all commercial uses, bar those that are competitive to TME. The paid-for, Pro, version, which has some extra elements in it, is still not that expensive; it costs $1,000 per developer and $1,500 per CPU at deployment time. The company is profitable with 15 staff, but recognizes that a marketing push this fall will affect that.

The lack of cash has been the biggest chink in young TME's armor, and one frequently exploited by competitors. But the company has now closed a funding round from unnamed angel investors, and is planning a venture capital round in the fall.

Products: Glue is a tool for developing Web services in Java by tying together Java code, servlets and JSPs without the need to do all the coding by hand. It enables Java objects to be published as Web services, and integrates with EJBs, security models and messaging infrastructures using Java Message Service (JMS).

Glue 3.0, which has just started shipping, includes its own HTTP server, J2EE and servlet engines and implementations of SOAP and WSDL. The Pro version adds support for Java Authentication and Authorization Service (JAAS) for access control, along with JMS and EJB support introduced in previous Pro versions. The Pro version also includes technical support, which the Standard version lacks. Glue is downloadable as a 500k JAR file. The 3.1 cut, now available for download in beta, will add some minor system management features.

The 4.0 version, available later this year, will include elements of its Gaia grid-computing tool, such as load balancing, failover and clustering techniques to enable Web services to be deployed in a more robust fashion on a peer-to-peer basis. Following the 4.0 Glue-Gaia combination, Gaia will get its own 1.0 cut early in 2003, featuring support for both Java and Microsoft's C# Java alternative. This is very important, as it means that TME won't be pigeonholed as a Java-only company and grid developers can stop looking solely for Java classes and look for any Web service.

Until now, TME's marketing strategy has been to seed the market with Glue. Its aim from a branding point of view was to be associated with simplicity of development, and in that it appears to have succeeded. In addition, it has a publicly verifiable development group of slightly more than 1,500 people.

Competition: TME is up against firms that have had their business models questioned from all sides – for one, that Web services tools are already a commodity, for another, that Apache's AXIS SOAP implementation, its Web server and its Jasper JSP tool can do much the same thing. But Glass counters that AXIS is 30 times slower than Glue.

He cites Cape Clear and Systinet as the main competition for Glue, and we would add Avinon, NeuVis and Shinka to that list. Indirectly, it also faces firms such as Actional and some of the Web services management vendors, such as AmberPoint, Corporate Oxygen, Infravio, Talking Blocks and WestGlobal. Of course, competition also comes from the main J2EE application server vendors: BEA, IBM, Sun and Oracle, as well as Microsoft – although there's no Java story there.

With Gaia it will face strong competition from the major software providers, most notably IBM, which is leading the grid computing charge. Others, such as BEA and Sun, are putting their strategies in place. TME hopes C# takes off so it can use it as a differentiator against some of these firms, and similarly plans to use its Java support against Microsoft.

Strategy: The challenge for TME is getting customers to pay for products after they have gotten so much for free. For example, developers at Cisco have built an in-house content management system using the standard version of Glue, and TME now has to try to prize some money out of it. Yvonne Dahl has recently joined as vice president of sales, bringing extensive experience from Borland and more recently Talarian. She will be assembling a team in the coming months.

Some competitors have found it tough to transition from offering a developer's tool to selling a key piece of enterprise software, and have concentrated on the management functions that resonate better with budget controllers. TME's paying customers are mainly at the developer level, but include names such as Bank of America, Nippon Steel and Intuit. TME claims that more than 20 companies are paying for the Pro version, and that more than 100 are using the product.

The451 assessment: Some 20,000 downloads and a developer community of 1,500 in one year is rapid progress, considering TME's complete lack of marketing spend. Its reputation is very high among developers producing Web services in Java. But stepping up from that level isn't easy, and TME is entering a space where there is more intense competition. The future of grid computing is still the stuff of academic conjecture at this point, but by previewing Gaia this early, at least TME can't be accused of bringing out a 'me-too' product.


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