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A Million Lines of Code
Applications originally developed in three different companies. A premium on time-to-market, where competition is already fierce. How does iLinc Communications, Inc., create software that stays ahead of the competition?
Over 85% of iLinc's thousands of accounts currently purchase "hosted" solutions: iLinc sells subscriptions to maintained copies of iLinc software running on iLinc computers in central datacenters. Customer receive service-level agreements for iLinc's lines of professional-quality Web and audio conferencing.
Among this overwhelming majority of customers, choice is important. While they buy a hosted solution, the availability of an "installed solution" is essential to them. iLinc has found that their decision to contract with iLinc depends on the choices iLinc offers. Customers want the assurance that there is compatible bundled software their organization could run on their own equipment. Whether a client's usage grows enough to support an installed solution or not, clients need to know that a path forward is available to them. A polished, installable, comprehensive application, therefore, is essential to sales well beyond the millions of dollars in annual revenues it directly generates for iLinc.
Managers who have been through a development cycle recognize that the quality of iLinc's hosted software is no guarantee that it can achieve the same level when delivering shrink-wrapped product, of course. In fact, iLinc faces several specific obstacles in its attempts to "productize": first, the iLinc development team needed to consolidate components from two acquisitions along with existing products. The market demands, moreover, that products be available not just for Linux or Windows, where different iLinc offerings originated, but for both, simultaneously.
iLinc developed its Web Conferencing products on a tight budget, with short deadlines; few prospective customers would have patience with delays in reaching market, or, worse, unreliable or slow applications. Different parts of the company are experienced with C++ and ASP, and the company also considered several other languages and technologies, including Java and Python. iLinc evaluated these for their potential to improve process efficiency and quality of the development cycle.
iLinc chose ActiveState's ActivePerl OEM for its "communications center" session manager component. iLinc's Linux group had already relied on Perl since at least 2001, and Perl gives "so much functionality ... and [is] available" in convenient realizations, including perl.exe; and mod_perl, according to iLinc vice president of Product Development Ethan Abrams. Coding to ActivePerl is "allowing us to implement Windows-based" solutions perfectly portable between Linux and Windows, he summarizes.
Once the decision in favor of ActivePerl was made, it took only a few months to create the communications center for all the platforms iLinc required. At the beginning, iLinc paid for a professional-grade build of Perl ActiveState sells as its "OEM" line. APOEM was effective in helping iLinc company focus on coding in Perl, and leave coding of Perl to ActiveState. As Abrams tells it, "We haven't reported problems. It all just worked."
Bundled products, retail-grade installation procedures, sophisticated Windows coding with Perl - these aren't iLinc's core competences, or where its competitive advantage lies. That is the point, though: iLinc keeps its focus on the software-mediated conferencing it does best, and relies on ActivePerl to extend its range into areas that otherwise would challenge its existing staff. ActivePerl is a good teammate: solving portability problems and providing well-documented functionality, and leaving the iLinc developers to focus on what they do best.