SugarCRM has released the beta version of Sugar 5.0, the most significant release of its CRM application to date, as it continues to drive forward with its open source CRM development platform alternative.
Clint Oram, SugarCRM co-founder and European general manager, said Sugar 5.0 is the culmination of four years of development work that takes the offering deeper into key areas. As well as building out CRM capabilities, 5.0 takes another step towards development platform status and debuts SugarCRM's multi-instance on-demand architecture.
"We have a vision of a CRM platform and functionality that is easy to extend, upgrade, and deploy in any environment. We have the right architecture [to enable companies to] make a decision for the next 10 years," said Oram. "We are still a young company but we are tomorrow's software company - because we are an open source company, because we empower our customers with how, where and when they deploy our software."
In an environment where many CRM vendors are dedicated to platform advances at the cost of functionality, SugarCRM continues to build out functionality based on the stated interests of its community of users.
Sugar 5.0 introduces a new Ajax e-mail client that combines the functionality of a desktop e-mail client with the portability of a web-based e-mail application. Although tightly integrated with the Sugar sales force automation functionality, it can interoperate with all e-mail servers so it can complement or replace existing e-mail clients. It also offers improved dashboards with new charting capabilities and support for multiple dashboards on users' home pages.
It is also developing on the platform front with additions that improve the ability to build, customise, scale, and upgrade the application. The addition of a module builder enables users to build custom modules from scratch or combine existing or custom objects into a new CRM module. This would be called a mash-up in Salesforce.com language.
A key principle of the development was that users would be able to build modules themselves rather than having to rely on IT personnel.
"It is an open source application and we are keen to make the product accessible to developers. But we also wanted it to be accessible to [say] sales managers so if they wanted an application to track customer portfolios for example, they would be able to build it for themselves," said Oram.
Other platform-level enhancements include a new meta data driven user interface that stores customisations in a meta data repository, and improved access control for better support for team hierarchies and access control functions that manage and protect information at the field level.
As with Salesforce.com, the SugarCRM platform can also be accessed externally. Several open source companies have built applications on the SugarCRM framework and there are about 400 third-party developed complementary applications. SugarCRM is also expected to launch a developer version of the Sugar platform and application that will probably parallel Salesforce.com's Apex-centered offerings.
The third major 5.0 addition is the launch of SugarCRM's multi-instance on-demand architecture. "There has been a lot of evolution in the technology over the 10 years since the first on-demand applications," said Oram. "They were monolithic and proprietary but they are moving to become more grid-like... where they can be scaled out not via big hardware but by little hardware."
SugarCRM's on-demand architecture makes use of the horizontal scale-out capabilities of open source software platforms, significant increases in processing power of commodity hardware, and systems management software developed by SugarCRM that is designed to eliminate the trade-offs between deep customisation and upgradeability associated with previous generations of on-demand CRM.
SugarCRM has rejected the concept of multitenancy as used by Salesforce.com and advocated by Microsoft. Its architecture also differs from the isolated tenancy approach employed by SAP. Under the SugarCRM multi-instance approach, every customer receives their own on-demand instance, and instead of everything running off of a centralised back-end or out of a single data centre, it can operate from a grid of servers. The company said the approach provides flexibility and spreads the risk. The key is the use of grid architecture at the back end, plus the tools to manage it. "Grid architecture, that is the way of the future," said Oram. "We are at the front end of the third generation of SaaS."
The architecture also supports SaaS staples such as automatic upgrades, and staging and testing. Customers will also be able to move between Sugar On-Site and Sugar On-Demand.
SugarCRM is still offering a free open source application to be known as Sugar Community Edition. This was previously known as Sugar Open Source. It will also continue to offer two commercial versions: Sugar Professional and Sugar Enterprise. The commercial versions provide additional functionality and technical support. The beta versions are available now, with final versions scheduled for release at the end of September.
Version 5.0 will be licensed under GPLv3, where previously the company used its own Sugar Public License, which was a derivation of the Mozilla Public License.
SugarCRM is younger and smaller than Salesforce.com but has the same disruptive potential. Their developments and direction have run parallel to each other. The main difference between them is that SugarCRM is open source while Salesforce.com is a proprietary company, even though it has embraced the open source approach of community. What they are both doing is changing the way applications are developed and deployed. Community and collaboration are the tenets of their business models, and accessible development platforms the method of execution.
They are also helping to change the way applications are viewed, opening up not only the technology but also the way users access it and the type of users able to exploit it. In the CRM environment this is particularity important as it could go some way toward enabling business users to manage their own technology requirements. When a business user articulates a need to a developer who develops an application based on his or her interpretation, something is generally lost during the process.
Although it only achieved revenue of $10m in its last quarter, SugarCRM has big ambitions and expects to be turning over $100m annually in two years time. CEO John Roberts has also said the company is on track to IPO in two years.
It has the fundamentals in place to emulate Salesforce.com's success.