Lotus tries to build new SMB Foundations

ORLANDO – With the Orlando Philharmonic playing Fanfare for the common man in the background, Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, announced the division’s biggest channel move to date.Rhodin admitted to the more than 7,500 attendees at the 15th annual Lotusphere conference, held here, that it was difficult for smaller organizations to take advantage of what Lotus has to offer.

With that, IBM Lotus released Lotus Foundations, a line of small business software servers intended to be on-premise solutions that will predominately go through the channel.Also part of the channel offering is a managed beta of a Web-delivered services, code named Bluehouse. Bluehouse extranet services, in combination with Linux-based Lotus Foundations server, will be packaged as a collaboration tool for SMBs.

Shipping later this year, Lotus Foundations will have pre-loaded versions of Domino mail and collaboration platform, file management, directory services, firewall, back-up and recovery, and office productivity tools from the old Lotus Smart Suite package in a small form factor box that actually fits inside a manila envelope.

Lotus Foundations will be initially under IBM’s Express Advantage program of products, which has been targeted at the SMB for a number of years.

Rhodin believes that system integrators and ISVs will integrate their new or existing applications into the Foundations platform that can be installed in 30 minutes.

He and the Lotus team are still working on the margin structure for the offering as pricing has not yet been set. Rhodin said there will be margins to be had and that the division would be aggressive against Microsoft SBS.

Rhodin estimates that there are 64 million customers in the SMB segment and IBM could not begin to touch each one. “This is why we need to get the margins right.”Rhodin added that the end user strategy with Lotus Foundations is for it to not to be technically complex, but autonomic so that it can self heal on its own. IBM Lotus’s division, which acquired Toronto’s Net Integration last Friday for an undisclosed amount, said this announcement would not have been possible without Net Integration in the fold. Net Integration’s flagship product Nitix is a self-healing autonomic solution.

Rhodin would not pinpoint how many channel partners would touch Lotus Foundations from the outset, but did say that all of Net Integrations partner base, which is more than 2,600 partners, are ready for it today.

“We know that the bulk of the activity work will be with external partners,” said Rhodin. “SMBs do not deal with big business. They deal with business of the same size and they build relationships with them.”

The Bluehouse Web-service will enable users to share contacts, files, project activities, chat and set up Web meetings. The strategy behind Bluehouse is for SMBs to communicate beyond their boundaries, Rhodin said. Bluehouse is available today as a limited beta offering.

“Project Bluehouse is a new set of extras in an SaaS model for companies less than 500 employees,” Rhodin said.

It is Rhodin’s personal belief that the Web-based services models such as SaaS will evolve and that the current advertising model is not sustainable.

“You have to come up with options for SMBs to get work done. With Bluehouse, there is a great proposition for business partners to work on integrating on a regional system integrator level. They can add value around the Foundations package itself and be part of the distribution,” he said.

“In SaaS, there isn’t a lot of profitable companies there right now. The model with ads and subscriptions are not profitable and we will see which will work out,” he added.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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