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IBM Lotus targets SMBs with 'express' tools

IBM Lotus is offering SMBs an "express" version of its Notes products. Experts are split on the real value.

IBM announced Wednesday two new messaging and collaboration software products designed, packaged and priced specifically for midsized businesses. However, one expert believes the products, offered in an attempt to bring new users to the Domino platform, may be overkill for IBM's target market.

IBM Lotus Domino Collaboration Express and IBM Lotus Domino Utility Server Express are aimed at medium-sized companies with 100 to 1,000 employees who want to deploy the same enterprise-grade software as larger organizations but with simplified installation and administration options.

These "express" products are part of IBM's overall strategy to provide small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with capabilities traditionally only available to larger organizations, said Ken Bisconti, vice president of messaging and advanced collaboration solutions for IBM Lotus Software.

The products are less expensive, easier to use and designed for companies that can't afford or don't have the technical expertise on staff to take advantage of IBM's high-end products. Most recently, IBM introduced WebSphere Application Server Express, a scaled-down version of its e-business tool.

Collaboration Express includes a messaging and collaboration server that provides e-mail, group scheduling, discussion forums, team workplaces and the custom application capabilities of Domino. Customers have multiple client access choices, including Lotus Notes or Domino Web Access (iNotes), as well as Domino Access for MS Outlook or Domino Web Mail.

Utility Server Express, built on the Domino Enterprise Server, can be used to build applications that solve specific business problems, such as solutions for workflow and approval, customer relationship management and sales force automation. These collaborative applications can be accessed through a Web browser or a separately purchased Notes client.

But senior analyst Dana Gardner of the Boston-based Yankee Group said it looks like IBM is taking a sophisticated application development environment and trying to sell it to businesses that are really just looking for e-mail, calendar and file sharing.

"They're trying to put a square peg in a round hole," he said. "Increasingly, companies of this ilk would be better off to use webmail. To ask them to deploy Domino for webmail is like buying a house to go camping, like giving them a Cadillac when all they want is a Volkswagen. This is bit of a mismatch."

Bisconti said that's just not the case. In fact, he said, there are a number of midsized companies that have the need for high-end business-class solutions.

He added that while Lotus has always had a strong software brand presence among SMBs, midsized businesses want to fine-tune Lotus products to meet their needs -- to get them running on a secure platform that offers a lot more than just e-mail.

"If you're doing basic e-mail and satisfied with what you're using, there's not much impetus to change," Bisconti said. "But if you're one of the millions running on Exchange and are not eager to upgrade or you want to be less virus prone or be able to expand your applications to include collaboration software, then there's a good case to move to Domino."

Consultant Amy Wohl, of Wohl Associates in Narberth, Pa., said that while offering scaled-down "express" versions of high-end apps is less of an issue on Domino, there are a lot of good reasons to use a Domino server, and midsized businesses may have decided to use Domino applications other than, or in addition to, e-mail.

"Customers want options," she said. "They want to be able to choose what's best for them, and they don't want limitations that could force them to make a different choice."

Platform support for both products includes Linux on Intel, Microsoft Windows, IBM OS/400 (iSeries), IBM AIX (pSeries) and Sun Solaris.

Both Domino Express offerings are available immediately. Customers may buy up to 1,000 licenses of IBM Lotus Domino Collaboration Express at $89.25 per user when trading up from competitive e-mail products, or $119 for new purchases. The IBM Lotus Domino Utility Server may be purchased by organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees, in two CPU increments, at $5,000 -- with a maximum of four CPUs per server.


Is the Express offering right for you? Pose your question to Domino messaging expert Debbie Lynd

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