Brad Tashenberg, founder and CEO of Bradmark Technologies, not only founded Bradmark in 1981, but is also responsible for the development of the company's flagship product - DBGeneral. Initially focusing on the HP 3000 market, the company is now a major provider of software solutions for the industry's leading relational database management systems. The ability to sustain and grow a successful software company for more than 23 years can be explained by Tashenberg's fervent commitment to data management.
"From the time that we started this company, we specialized in data management. It is our core competency and our focus. We've had opportunities to develop other products or to represent other products that were outside of our band, but we chose to stay with data management. That's the value we bring to our customers - 23 years of experience in data management."
While the company's core focus hasn't changed over the years, the playing field certainly has. Tashenberg elaborates, "The market trending has shifted to enterprise management, and it requires new languages and new facilities to be able to handle those problems. The major difference that I've seen in the computer field from the time that I first entered it 23 years ago is that organizations then were more system-centric. They would buy an AS/400, a mainframe, an HP 3000 or a VAX. Everything revolved around their one system. It was much easier to develop in that arena because you had only one operating system to deal with - maybe a couple of versions, but one operating system and generally only one or two databases."
"The new environment, on the other hand," says Tashenberg, "is diverse. It really is an environment of absorption. Enterprises are trying to absorb and build a homogeneous structure from a structure that was totally heterogeneous. Additionally, PCs have now taken precedence as the user interfaces and the servers do most of the work on the back end - especially the database work. The enterprise may also have multiple back-end servers. Add the Linux component in on top of NT, and now there is quite a plethora of systems that must be absorbed and consolidated into software development. We don't really hear the term 'open systems' anymore because open wasn't really open - and it still isn't. It's been taken over by the movement of enterprise systems. That makes a lot more sense because 'enterprise' really does explain what's happening - taking a whole enterprise of different systems and treating them as if they were a homogeneous environment," he explains.
Bradmark has transitioned effectively, keeping pace with market demands. "I was a programmer at one time, but in this latest quest, I've become more of an entrepreneur. I'm the promoter because while I still understand the basics, I no longer understand all of the intricacies of product development. I know that for the challenges Bradmark intends to tackle over the next couple of years, it needs a staff of very intelligent, energetic, motivated, younger people," notes Tashenberg. "That's why 80% of our development staff has PhDs."
"Many companies take the route of acquisition when they have to address shifts in the market. They look for products that may have potential and try to build from there. We chose not to do it that way. We chose to bring people on board who would develop a strong architecture and build our products from the ground up. We now have a complete suite of products for Oracle and DB2, and a partial suite for Sybase and SQL Server. We have the features that the customers want the most," proclaims Tashenberg, "and even though every competitor that we have is between 10 and 40 times our size, we're playing very well. When we get invited to the dance, we dance well, and John [Mitchell] has gotten us invited to a lot more dances. Once potential customers see what we're doing and what we've done, they're quite impressed."
John Mitchell, vice president of sales and marketing, is the individual Tashenberg selected to bring motivation and unification into the new enterprise area. Mitchell says that Bradmark is somewhat like a 23-year-old startup. "It's an odd feeling," he notes. "You look around the halls of this building and you see the history of the company, yet we're trying to break into the marketplace where some people have never heard of us. On top of that, our biggest competitor is only a 20-minute drive from our offices. We say that we live in the shadow of giants, and it's great fun going to see prospects who say that in order to do business with us, they need to know a lot more about us. Thanks to Brad's legacy, that potential objection is easy to overcome. We've been in business for 23 years, and we have more than 10,000 licenses out there. We can rattle off the names of 200 of the Fortune 1000 as present or past customers. That makes the challenge of creating a new Bradmark much easier. I've worked with startups in my career and when it's a pure startup, it's really tough. But this is fun - I'm just building on the 23-year history."
With a more objective perspective of Bradmark, Mitchell is quick to point out that while the company may not be the largest software company focusing on database management, it does have the biggest heart - very appropriate considering the company is based in the heart of Texas. "We are a really nice company to do business with. That's not just because we're headquartered in Houston, but because we have really friendly and very talented people," Mitchell notes. Mitchell also adds that Bradmark was one of the first companies in the industry to offer technical support 24x7x365, and the company is committed to providing not only quality products, but also the highest level of customer support.
Brad Tashenberg and John Mitchell
Bradmark's DBGeneral and NORAD product suites monitor and manage databases, applications and operating systems to provide IT departments with real-time feedback on problem events as well as automatic corrective action. A single source software supplier for the HP 3000, UNIX, Linux and NT management, as well as IMAGE, Oracle, Sybase, Microsoft SQL Server and DB2 databases, Bradmark products play an integral role in enabling IT departments to ensure maximum performance, availability and reliability of their systems and databases.
The DBA Dilemma
Enterprise data management has undergone significant change during the last ten years, due in large part to the ubiquity of the Internet and e-mail, and Mitchell explains how that impacts organizations and database administrators. "Today, organizations are required to enable customers, suppliers and partners to access production databases that were previously only accessed by employees," he says. "People in all parts of the world - and thus in different time zones - want access when it's convenient for them, putting immense pressure on the DBAs. In fact, their lives have become pretty miserable. They cannot take the systems down for maintenance for very long at all. We've all heard stories about how the window in which companies such as FedEx and MBNA can take down databases for maintenance has shrunk to as few as 30 minutes a month, and it appears those windows are shrinking even further."
Tashenberg adds, "And that's just the scheduled downtime. It's the unanticipated unscheduled downtime that is really a problem. The more you can eliminate the need for downtime, the better off you are - and this is one area where our products can help."
DBAs are also forced to deal with rapidly growing data volumes. "Despite the economy," notes Mitchell, "a lot of companies are growing rapidly. They are adding storage files at an extraordinary rate, and they're facing the dual pressure of that growth scenario and the demand for 24x7 availability. Add to that the need for enterprise systems - where everybody wants everything connected and everyone is demanding real-time information about the pulse of the organization - and it's easy to understand why the market for relational database tools is estimated to be between $2 and $4 billion."
As a small company, Bradmark has flexibility that the "giants" in their space can't offer. Tashenberg explains, "One of the first things that John did is let our customers know that what they're looking at doesn't have to be the end product. If they have other needs, we will factor those in. It doesn't take us that much effort to add the features our customer need - and it strengthens the product for everyone. Right now, there is no other company in our section of the industry that is willing to do that. They may be willing to do that in new versions that will be released in six months or a year from now, but they're not willing to add features as a function of what a particular customer requires."
Mitchell adds, "That's how we won Hyundai as a customer. We went in and performed benchmarks against our competitors. Hyundai came back to us with a wish list for additional features in the product, and we agreed to build them. We spent approximately six weeks building those features, and they bought the product. We have coined the phrase 'just in time development' for what we're doing. Can you imagine the chaos that would exist in one of our larger competitors if they took that approach? I don't know if we'll always be able to take that approach, but we're trying to perfect a new development methodology that allows us to take that approach even as we grow. We have a split development team - one that's developing on our road map, and the other that is developing 'just in time' for immediate customer needs. It's an art form - and we're trying to perfect it," says Mitchell. "We're not a little bit market driven, we're entirely market driven."
"This approach," says Tashenberg, "builds more and more strength into our products. We're following the Kaizen approach of continuous improvement. That was always my approach. If you have a wide enough market - which we do - you never run out of ideas or projects. Nothing is better than being driven by your customers because that's who you're trying to service."
To successfully provide "just in time" development, it is necessary to have the right people in the right places. "The only way to truly improve the product is to go out into the marketplace and see how the products are used by customers. Our product manager, who is head of technical services, is out in the field all of the time. Thus, he has a firsthand view of people's needs. It is through benchmarking and being on site to see how someone does a database reorg, for example, that the developer can identify a feature that would make the process more effective," states Tashenberg.
The Great Escape
Bradmark has successfully challenged the software industry pricing model. "We have created enterprise licensing that gives our customers a single enterprise-wide agreement for all licenses - not a pricing scheduled based on servers, seats or CPUs. We call it 'The Great Escape' because it enables our customers to escape from the punitive licensing mechanism of the industry," says Mitchell. "Our customers can change servers, consolidate, upgrade or whatever, and we give them a fixed cost." Mitchell reports that many companies tell them that they are the first software company to offer this type of pricing.
Bradmark currently offers a suite of general maintenance utilities along with performance tuning, diagnostics and monitoring functions, and future product plans include tying those areas together. "If our monitoring software detects a problem, our plan is that it will invoke routines to solve the problem. The game plan is that in about three years, we'll have a tool that can be put on a system and it will tune itself. It will spot abnormalities and trigger the alarms and alerts - or it will invoke other routines to solve the problem before the DBA even knows it is a problem. The information would be passed back to the DBA to explain what occurred. This is not to replace the DBA, but rather to assist the DBA in the management of these very complex and demanding environments. That's the direction I see our product going," says Tashenberg.
"There is no question or doubt that organizations need database administration and management tools. We have the great advantage in the particular niche that we serve of not having to explain to our customers why they need our products - every organization recognizes that need," Mitchell states. "The advantage to our customers is that when they choose Bradmark, they are working with a company that really loves the challenge of solving their customers' problems." Even in the shadow of giants, Bradmark has found the formula for pleasing their customers - products that solve a problem, support that's available 24x7x365 and an equitable pricing model that eliminates surprises.
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