Originally Published: Friday, 12 October 2001 Author: The Staff of Linux.com
Published to: develop_articles/Development Articles Page: 1/1 - [Std View]

Automating Linux with Alabanza: An Interview with Founder Tom Cunningham

A strong focus on Linux and a solid position as an established, profit-making enterprise make Alabanza a most interesting part of the Linux community. Linux.com asked some tough questions of founder Tom Cunningham to take a close look at his success. We found a story that might inspire self-taught and professional Linux users world over.

This month is October 2001, some ten years from the dawn of Linux. Today some people just make money with Linux, using it not so much as part of a political decision and more because the software is just better in so many ways than any other practical alternatives. The kernel of tomorrow is not limited to any one community, rather Linux is making its way into society in an unprecedented manner, and often in ways computer illiterate folk are unawares of. Linux.com believes these "plain old" developers are possible next heros of the Linux revolution.

One such company is Alabanza; A firm supporter of Linux who take every chance to pass on the benefits of the system through their community involvement and customer marketing. For hosting companies and those that supply them, Linux has been nothing short of a gift from the heavens.

Tom Cunningham, credited with founding the term "hosting automation", founded Alabanza in 1995 and today the company has more than 500 customers, managing nearly a quarter of a million Web sites in 50 countries who depend on Alabanza for hosting automation software solutions. A well-established, profitable company, Alabanza revenues in 2001 will reach $15 million.

A strong focus on Linux and a solid position as an established, profit-making enterprise make Alabanza a most interesting part of the Linux community.

Linux.com asked some tough questions of founder Tom Cunningham and took a look at his success. We found a story that might inspire self-taught and professional Linux users world over.

Background

Linux.com: Are you the founder of Alabanza and how long have you guys been around?

Tom Cunningham: I founded Alabanza in 1995.

Linux.com: Who else is on the team?

Tom Cunningham: Paul Zohorsky is the president and responsible for overseeing partnership initiatives, establishing a full-service software consulting practice and assisting with day-to-day operations.

Albert Calvin is our Chief Technology Officer. 'Cal', as he is known, is a former Air Force cryptographer. He also developed Alabanzas Automated Web Hosting Software Suite.

Linux.com: Where are you physically based and how big are you today?

Tom Cunningham: Our offices are located in downtown Baltimore, MD. We recently reacquired a support center from VA Linux and moved 20 employees from Ohio to Baltimore. That brings our total to 80.

Linux.com: Can you tell us a little bit about your Linux-based software specifically - how can it help the Web developer the most?

Tom Cunningham: The hosting of small business web sites is only profitable if done in high volume with large amounts of automated processes. Our software helps developers, ISPs, and Telcos host SME web sites cost effectively, with reduced support and enhanced products and services. The result is a great profit center for our clients.

Linux.com: OK, so where did the name Alabanza come from?

Tom Cunningham: It's Spanish for 'praise.' When we founded the company we were providing service to a number of Catholic organizations. The name seemed appropriate then and it stuck.

Linux.com: When did you personally get involved with Linux?

Tom Cunningham: In 1996 when the company moved from CD-ROM development with Macromedia on Macintosh to Web Site development with PHP/MySQL on Linux.

Linux.com: What were you doing before Alabanza and why did you switch to forming start-ups?

Tom Cunningham: Prior to starting Alabanza I developed instructional software and freelanced as a software designer.

Linux.com: What do you like best about creating a new business?

Tom Cunningham: I enjoy most the relationships I have built with coworkers. The sense of team and community that comes about. Its also fun to be involved in a new industry.

Linux.com: What's the next step for Alabanza technologically?

Tom Cunningham: We're working now to build even more robustness and redundancy in our product offering. A big part of that is compatibility with some of the established databases that are now running on Linux.

The State of the Economy

Linux.com: What do you think of the state of the current economy for high tech?

Tom Cunningham: I personally think the worst is over and there are only a growing number of opportunities ahead. Companies like ours are offering businesses fantastic opportunities and that's bound to keep theeconomy advancing.

Linux.com: This isn't a tough time to be forming start-ups?

Tom Cunningham: It's much better than Fall 2000, but tougher than Fall 1999. The bubble gave many companies the opportunity to build something. Were glad that were one of the companies that was able to bring some capital in and build something to hang our hats on before Fall 2000. There's much less clutter in the market now which makes sales calls and investor presentations much simpler. I think right now is a great time to catch our breath for the next boom.

Linux.com: How do you feel about the possibility of continued terrorist attacks or even war would benefit the technology sector in any way, economically that is?

Tom Cunningham: My sense is that most companies have done a good job with security. Clearly, the events will help some security tech companies, but I dont see them having a big effect on the general tech economy.

Linux.com: OK. So, you have just released a version 4.1 correct? What's new in version 4.1 and what value does it provide?

Tom Cunningham: Version 4.1 contains a newly-acquired Web Site Builder tool, which provides a point-and-click method of building a Web site. Its been added to our software suite to further empower end users to more easily update and manage their sites.

Linux.com: Can we look forward to a 4.2 or more?

Tom Cunningham: Definitely. We are working on a next generation initiative right now with the goal to release a version 5.0 earlymid-next year [2002].

Linux.com: Can you tell us a little about your partners? You have some big names, but interestingly not big Linux names in particular. Why do you think that is?

Tom Cunningham: To be honest, many of our Linux partners either have gone out of business or significantly changed their business models so they're no longer partners. I believe the worst of these challenging times are over so hopefully well have opportunities to get partnerships started with some new Linux companies.

Linux.com: Can you tell us anything about your five to ten year business goals?

Tom Cunningham: We believe that small businesses web presence needs will mature in complexity and we look to playing a significant role there.

Linux.com: Do you have plans for any other product releases?

Tom Cunningham: We continue to mature the products inside the software suite, but will not add any products right now outside that suite.

Open Source?

Linux.com: Is any of your software GPl'd or under any other open source style license?

Tom Cunningham: Not yet, but were hoping to move certain projects to GPL sometime next year.

Linux.com: Do you work with the open source community?

Tom Cunningham: Our market space is very young. We realize as an industry that the key to all of our future success is working together.

We definitely support the community by being present at industry events and touting the benefits of Linux. Most recently, we participated in IBMs Application Solution Showcase and Developers Den at LinuxWorld Expo in late August.

Linux.com: What specific things are you looking for in community support -- how should people best get involved?

Tom Cunningham: We're constantly amazed with the amount of new ideas and methodologies that continue to arise in our industry. Were looking seriously right now at running installations on Linux on RISC, and MainFrame machines. Sharing our successes and stories is very reminiscent of getting hosting software off the ground in 1997.

As we work in what are relatively unchartered waters, we look forward to continually sharing what we've learned to build continually improved web hosting services.

Linux.com: Fair enough. As Linux users and developers what would you like to see the greater community work on for Linux next, and why?

Tom Cunningham: The truth is that we've been very pleased with all Linux developments and have the tools we need to carry us forward for years to come.

Linux.com: Good deal then. So what is your favorite color and why?

Tom Cunningham: Purple. Because all my kids love purple and I figure they must be on to something.

Linux.com: What's the best way for your customers and people who are interested in learning more to get in touch?

They should visit our Web site at http://www.alabanza.com or give us a call at 1-800-361-2682 or 1-410-779-1400 to speak to an Alabanza Software Automation Consultant.

Linux.com: Thanks for sharing your Linux experience and views on the world today with us and we wish you the best in the future!