SugarCRM Delivers ‘Landmark’ Release
September 5, 2007 Alex Woodie
It’s been an eventful few years for SugarCRM, the company behind the development of the open source customer relationship management application. From its beginning as a project on Sourceforge three years ago to its current state as a quickly growing, venture-funded Silicon Valley corporation, the company is accustomed to moving fast. Now SugarCRM is delivering version 5.0 of its eponymous package, a landmark release that company officials hope propels them onto the larger enterprise software stage.
In late August, the company announced that the first beta of SugarCRM Community Edition 5.0, the free version of the open source program, was available for download from the company’s development site, Sugarforge.org. That triggered a torrent of interest from Sugar’s global community, a group of programmers, hobbyist-hackers, business partners, and others who dutifully download new releases and put them through their paces. If all goes as planned, a second beta will be issued before SugarCRM ships the for-pay Professional and Enterprise editions of version 5.0, which are expected by the end of September.
“This is the release they’ve been looking for for a long time at Sugar,” says Chris Harrick, director of product marketing with SugarCRM, which is based in Cupertino, California. “It’s really a landmark release that rounds out what we consider the first phase of the company.”
The company has high hopes for version 5.0, and fully expects it to be a disrupting influence for the standard bearers of the CRM business, namely Oracle‘s Siebel business unit and the on-demand CRM leader, Salesforce.com. And while SugarCRM may not compete with Oracle and SAP for the largest Fortune 100 CRM deals, it doesn’t seen any reason why it can’t have a democratizing affect on the CRM industry, especially among small and mid size businesses.
At several hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most basic CRM implementation, the CRM status quo offers nothing for the SMB, says Jacob Taylor, SugarCRM’s chief technology office and one of its three co-founders. “This is just unapproachable for a 35-seat deal,” he says. “We want to get enterprise CRM out to the masses. There’s no reason they shouldn’t have it. There’s no reason they shouldn’t benefit.”
SugarCRM 5.0 brings several new features that the company believes will give SMBs enterprise-level CRM capabilities, including a custom module builder, an integrated e-mail client, and a multitenant architecture for hosted applications, among other new features.
The new module builder is designed to allow nontechnical users to build custom programs that track events occurring within the businesses. Users have a choice of basing their new module on one of four object types–an issue, a person or group of people, a company, or a generic object. Once it’s generated, the custom module is automatically integrated with other SugarCRM applications and modules, is reusable by other SugarCRM users, and can survive a system upgrade without needing to be modified or rewritten.
A potential use of the new module builder is the generation of a recruiting system. Instead of combining screens from the accounting and contacts databases, a new recruiting module can be created that automatically ties into the accounting and contacts data, but which exists independently from those systems.
Similarly, Tara Spalding, vice president of corporate marketing for SugarCRM, has used the module builder to create a media contact tracking system. The media module may use some of the functionality of the sales database (such as to schedule follow-up calls), but it’s separate from the sales database. “The last thing I want is to ask [a reporter] is if he wants to buy SugarCRM,” she says.
The new mutli-instance on-demand architecture, which provides each customer with its own SugarCRM implementation, is also expected to make life easier for companies that are growing quickly or that need to keep their IT systems flexible. SugarCRM says it has struck a balance between the two extremes that application service providers (ASPs) of the past have tried. Now, customers don’t have to choose between getting highly customizable and personalized implementations, which traditionally have been expensive for both ASPs and customers, and highly standardized implementations that combine many customers on a single server, which makes more economic sense.
“We think now with the increases in processing power of commodity hardware and systems management technology that we built, that we can find a happy medium between those two,” Taylor says. “We have a system that scales up on large hardware, and scales out on commodity hardware incredibly well.”
SugarCRM currently hosts the CRM implementations of 40 to 45 percent of its Enterprise and Professional customers on its own clusters, Taylor says, while its partners also host some customers. The on-demand architecture allows customers to choose when to upgrade, and gives them the capability to move between application hosting providers and running the software in house.
While Microsoft Outlook continues to be the world’s dominant e-mail client, SugarCRM received enough requests from its customers for an integrated e-mail client that it decided to offer one as a standard part of the package with version 5.0. The company chose to use components of Yahoo!‘s new AJAX e-mail client, which is receiving rave early reviews for its ease of use.
“It’s state of the art, drag and drop, does just about everything that Outlook does in terms of search, keyboard shortcuts, roles, support for folders, contacts, and personal inboxes,” Harrick says. “And it interoperates with all leading e-mail servers, so anything with a POP3 account you can view in Sugar and import it and associate with a case, a contact, an account, a bug, etc.”
The new e-mail client is a good example of SugarCRM’s community development process at work. Previously, users could hook e-mail into their CRM system by downloading one of the more than 400 extension products available to SugarCRM uses. But the call for integrated e-mail from the user base was so strong that the company decided to make it a part of the base product. “We have extensions that people love,” Taylor says. “They take off wildly, and everybody loves them. The good innovations, or the frequently used and heavily desired innovations, get included. And the ones that are more niche are sponsored, supported, endorsed, and left to fly on their own.”
Having a large base of open source users also accelerates the quality assurance (QA) process, Harrick says. “We control the IP [intellectual property], and that’s very important from a technology perspective for our company. Then we release that under an open source license and allow our developers, our users, and our community members to look at code, to make changes to it, to test it, to build extensions, to fix bugs,” he says. “It acts as a very large QA team as well as a third-party development team to build extensions that make the product that much richer.”
SugarCRM also moved to the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3.0 with this release. The move was made due to the well-written nature of GPL 3.0, Taylor says. Previously, the software was distributed under SugarCRM’s own open source license.
SugarCRM, which was written in the PHP server-side scripting language, was brought to the System i server earlier this summer. So far, the company has bagged a couple of System i deals, Taylor says, and the interest level remains high. “IBM’s been doing a fabulous job of strategic partnership with other people in the industry, with Zend, and doing joint Webinars saying, ‘Here’s PHP, here’s the supported stack with all these management tools running on the iSeries.’ That really drove up a lot of interest.”
Taylor says System i support gives SugarCRM a very good story to tell when it comes to reliability and security. “Getting something like Sugar running on an IBM iSeries is very easy and when you combine that with the reliably and scalability of the hardware, you can grow your CRM deployments incredibly well, and that’s definitely one of the key considerations that the iSeries brings, the rock solid reliability and the comfort of that environment.”
The Sugar Community Edition, which is free, provides basic CRM functionality. The Sugar Pro version costs $275 per user per year and brings additional capabilities, such as sales forecasting, workflow and contract management, reporting capabilities, and other features. Sugar Enterprise, which costs $449 per user per year, adds features such as support for Oracle databases, advanced reporting, a customer self-service module, and support for the System i server. Prices for Sugar Pro OnDemand start at $40 per month (or $480 per year), with a five-user minimum, while prices for Sugar Enterprise OnDemand start at $75 per month (or $900 per year).
This article has been corrected. SugarCRM 5.0 delivers a new multi-instance hosting architecture, not a multitenant architecture. IT Jungle regrets the error.