In an exclusive interview granted to this reporter, Tom Siebel, shy and reclusive pint-sized chairman of Siebel Systems Inc, outlines his company’s history and hopes for the future. “We’re ready for the big time now” says Tom…
The Customer Relationship Management software world was set alight recently by the news that Siebel 7.8 would soon be on general availability. This latest version of the company’s CRM software is being touted by Siebel as faster, more reliable, and more highly available than ever before. Fresh from the performance testing labs, Tom brandishes a printout of the latest test results – “Yes sirree, we’re 36% available across 13 seats over a 24 hour period! This is better than Windows 3.0!” Startling news indeed, I agree, not quite sure how to react. “But Tom…” I begin, then struggle to find the words to continue, “…isn’t that a rather low availability?” Tom is visibly taken aback – “Hell, you’re a hard-hearted son of a bitch, those critters have to rest sometime.” Critters? What was he talking about? That’s when the truth began to unfold …
“When we first started to hit the corporate market with version 4, the gerbils in the database could only run for 5 minutes each before serious downtime. We mostly got around this by massive redundant arrays of wheels, and swapping out casualties in flight. But even with this, we still couldn’t get better than 10% uptime. We experimented with amphetamines to keep the little bastards going, but this led to an unfortunate by-product leak.”
‘By-product leak?’ I enquire, wondering quite where this interview is going…
“Yes – the speed used to make them crap big lumps, and some of this rolled out of a database cage, into a beta tester’s coffee. He was able to sleep again after a few days, and we felt safe enough to loosen the straps on his bed, but it was no good fooling ourselves, we couldn’t go live with that release. I could see the writing on the wall – the days of rodent architecture were over, it was time for new blood”.
“Version 5 was when we first started to think big – cows. They weren’t quick, but they were sure reliable. We found that a medium-sized herd of, say, 150 prize Fresians was enough to keep the database spinning nicely. The main downside was data centre size – we went from fitting neatly in standard racks to having to commission our own barns. And the air conditioning requirement… phew! We stuck with it though, as our availability was nudging 20%, and I could see we were onto something. We extended the architecture to enable integration with our customers’ other systems. The major comms mechanism of the time was dial-up analogue modem, and it was this that put me onto the big idea. All that air conditioning was taking off mainly methane gas, and I’d spent enough hours in our research facility to know that a cow can let off pretty loud farts – some days you had to shout to make yourself heard – and they can be quite pure notes. I hit on the idea of combining my company’s talents for bullshit and vapourware by training our livestock to fart in DTMF tones, gaining immediate high bandwidth IO at the database layer. This worked really well – farting is instinctive to a cow, they do it often and freely. Training them to control the tone was just a question of anal conditioning. In the end though, there were speed limitations – the bovine anus is just too inflexible for high data rates. We pushed it as far as it could go, and that’s when we had the accident. We were going through performance trials for R5.5, and had the herd nicely on song in our test facility at Menloe Park. Data rate was up to 225 ppm (parps per minute) when the animals began to experience serious feedback to their third and fourth stomachs. The consequences were disastrous – the roof was blown off, and our technicians were hosing shit off the walls for a week. Great barbecue though...” Tom leans back in his chair for a moment, remembering.
“We experimented for a short while after that with canaries singing the inter-system comms instead, and they were better for bandwidth, but didn’t work too well with the cows, as the gas had a habit of killing them in mid-write to the database, and our customers just wouldn’t put up with that kind of data loss. No – it was clearly time for a rethink.”
“It was during one of my financial review sessions looking at the company’s stock market valuation that I realised how quickly big could become small, and that’s what gave me the idea – this time we would play to our strength – bugware! Bugs are far more capable pound for pound than your average mammal. They can carry more, outsmart and outbreed their warm blooded cousins, and don’t require specially built barns to house them. Small was the new big – version 6 went into invertebrates big time. This opened up a new market for us too – for the first time we could fit onto a laptop. I personally tested some of the prototypes for this, and they were very promising. There did turn out to be some unexpected bugs in one of them though, a few of which escaped.” He shifts uncomfortably in his chair and unconsciously scratches his groin. “My physician was able to prescribe some very good cream, and the rash hardly ever flares up these days. Turned out to be a cock-a-maimy idea after all.”
“We were going in the right direction though, and 7.8 will be ants end-to-end. They’re intelligent, highly organised, and work ‘til they drop. That’s how we get such high availability now. I think one day we might hit 20x5…”
‘Don’t you mean 24x7, Mr Siebel?’
“Dammit boy, haven’t you need listening? All God’s creatures need to rest.”
“Security layer for 7.8 is pit bulls – you can’t reason with those bastards, no point saying ‘nice doggy’ when he’s got your crown jewels in his mouth. No doubt about it, we’re as secure as any bank – what’s that one your Queen uses? Barings – that’s it. Every bit as secure as them. You betcha!”
‘But Tom, most of your competitors are using software’
“We tried that, but you need too many jellyfish, and the algal growth on the tanks is too high maintenance – our customers would never buy it. And any sudden movement with the laptop version risked embarrassing groinal wet patches with all that liquid slopping around. No – it’s a really dumb idea.”
Feeling totally out of my depth, I decide to end this interview as quickly as possible, and head back to the sane world.
‘Well, thanks Mr Siebel, it’s been very educational, and helps to explain a lot about your products’.
“Don’t mention it son, and you’re welcome down on the farm any day.”