February 8, 2003

From selling Linux laptops to selling automated server security patches

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -
When we first met Graham Hine, he had just started Tuxtops, a company that sold rebranded laptops with Linux preloaded. Now he's running a new venture, Gibraltar Software, that provides automated security patch service for corporate servers. This is a growing market, and Graham seems to have found a happy niche in it. We interviewed Graham via IRC. This is not a "deep" story, just a little piece that shows you how multitalented people can move from one business to another: "If at first you don't succeed, try again," might be Graham's motto, and it's one a lot of other people trying to earn a living with Linux (and the IT business in general) might do well to adopt.NewsForge So if everyone running Microsooft SQL server used Gibraltar's new Everguard 2.0, the Internet wouldn't have slowed down because of that silly "Slapper" worm?

Graham: A great statement, and honestly not that far off the mark. Microsoft's patch as it came out in July fixed the problem, and our Everguard system could have identified it and grabbed the patch for admins, making darn sure they got it installed. Then, of course, we all would have had our normal dose of spam.

NewsForge Well, that wouldn't have been so good. I noticed that spam from Korea and other parts of Asia slowed w-a-y down while Slapper was slapping.

More seriously... I notice you only claim to be compatible with Red Hat Linux. What about companies that run Debian or SuSE or whatever?

Graham: Our goal is to build up wide coverage. Red Hat's just a starting point.

NewsForge But right now Red Hat's it? And Solaris is the only Unix?

Graham: Yep. On the horizon: Other Linuxes, Some BSD flavors, HPUX, AIX, OS X, and then the embedded world. Our system's readily expandanble, and with the prevalence of open tools, easily portable.

NewsForge But you're already getting customers, right?

Graham: We sure are. This is one of those problems that admins know they have, and know what a pain it is without a good toolset.

NewsForge Excellent. Last we heard from you, Gibralter was Tuxtops and was selling Linux-loaded laptops. I kind of miss the laptops, but it sounds like the change is doing you good. Would you do it again if you could back time up?

Graham: With a little different timing, the laptop effort would have held us pretty well. At the end of the day, though, I'm a software guy and an admin. The chance to focus on that field was pretty compelling. Taking the chance we did is paying off. So, yeah, I'd do it again.

NewsForge What's the primary OS your current clients run? Solaris, Windows or Linux? (I assume most of them run more than one.)

Graham: They run Windows on the desktop, so that wins the numbers game, but we're seeing heavy server deployment of Linux and focused use of Solaris in big-iron applications. Almost all of them run at least two OSes, usually three or four.

NewsForge What size customers are you getting? Big companies? Small/Medium companies?

Graham: A vast range, from 50 systems up to 20+ thousand. We're looking to the government, too, where n=large. For the small guys, we're considering an ASP offering. Right now, our sweet spot's around 500-2,000 systems.

NewsForge What kind of minimum price are we talking about? You're not targeting people like me, with three laptops on a home office wireless network, are you?

Graham: Unless you're real loose with your money, no. We sell as an appliance right now, and the box cost's in the several $k range. We're looking at an ASP-style application, where the box sits on our site and hosts multiple customers. Our demo system already works that way, so there's no real technical barrier, just a business focus and marketing barrier.

NewsForge I notice a lot of "open source people" going the appliance route rather than sticking only to software. Why?

Graham: Plug-and-go is a big deal. Appliances give you that. And with us controlling the hardware and OS config, all fingers point to us when there's a problem. Customers like that. And we can lock down the box and probably do better penetration testing than our customers would, on average. The box has a list of which systems are vulnerable to what hacks. Not a good system to have compromised.

NewsForge True. So I gather security is a big item for you. In your own offerings, I mean.

Graham: Huge item. Our core developers are security gurus and we took a designed-in approach from our first paper-napkin sketches.

NewsForge Now the big question: Are you making a living? A profit, even?

Graham: Still growing faster than our revenue, but the lines in my head cross next quarter--until then I just cross my fingers and work 'em to the bone. 'Course, we'll likely celebrate by spending the $ on yet more growth!

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