At Lotusphere, IBM Touts Next-Gen Messaging, New WebSphere Portal, and Development Tools

Back-to-basics messaging application leverages WebSphere, DB2, LDAP underpinnings—but no Domino

At its Lotusphere conference last week, IBM Corporation put an old spin on new-fangled technology, as its Lotus Software Group unveiled an initiative, dubbed Next-Generation Messaging, that leverages DB2 and WebSphere Application Server (WAS), instead of Lotus’ bread-and-butter Domino server.

Big Blue also hinted at the future of Notes/Domino, as Lotus representatives discussed the convergence of Next-Gen messaging and Notes/Domino with DB2 as a common message repository.

According to IBM-Lotus senior manager John Caffrey, Lotus expects to unveil the first of its Next-Gen products, an as-yet-unnamed e-mail application, sometime in Q2 2003. The Next-Gen messaging server eschews the collaborative functionality of Notes-Domino, he explains, and instead is designed to offer basic e-mail service to employees who don’t currently have it. Says Caffrey: “The reason that they don’t have access is that no one has delivered a business-grade, cost-effective messaging solution.”

Lotus’ Next-Gen messaging server is positioned for task workers and for others—Caffrey specifically cites factory workers, retail store clerks and bank tellers—who don’t require the collaborative capabilities of Domino. He says that Next-Gen messaging leverages a Web-browser interface based on a simplified version of Lotus’ iNotes client and requires minimal help desk support. “The way that [customers] want to deploy this … is that they don’t let it touch the desktop, and they want something easy to use so they don’t have to touch the helpdesk. So it’s got to be an intuitive interface.”

There are a variety of reasons why companies will want to make basic e-mail services available to all employees, Caffrey suggests. In the most common case, Lotus’ customers say they want to have a more direct means of communicating with workers. “We’ve had customers who say, ‘I’d love to communicate with all my employees without using memos or bulletin boards.'”

In addition, Lotus’ Next-Gen mail application is expected to scale to support more users than Domino, which—although deployed in several large implementations of 100,000 users or more—isn’t suitable for the hundreds of thousands of users supported by service providers and some large corporate and government environments.

Lotus expects that customers will expose Next-Gen messaging to their employees in kiosk-type settings.

Marcel Nienhuis, a market analyst with messaging consultancy Radicati Group, thinks that Next-Gen is a “good strategy.” According to Nienhuis, Lotus should certainly be able to sell it into existing Domino accounts: “Initially, they’re going to be going after a huge company, and they’re going to be deploying Notes and Domino for the majority of the workers that need calendaring and scheduling and all of that jazz. But this is an attempt to penetrate the whole organization.”

Whither Domino?

Lotus’ Next-Gen messaging application is powered by WAS, DB2 and a standard LDAP repository. As they exist today, Domino server and the Notes client don’t explicitly figure in the Next-Gen service that Lotus is slated to unveil next month.

Despite the Next-Gen branding of its new WAS/DB2 offering, Lotus’ Caffrey stresses that “Notes and Domino continue to live on.” He says that at Lotusphere 2003, IBM discussed Domino R6.5, a maintenance release that is slated to ship later this year or early in 2004, as well as the next architectural release—expected to be called Domino R7—which should appear sometime later. Beyond that, he indicates, “[Notes and Domino] have a place and will continue to have a place.”

At the same time, comments Tim Kounadis, senior marketing manager for IBM-Lotus messaging solutions, there are “other ways that we can better enable users to collaborate“ with one another. In particular, he cites the use of DB2 as a message repository, which he says is easier to program for than the Domino repository and which is also more scalable. This has the effect of reducing its TCO: “This will enable you to support more users and drive down the cost per use, and with a SQL back-end, you’ll be able to do things programmatically.”

Lotus is expected to incorporate DB2 as a message repository in Domino R7. According to Kounadis, R7 “becomes a first bridge release that allows customers to consider moving over from the Notes/Domino over to the Next-Gen world.”

Jim Kobielus, a senior analyst with consultancy Burton Group, speculates that the move to DB2 as a common repository, coupled with IBM’s recent moves to couple Domino and WAS, could be an indication that Big Blue plans to phase out Domino development. “They plan to stick with the Lotus brand, generally, but in terms of the code behind that brand is another question, another matter altogether.”

That said, Kobielus expects Notes and Domino to remain viable for a long time to come. “Domino will continue for the foreseeable future to be oriented toward the internal enterprise messaging requirements. What they’ve announced at Lotusphere is a play for sites that don’t have e-mail, or for the ISP or service provider space.”

Lotus Accelerates Domino Maintenance Releases

Also at Lotusphere, IBM committed to a four-month maintenance cycle for the Domino R6 code base, along with a six-month maintenance cycle for Domino R5. Big Blue anticipates shipping the first Domino maintenance release, R6.1, in early February. As promised, Domino R6.1 will include features—such as single-copy template, support for encrypted mail in iNotes, and encryption support for roaming users—that Lotus promised to deliver as part of a maintenance release at the Domino R6 launch in October.

Other Domino maintenance releases in 2003 will introduce iNotes support for the Mozilla and Netscape Web browsers.

New Portal, Development Tools

IBM also chose Lotusphere to announce its new version of WebSphere Portal software that adds a portal collaboration center that functions as a single point of access for a variety of functions, including e-mail, instant messaging, calendars, project planning and team rooms.

The new collaboration capabilities are said to allow users to interact with multiple collaboration applications, such as corporate white pages, organizational charts and virtual meetings from a single screen.

The new version of WebSphere Portal is expected to ship later this year.

IBM also announced a Lotus Domino Toolkit for its WebSphere Studio IDE that is designed to help acclimatize Domino developers to J2EE and the WebSphere environment. The Domino Toolkit will be available in Q2.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.