Business Matters Interviews Steve Millidge, Founder, CEO and CTO of Payara Services

An interview with the founder, CEO and CTO of Payara Services, Steve Millidge, in Business Matters, the UK’s Leading Business Magazine.

1. For those unfamiliar with Payara, tell us about your clients and the problems you’re trying to solve for them? Also why did you name your company after a large carnivorous fish with big teeth?

Payara Server was created when commercial support ended for a popular application server, Oracle GlassFish, in 2014. This application server supported projects built in the programming language Java, and specifically, using standardised Java APIs for enterprise, Java EE (now Jakarta EE).

When GlassFish was dropped by Oracle, many large enterprises using it – including our first client, BMW – were at a loss for a reliable, supported replacement. This was an opportunity for us to innovate and to provide open software solutions that are currently widely used by community and enterprise users globally.

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We created a fully supported application server designed for mission critical production environments, that enterprises can rely on. Developers create applications using the industry standard Jakarta EE and then deploy their application on the Payara Platform. Payara takes care of all the concerns a developer faces when building mission critical applications; scalability, high availability, connectivity, versioning, networking, threading, security etc. enabling the developer to focus on the business problem they are trying to solve. Our goal is that developers focus on building the applications, not the infrastructure.

The simplicity and the quality of our solutions means that Payara Platform Community is used by more than 80.000 people and right now we are heading towards 100 customers around the globe who use Payara Server Enterprise. We grew 36% year on year in, gaining a number of new customers, and we are solely funded by enterprise subscriptions. At the heart of our success are our Payarans, employees coming from all over the world. 15 languages are spoken at Payara and being global and international help us serve our customers even better.

As for our name: it comes back to this founding story! We looked up “Glassfish” and found it was a small, Indian fish used in tropical tanks. We wanted to demonstrate how in Payara, GlassFish is emerging stronger and more robust. So we looked for a fish to represent this, and the awesome Payara fish – a predatory fish found in tropical South America – fit the bill perfectly!

2. Many people will be unaware as to what opensource software is, not realising that the world’s most popular mobile operating system is Google’s Android, which has open-source roots. What is “open source” and why is it important to businesses, especially SMEs?

Open source refers to computer software where the original source code is made freely available. When code is released as open source, it’s license ensures the code remains available, and free to be redistributed and modified. As Payara Platform was derived from GlassFish Open Source code Payara is also Open Source and users are free to download our Community Edition software, build applications and then deploy them into production anywhere in the world.

People can access the source code, and we invite others to make their own changes and define the future of our software. We invite contributions via GitHub, with conscientious Payara users welcome to develop their own improvements, which we can then potentially incorporate into our product. By opening up to community involvement, Payara’s engineers can be certain that what they build meets the requirements of the community and will be widely adopted and used.

Open source is important for businesses who want to share their product with as many people as possible and encourage maximum innovation. You may have heard the phrase ‘two heads are better than one’; with open source, all the world’s best development talent is definitely better than just one company’s talent!

As you mention, many more mainstream technologies are open source than you may think, including those you may be using as an SME or those that integrate with your product. Therefore, working on related open source projects will elevate your entire software community, whatever niche you occupy. When interlinked technologies thrive individually, they all benefit and grow together. For example, Payara integrates with a range of open source technologies, including the all-important Jakarta EE industry standards, so we dedicate some of our developers’ time to contribute to creating the industry standard. Through our involvement in the Eclipse Foundation Jakarta EE Working Group, we are proud to play a major role in shaping, improving and championing Jakarta EE, and therefore improving Payara users’ experience as a whole.

3. Payara is recognised as a leader in the creation of infrastructure software that serves a diverse range of industries. The software market is extremely competitive, yet you’ve managed to carve out a niche for yourselves since the company’s creation in 2016 and have even opened an EU office. What is the strategy behind your growth and what were the pain points you had to overcome along the way?

Our customers realize the business value of open source technology that we provide. Government agencies and companies in emerging tech, finance, healthcare, automotive and other industries around the globe use Payara products and services to overcome business challenges. And they do it successfully while keeping costs low through relying not only on our tech solutions, but on consultancy too.

Primarily, we expand our customer base by making our software easy to use, easy to adopt and delivering value to users. The more we achieve these things, the more people download our software, build applications on our software and in turn choose to run mission critical applications on our software. These developers then become customers.

A related strategy for us over the next five years will be to regionalise what we do. What I mean by that is we will localise our best-in-class documentation, guides, blogs and webinars to be more in tune to culture and language in different parts of the world. This will drive greater regional adoption and therefore our global customer base. We will regionalise our service team and developer outreach teams to deliver more events and support locally, and grow the business in other regions.

In terms of pain points: when I created my first business, I founded a software business. However, I was distracted by my sales team telling me that it was easier to sell consultancy services rather than software. 10 years later I had a consultancy business. I should have ignored that advice and carried on creating a software business (with elements of consultancy, as mentioned above). My recommendation for anyone starting out to create a product business is not to be lured by short term services revenue over product revenue.

4. Last year Payara won the UK’s most prestigious business award, the Queens Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category. How did you achieve this, what did it mean for your business and what advice would you give a business looking to secure a similar award?

We achieved the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the International Trade category because of our global reach. 95% of our services are currently exported to a total of 9 countries including the USA, Japan, South Africa and Germany. International trade has been in our strategy since I founded the company. We like to say we were “born global”. We aimed to ensure that people all over the world could easily adopt the Payara Platform. For example, our first customer was in a different country from us. This meant from day one our software has been used globally which means that, also from the start, we have focused on our ability to serve customers throughout the world.

For us, the award was a source of immense pride. It is a testament to the hard work the whole of the Payara team have made in building the Payara company, community, customers, software, and team, over the past four years. This award gave the team and our software a great endorsement and serves as a foundation for future growth of the team, the community of users, and our customers.

To other businesses looking to win this accolade, I’d say you need to adopt an overseas trade strategy from the start.We have always hired talent throughout the world to serve our customers in many languages and from many time zones. Being born with an international outlook means that you structure your marketing, sales, and service differently and this drives international growth.

5. The future seems extremely bright for the open-source industry with Microsoft even describing it as the “industry-accepted model for cross-company collaboration.” How do you see the software developing and what hurdles must be overcome to ensure its continued growth and success?

I think that there is huge potential in open source. Open-source innovation has not only revolutionized software, but it’s also completely changed the way we think about creativity and innovation. I think we will see many more businesses realise that open source solutions can be not only more innovative but can even be more secure. Serious problems are usually flagged by the community members and usually fixed more quickly than in closed source systems. Even minor issues are often resolved without lengthy delays because there are plenty of people willing to spend a few hours or a day putting together a quick fix.

The main hurdles we have to overcome are people’s misconceptions about open source. People believe it can’t be secure, it isn’t for enterprise, it’s only developed by students and hobbyists or that it can’t be used with proprietary software. These are all myths! As mentioned, many people do not realise that open source can in fact be more secure. Developers just need to realise that as they won’t automatically have support, but often have the option to choose a paid version of open source software to ensure security, stability, and long term support. Open source, when used smartly, can therefore combine the benefits of a global knowledge base with the support and security of proprietary software.

6. What are your thoughts on the current state of the UK’s tech industry? Given the economy has undergone a number of pain points recently, do you think there is anything that the government can do more to support it, especially with regard SMEs?

One of the pain points for UK businesses was Brexit. However, where some businesses have understandably blamed Brexit uncertainty for low sales and poor growth, our business acted, and despite the unknown, worked hard to establish a strategy of resilience; protecting business operations, stability and growth for both the short and long term.We took the initiative and created our new EU office in a location that shows great potential for growth – Madeira, Portugal.

In doing so, we worked with the UK government on its Ready for Brexit campaign – taking advantage of their advice, support and PR assistance. More campaigns like this, that encourage businesses to take their own initiative but provide light-touch support and a bank of information to help them do so, will be key to weathering future storms.

‘UK tech’ as a term to rally around might soon become a thing of the past, as businesses are realising they must be global to succeed! The UK government can help UK SMEs realise this, but businesses must be proactive. We worked with the Department of International Trade early in our evolution as a business, joining its Japan and Korea Trade Mission tour in 2017, and building contacts and relationships we still leverage today. It is important that the UK government still provides support, advice, PR opportunities and networking events, but businesses also have a responsibility to seek these out themselves.

7. Automation is a huge buzzword at the moment and the metaverse has enormous hype surrounding it that means it will have to deliver a lot to meet expectations. What are your thoughts on these topics and are there any developments in the technology space that you are particularly excited about at this time that our business community should be aware of?

Automation in our industry is related to testing, and is an important way to ensure security in open source projects. We advise users to use automation, relying on open-source security testing tools to help you identify any security lapse in your web applications. They unravel the loose ends of your web app that’s easily traceable. Its primary function is to perform the functional testing of an application and find the vulnerabilities that could lead the data leak or hacking, without accessing the source code. You can explore paid and free web application testing tools available in the market.

We can also speak about cloud automations; we are about to launch Payara Cloud which is the next generation of cloud-native application runtime. It offers an easier way for companies to run Jakarta EE apps on the cloud. It’an example of automation that saves time and money, developers simply select their war, click deploy, and watch their apps run on the cloud – automatically, like magic.

As for the metaverse – Payara is truly horizontal software, useful in any sector where Java applications are running in a production environment. We’ll eagerly await our first clients needing an application server for the back end of their metaverse application! I predict that the foundations of the Metaverse will be delivered by open source software just as the foundations of cloud computing are today.

In terms of development in the technology space, there has been a revolution in software defined infrastructure in the last 5 years with virtualisation, containerisation, cloud and container orchestration platforms like Kubernetes . However much of this revolution has resulted in complexity and turned many developers into infrastructure engineers, spending too much time building and configuring complex infrastructure tools in obscure languages. Now the challenge is to enable developers to focus on developing applications and provide platforms like, Payara Cloud, that configure and manage this infrastructure on their behalf, enabling developers to run the same application on an Edge Device or in the public cloud on top of Kubernetes.

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