Dossier: IBM's Lotus Software

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2004-05-14 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lotus matters in decision-making.

Two years ago, IBM scared the bejeezus out of its Lotus customers—and some of them still haven't recovered.

At the annual Lotusphere 2002 confab, general manager Al Zollar announced that the Notes and Domino messaging and collaboration software would adopt Java standards and work more closely with WebSphere, IBM's Web-based application-server software. The Notes software for desktop and mobile "client" computers and the complementary Domino server software would rapidly evolve into modular components connected by Web standards, he said. It seemed as if IBM was saying Notes and Domino would disappear, swallowed into the maw of its broader WebSphere strategy.

To many of the Lotus faithful, the message was alarmingly clear: Notes and Domino had reached the end of the line. "I remember thinking, 'Notes is dead. It's gone. It's headed in the wrong direction,'" says Matthew Henry, technical architect with Kemet, a manufacturer of electronic capacitors in Greenville, S.C.

One of Notes's strongest selling points over its 15-year history has been that it lets programmers easily create collaborative applications, including, for example, ScoutAdvisor's application that the Boston Red Sox and other teams use to evaluate up-and-coming talent. Notes and Domino, instead of relying on low-level computer languages, provide templates and built-in functions for e-mail, group discussions, security and directories.

Kemet, which has been a Notes shop since 1994, runs more than 1,000 databases written for Notes and Domino, providing companywide and project-based applications for 3,000 of its employees. Henry says Kemet has no desire to spend the time and money recoding those as Java applications. "We've been trying to push IBM to let them know they're creating this nightmare," he says. "But I don't see that IBM understands what we like about Domino."

Other Notes/Domino customers also aren't completely sold on IBM's transition plan. "IBM needs to demonstrate to me that the move to WebSphere is going to provide us business benefits," says Scott Melendez, enterprise messaging manager for the City and County of San Francisco.

IBM says such concerns are just a big misunderstanding. Lotus general manager Ambuj Goyal, who replaced Zollar in January 2003, says the company will support Notes/Domino indefinitely and isn't going to force anyone to adopt WebSphere.

However, he says, IBM must bring Notes—and its underlying client/server architecture—to the Web infrastructure offered by WebSphere, letting it more easily communicate with other vendors' applications over Internet standards. "We have to move to browsers, Java and Web services," Goyal says. "If we don't do that, customers will go somewhere else."

Now, after months of damage control—the title of Goyal's keynote at Lotusphere 2004 in January was "The direction is clear, the path smooth"—IBM believes it has calmed the waters. The company insists it is still investing in developing Notes/Domino software, having recently demonstrated the next two versions of the product: version 7, due in late 2004 or early next year, which among other enhancements is supposed to add the ability to store Notes/Domino files in a relational database such as DB2; and version 8, slated for the end of 2005, which is expected to let Notes access enterprise applications from suppliers other than IBM. "Code talks," says Goyal. So what will be the final version of Notes/ Domino? He says the company hasn't decided that, "just like we haven't made a decision about what will be the last version of mainframes ... or other technologies we still support."

IBM's next contender in the messaging arena is Lotus Workplace, an e-mail and collaboration system built from scratch to run on WebSphere and the DB2 database. Since shipping last fall, Workplace has been tepidly received, despite persistent marketing by IBM. Notes customers mutter that Workplace delivers subpar features, including stunted development tools and a simplistic user interface, compared with what they're used to. "Some of the early functionality in Workplace is 'one step forward, two steps back,'" says IDC analyst Mark Levitt.

Don Hornbeck, information-technology leader at American Electric Power (AEP) in Columbus, Ohio, says his group hasn't looked into Workplace yet because the company already has a major investment in Domino. And while he assumes AEP will need to move into the WebSphere world at some point, Hornbeck says that will happen only if the company decides to upgrade its overall messaging and collaboration infrastructure. "We're not just going to jump," he says.

Unfortunately for IBM, there's no guarantee other Notes and Domino customers will want to make the leap, either.

Milestones
1982: Lotus Development Corp. founded.
1983: Lotus 1-2-3, the first spreadsheet for personal computers, shipped.
1989: First version of Lotus Notes is released.
1995: IBM acquires Lotus, which operates as an independent unit.
2000: IBM begins merging Lotus's operations into its software group.

Lotus Development Corp
1 Rogers St., Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 577-8500
www.lotus.com

Ticker: Part of IBM's software group (IBM; NYSE)
Business: E-mail and collaboration software
Executives: Ambuj Goyal, general manager; Mike Rhodin, vice president of development and technical support
Financials: Not disclosed
Products: Notes client software provides e-mail, scheduling and information sharing; Domino server software hosts collaborative applications accessible via Notes or a Web browser; Workplace, built on the IBM WebSphere server, offers a Web interface to e-mail, instant messaging and other applications.
Market Share: 44% of the $2.4 billion corporate messaging market in 2003, by revenue (The Radicati Group)
Competitors: Microsoft; Novell; Oracle


The Technology

When Notes debuted in 1989, it was one of the first commercial client/server systems on the market. In such a system, application functions are split between the machine that an individual uses to access information (the "client") and the back-end computer that centrally hosts data and application logic (the "server"). Over the years, Lotus has provided developers with tools for quickly and easily building applications that run across networks of clients and servers.

The downside: With the rise of Web computing, Notes's tight marriage of server and client software became a liability. That's because so-called fat clients (like the Notes client) make it harder to deploy new applications. On the Web, all a user has to have is a browser; the data and logic that constitute the application reside on servers. Lotus took steps to make Notes more Web-accessible with the release of Domino in the late 1990s, but the server's most powerful features still require the proprietary Notes client software.

Lotus general manager Ambuj Goyal says upcoming versions of Notes and Domino will "federate the link" between the two pieces, meaning both will be able to talk fluently to various third-party software programs, such as enterprise resource planning systems. That, the company says, will allow customers to preserve their investments in Notes and Domino while they make the transition to a system designed with a Web-oriented architecture, such as Lotus Workplace.


Reference Checks

GREIF
James Hayes
Systems Analyst
(740) 657-6000
Project: Industrial-packaging company standardized on Lotus Notes two years ago; it evaluated Exchange, but the Microsoft software was unable to import all of Greif's existing Domino apps.

City and County of San Francisco
Scott Melendez
Enterprise Messaging Manager
(415) 554-0800
Project: Municipal government consolidated 20,000 workers on Notes for e-mail and scheduling, accessing Domino running on five IBM AS/400 servers.

American Electric Power
Don Hornbeck
I.T. Leader
dchornbeck@aep.com
Project: Ohio-based utility adopted Notes more than a decade ago and now maintains about 2,100 databases on Domino; also provides e-mail to 17,500 employees via Notes.

KEMET
Matthew Henry
Technical Architect
matthewhenry@kemet.com
Project: Electronic-components manufacturer runs 45 Domino servers to provide e-mail and access to a self-service human resources system and other databases.

ASPCA
John Giantelli
Senior Director, I.T.
(212) 876-7700
Project: The animal- protection group's Domino servers on Microsoft Windows NT were crashing every few weeks, so it migrated them to two clustered Linux servers to improve stability.

Nektar Theraputics
Heidi S. Rebottaro
Project Manager
hrebottaro@ca.nektar.com
Project: Drug-delivery technology company provides 700 employees access to more than 100 Domino applications tied into WebSphere Portal.



 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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