IBM Plows Ahead With WorkPlace Offerings, Sows Seeds Of Channel Conflict

Workplace Express version

A company executive also said the next general release, Workplace 2.5, due late this year or early 2005, will boast significant performance improvements and implement some of the features that make the Express version faster and easier to install.

Thus far, Workplace has been geared for larger enterprises. The rich Workplace client is supposed to plug into existing data and processes already residing in a given company's infrastructure. The look and feel is very customizable but existing versions have been dogged by complaints of sluggish performance unless the user has the very best and brightest hardware.

Ken Bisconti, vice president of workplace, portal and collaboration products for IBM told CRN that Workplace 2.5 will seek to improve scalability and performance. He acknowledged that Workplace is early in its development cycle. "We wanted to get the functions in first, and now we're working on performance," he said.

IBM Workplace Services Express 2.0 is actually the first Express implementation of Workplace and is due by the end of the month. It targets companies with 750 to 1,000 users and assumes a 10 percent concurrency rate, meaning that 75 to 100 users would be online at any one time, Bisconti said. Price will be less than $100 per user, but more details will be forthcoming closer to ship date, he said.

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A new Archive Installer promises to get the Express implementation up and running in less than an hour. That feature will make its way into the broad Workplace 2.5 release later this year, he said. With the Express version, an administrator or manager can easily customize the user view of the business by dragging and dropping portlets on the screen. The offering incorporates built-in instant messaging, document sharing and collaboration.

Also on tap is an updated WebSphere Portal. The 5.1 release, which was expected this quarter, adds better support for existing business processes and the Business Process Execution Language so that IBM's Process Choreographer and other BPEL tools can plug in, Bisconti said.

Also in the mix were some 17 vertical Workplace Solutions, which are part of IBM's grand plan to offer network-delivered, role-based workplaces to various user constituencies, said Ambuj Goyal, general manager of Workplace, Portal and Collaboration Software for IBM. The solutions focus on four horizontal tiers--procurement, finance and administration, customer service and human resources. Examples of the vertical roles to be supported include retail and aftermarket applications in the automotive industry or sales management in consumer packaged goods. There is no charge for the solutions.

While the press materials described these offerings as solutions, when asked whether their existence could cause conflict with third-party application providers, a spokesman said IBM's new wares are more like "blueprints" or directions to build role-specific workplaces for partners or internal IT professionals.

The new hosted IBM Lotus Web Conferencing Service will offer integrated audio/Web conferencing support and management. Toll-free numbers can be tracked and managed, and the call administrator can control volume and mute lines if need be. It will be available from IBM starting in December.

Clearly, IBM is straddling a fine line. On one hand, IBM Software has a whole group dedicated to recruiting and retaining ISV partners, positioning itself as a more partner-friendly platform provider than Microsoft. On the other, it too is building in more functionality atop its middleware software stack. That has not gone unnoticed.

On Tuesday, Goyal said his group will offer more of its work via both on-premises and hosted models. "This is a flexible choice, you can acquire for on premises or per-usage-based pricing," he said. But currently, the only hosting beneficiary of all that potential business is none other than IBM Global Services (IGS), which is viewed by large integrators including EDS and Accenture as something akin to Darth Vader.

Bisconti acknowledged the concern, but said at present the only hosting provider will be IGS. "You do have to be careful not to appear to play favorites but we have nothing to announce at this point" about other possible hosting partners, he said.

In Web conferencing, Microsoft offers its own LiveMeeting hosted conferencing and is working to converge the infrastructure of that and it's on-premises Live Communications Server.

As IBM continues to roll out hosted offerings, rivals and even some of its own allied partners are seeing those menu items as nothing more than another way to feed the IGS maw.

The whole On Demand ethos as well as IGS' clout has already solidified relations between large integrators such as EDS, Accenture and CapGemini with Microsoft, for example.

"The question we keep asking is, who else can implement IBM software in the enterprise other than IBM? Who is their competitor?" said one longtime IBM partner in the SMB space. He added that IBM's push up the software stack is a matter of concern to all of its ISV partners, although few will address the issue on the record.

Bisconti also reviewed the company's road map, which has become confusing as the company tries to rationalize the existing Notes client and Domino server lineups with the newer Workplace componentized rich client.

Some highlights: New Notes/Domino 7.0, due next year will offer better Web services enablement of Domino applications and the long-promised DB2 common data store. There will also be Notes plug-in for the Workplace rich client in that time frame. Sometime thereafter, in a Notes/Domino 7.X time frame, Lotus will offer Linux and Macintosh clients for Workplace

Further out, the Notes/Domino 8.0 wave will see the birth of a "blended" Workplace/Notes client and a new J2EE-compliant mail/calendaring and scheduling option.