BSDi: Unixs Best-Kept Secret
Novmeber 1, 2000 Its no secret that the best technology in an industry doesnt always make the Survivor Final Four. In most cases, its the product with the behemoth marketing machines that survives the longest and makes the greatest market-share headway. However, Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Berkeley Software Design Inc. (BSDi) not only has been able to survive the onslaught of IBM Corp.s and Sun Microsystems Inc.s seemingly limitless marketing resources, but recently also rebooted into comeback mode. The company, which has not been well known outside the industry, tripled in size in late 1999 to more than 100 employees, with combined revenues in excess of $26 million in 1999 and $8.2 million in the first quarter of 2000.
BSDi was founded in 1991 by Michael Karels, now the companys chief technology architect and a former leading scientist at the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) at the University of California, Berkeley, who worked on the original development of Unix. CSRG was initially organized with the idea of making Unix source code more readily available, so in 1991 it got permission from the Board of Regents at UC Berkeley to distribute the code, calling it the Berkeley Standard Distribution (BSD), and formed BSDi. Shortly thereafter, it became engaged in a lawsuit with AT&T, whose Unix Systems Laboratories considered itself the sole owner of Unix and believed that BSDi was infringing on its intellectual property. The lawsuit was settled in 1993, shortly after Novell Inc. acquired Unix System Labs from AT&T.
Out from under the strain that is a normal byproduct of litigation, BSDi in 1994 made the strategic decision to beef up its sales force and target Internet service providers. As a result, over the years the company recruited several new executives with strengths in marketing. Most recently in December 1999, it brought in a new chief executive officer, Gary Johnson.
Mark Garver, group executive of marketing and Internet systems solutions at BSDi (www.bsdi.com), attributes the companys comeback primarily to the burgeoning open-source movement, saying, The open-source movement is becoming much more mainstream, which has allowed us to go out and ride that wave that was created by all the Linux companies going public. With Linux hitting the mainstream and with BSD being sort of the grandfather of the open-source movement, it really gave us the opportunity to go out and let people know where we were by leveraging relationships like the one we have with Yahoo. For instance, Yahoo founder David Filo runs all of Yahoo on Free BSD.
Another possible reason for its recent resurgence is two acquisitionsWalnut Creek CDROM and Telenet Systems Solutionsthat were made to support BSDis growth strategy and product line. A $5 million investment from Yahoo Inc. also has fueled the comeback.
BSDis four product offerings support both Intel and Sun SPARC technology and are developed from the BSD/OS code. They include Free BSD, Net BSD and Open BSD as well as BSD/OS. Garver explained, Open BSD is a spin-off of Net BSD and is primarily focused on doing research into Unix security, while Net BSD really takes Unix and ports to it as many different platforms as we can. Today I believe it supports 26 different platforms. Garver added, Free BSD was positioned as the Unix for the Masses so it incorporates all the best of all worlds, but its something that people have really wanted to use to roll out large Internet sites because they can depend on its stability.
Garver is very clear on where BSDis future lies: Our primary focus today is really trying to get the BSD camp all lined up into one cohesive movement and create a synergy there and get BSD back where it existed. Today there are four flavors of BSD, all binary compatible. We really want to make it an easier choice for the customer to look at BSD as a whole, as opposed to having to decide which of the BSDs will suit their application needs best.
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