Thursday, April 1, 2010
Interview with Wayne Citrin and Deborah Arhelger, JNBridge
As part of our coverage, we're running occasional interview with local companies, to learn more about what they are doing. For today's interview we spoke with Wayne Citrin, founder and CTO, and Deborah Arhelger, COO of JNBridge (www.jnbridge.com), a Boulder firm developing software tools to connect Java and .NET software. Wayne and Deborah told us about their software, plus how--despite serving the enterprise software market--the lackluster economy has actually helped the firm with customers.
At a high level, what does JNBridge do?
Wayne Citrin: The short phrase for what we do is Java, .NET interoperability. For your readers who may not be that technical, there are two platforms that most software these days is designed on, the Java Platform, which was previously from Sun, and now from Oracle, and .NET, which is from Microsoft. The software written on the two platforms is not out-of-the-box compatible. So, what we do, is we provide tools to make those work together.
Why would customers want to mix the two, and do both?
Wayne Citrin: There are a couple of big scenarios. The first one is, you mya have a company going along happily with software which is either .NET or Java, but for some reason--whether that's a business reason or technology reason--you need to add some software to the mix from the other platform. Sometimes, that software is the only thing available, or it's the best thing available, or maybe it's the cheapest thing available. Whatever it is, they need to make the old investment work with the new, regardless of the platform. Another scenarios is, someone has just spent a lot of money for a library that does a particular function in Java, but they also need to write .NET code to use that. Then, there's the whole legacy issue. That's where a customer has legacy software on one platform. There's the mergers and acquisition scenario, where one company might have everything written in Java, another with everything done in .NET, they merge, and now everything has to work together. There's actually a lot of that these days.
In some cases, it doesn't even need to be a merger or acquisition, it might just be a trading partner, who is using a different platform, and you need to get stuff to work together. The last scenario is more of a marketing scenario--you might be a company that provides a product written in Java, and you now want to expand your market--double it, perhaps--by starting to sell your product to .NET customers. You could rewrite that software in .NET, and there are a lot of people who might do that--but if it doesn't make sense to do that, from a technical or economic point of view, they can use our product to essentially make that Java product look like a .NET product.
What types of customers are using your product?
Wayne Citrin: That's a great question. It's a wide range of customers. We have over 400 customer, and they are all across the spectrum. We have everyone from the Fortune 25, to small consulting shops, across a broad range of sectors. One of the biggest sectors is in financial services--banks, investment banks, trading houses, and insurance companies. One reason for that, is that there has been a lot of back end software that these companies have written which is Java, but where there might be a lot of desktop software on a sales person's desk, or on a trader's desk, which is written in .NET. One of our earliest, and biggest sweet spots was using our stuff to allow companies to develop .NET desktop applications, which work with a Java back end. I'd argue that .NET's desktop and UI technology is better than Java's, and that has been one of the big scenarios. We also have a lot of manufacturing companies that are customers, and we have government agencies who are customers, and we also have software vendors who are actually using our product to create new capabilities. One example is Adobe, which has a product called ColdFusion to develop web sites and other back end software. Cold Fusion is a Java based product, and the latest version of ColdFusion allows devleopers to call .NET code from cold fusion. Under the hood, that's our flagship product, JNBridge Pro.
Deborah Arhelger: Another customer of ours is KLA Tencor, a semiconductor manufacturing company. They have an application there which they use to simulate clean rooms on the desktop. Clean rooms are very expensive, and over the years they have been trying to migrate from Java to .NET. They use our core product, JNBridge, as part of an interim bridge as they move that code. There are millions of lines of code, so it's just too costly to switch over directly.
How did the company come about, and how long have you been around?
Deborah Arhlenger: We started in 2001, back when .NET was still in beta, and came out when .NET went GA.
Wayne Citrin: We started working on .NET as soon as it was being released. We came out with the first version of our product in June of 2002. We've had something like eight to ten product cycle releases of our core product, and also have two additional products focused on targeted scenarios that customers have asked us about. We've found what customers are doing with our product, and gotten questions of if we could do such-and-such with our product. Because of that, we've created two targeted adapters using our core technology, both designed for interoperability between .NET and Java. One if for the Java Message Service (JMS), which is the plumbing that connects lots of the software components in enterprise Java shops. One of other products, is a Biztalk Server to JMS product, which enables anyone who decides they want to buy Microsoft Biztalk to work with the existing software they may have. Our customer could have written the same adapters with our core product, but it would take lots of hard work, so we've made it easier for them.
You're in the enterprise software space, has the last couple of years been difficult for your firm?
Deborah Arhlenger: We've actually done fairly well, knock on wood. I think that is because, frankly, business doesn't stop, and we are an enabling technology that does solve a pain point that people have. We allow them to get from A to B, faster, cheaper, and better, and I think that is probably why.
Wayne Citrin: That's definitely true. There are also some specific things that are happening in the economy which has made it friendlier to the sort of things we do. For example, at the end of 2008, and at the beginning of 2009, there was a lot of takeover of banks and investment comanies. Those takeovers and mergers have required a lot of integration. I can't name names, but a number of those companies which were consolidated were customers of ours, and some of that activity we've seen has been driven because of that consolidation.
The other thing, is that in bad times, companies sometimes have the choice of building new systems from scratch, or taking what they have and building what they need on top of that. It's more likely, when resources are tight, that they'll do the latter, which involves lots of integration. They might decide they want to build a new desktop client program to support their trading application, and in the past while they might have taken the opportunity to build the whole thing from the top to the bottom, now, they've decided to concentrate on the pieces and maybe might decide on using whatever technology it is cheaper to manage, build, or acquire. That's an opportunity for us. I'd agree with Deborah, and that things over the last two years have actually held up.