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Tall Maple Fills a Tall Order

An Embedded Head Start

  • March 10, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt
The recent growth of Linux in so many areas of IT has spawned an ancillary growth in another arena´┐Żand, no, it's not the litigation industry.

Instead, a more product-based side business has sprouted up around Linux deployment: the appliance industry.

The reasons for this growth of appliances has a number of factors contributing to it. Appliances address the concerns (technical, business, or social) of those IT managers who, for whatever reason, do not want to implement a software-based Linux solution in their organization. When this resistance is met, the more creative solutions providers are shifting to a appliance-based product line to compliment their software solutions. One recent example of this, in the security channel is the new appliance product line from Astaro.

Appliances are starting to show up across many verticals in the IT community, not just security. Networking and storage are just a couple more examples, and the list is growing. But there are some drawbacks to shifting to an appliance-based solution. The time and effort to create an effective appliance is enormous, particularly when starting from scratch.

One relatively new California startup has the answer to these enormous technical and labor hurdles to appliance creation: an answer so stunningly simple and elegant, one has to wonder why no one thought of it before they did.

When Greg Snyder and Robert Minnear founded Tall Maple Systems, they were no strangers to each other and to the embedded software industry. Veterans of Nokia/Ipsilon, Springbank, and Cacheflow/Blue Coat, Snyder and Minnear were often frustrated by the amount of work it took to build an embedded product. Everything would have to be created on the new platform: from the command-line interface to the kernel being used. This kind of work effort was often a huge engineering undertaking. And even in the 1990s, when venture capital money flowed fast, appliance projects could often fail due to the sheer amount of time it would take to get the project to market.

"A lot of appliances have up to 80-90 percent of the same management features," Snyder explained. He and Minnear took note of this commonality and did something about it. In 2002, they started Tall Maple and set about creating a platform that held these commonalities: an "almost-done" platform called Samara that would allow appliance vendors to have a huge head start on engineering a final product.

To give an idea of just how much work they can save an appliance vendor, Minnear said, the initial version of Samara took Tall Maple 16 months to get out the door. The technology behind Samara is fairly straightforward, once you get down into it. Based on Linux and other UNIX code, Samara currently runs on x86 hardware, which helps the company keep its commodity focus.

"The timing for this type of product is pretty good, according to Minnear, now Director of Software for Tall Maple. In the late 1990s, almost anyone could get the funding for anything they wanted to create. Now, with funding much tighter, companies are looking for any kind of tool to help lower the entry barrier into appliance creation.

"Snyder, President and CEO of Tall Maple, agreed with this assessment, and pointed out a new reversal on the part of the venture capitalists. Rather than risk money and time on new appliance projects that start from scratch, VCs are instead referring appliance makers to Tall Maple. That, Snyder explained, reduces the VC's risk because the referred vendor is going to spend less time and effort on creating their product and more time on fine-tuning their technology on an already proven platform.

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