April 22, 2019

Tall Maple Fills a Tall Order - page 2

An Embedded Head Start

  • March 10, 2005
  • By Brian Proffitt

Tall Maple has two primary approaches to working with customers. First, there is the typical license-out model, where a customer takes a licensed version of Samara and (after some initial training) goes off and makes their own product.

Second, Snyder explained, is the consultancy approach, where Tall Maple will work closely with the customer to develop their product.

"For example, if a customer comes to us and wants a VPN box, and he already has the VPN daemon written, we'll help build it for him," Snyder said.

This consultancy model has proven to be popular: most of Tall Maple's customer base comes back to the company for this sort of direct support�leading to what seems to be a viable commercial model. Tall Maple's approach to source code also lends itself to a self-building commercial model.

While Tall Maple's Samara code is under a proprietary license, the company does let all of its customers have access to that code. Similar to Microsoft's shared source development process, Tall Maple's differs immediately because all customers, not just a select few, have access to the code. But, this is a closed community of code sharing, as�save for the code already under an open-source license, like the Linux kernel�customers are only allowed to distribute binaries, not source.

Tall Maple's customers, unlike Microsoft's, also benefit immediately from this 'intra' sharing process. The basic framework for Samara is a standard set of tools with the ability for the customer to plug modules of their own code into the base platform. Under Tall Maple's license agreement, all of the modular code created by the customer belongs to the customer. But, if any changes are made to the platform itself to accommodate a customer's needs, those changes belong to Tall Maple and are shared with all other customers in a series of regular updates throughout the year.

With all of this individual and cross-customer support, one would think Tall Maple has a vast cadre of developers working from its Sunnyvale, CA offices. In actuality, there are just four employees at Tall Maple, a number Snyder has no plans to expand rapidly.

Right now, Tall Maple's two main challenges are the ever-present locating of customers and "managing and growing our company in a positive way," Snyder indicated.

Minnear cited the initial design of their platform as one big reason the company's labor needs are so small. "By making the right design choices, we are able to support a lot of customers' needs," he stated. Snyder added that the high caliber of their existing employee force is another big reason for the firm's overall success.

Currently, Tall Maple sees itself gently expanding to fill its market niche. During LinuxWorld Expo in Boston last month, the company released Samara CMC, a central management console that lets vendors remotely manage the code on their customer's deployed appliances.

In the near future, Tall Maple plans to broaden its horizontal support with the migration of Samara to other platforms, such as PPC, MIPS, and Xscale. The company also has plans to target key verticals, such as networking equipment. In these verticals, Samara with include more networking-specific base code, so networking appliance makers will have less development from scratch to handle.

Will Tall Maple ever go all the way and make its own appliances from start to finish? Very likely not, Snyder said. Committing to one appliance would limit their potential customer base�a base that Snyder sees as growing strongly.

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