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A new computing model?

In November, IBM Lotus (lotus.com) launched a number of new software solutions and products designed to help customers accelerate their migration from traditional PC-centric computing deployments to standards-based, network-centric workplaces. The company says its new IBM Workplace products and solutions are accessible to companies of almost any size (small businesses to large corporations) and any vertical industry (such as retail, automotive and banking). The new offerings are intended to help organizations transform both their core technology infrastructure, as well as their key business processes and extend the reach of their existing applications in a unified, roles-based IBM Workplace environment.

Mike Loria, director of channel and product marketing for IBM/Lotus software, provides some perspective on the Workplace strategy. He says, "It really takes the collaboration and knowledge sharing pieces of document management, personalization, Web content management, collaboration, e-mail and messaging, and integrates them in portal environment to make a pretty robust set of portals.

Loria elaborates, "With Workplace client technology, we try to focus on the sweet spot in between the ease of deployment and manageability of Web-based computing with a much richer and higher performance user experience than is seen on the client server space." He says that with Workplace client technology, IBM Lotus packaged up a number of things into what he call "four buckets."

He explains: "One is a virtual job engine so that you can run the application on the client. The second is a local data store so that you can have some persistence to data—you can run it and store it. The third is a sync engine--it keeps the client automatically synched with the server. The last is a replication engine.

"When you take those four pieces of technology, we started using a phrase called server managed clients. What it allows you to do as an application developer is to determine along the lines of client server what code needs to run on the client side, and you can dynamically provision that code.

"A lot of the analysts are starting to talk about this big conversion going on in the marketplace. If you stand back far enough, it looks like portals converging with all content technologies and those converging with collaboration. What we really try to create with Workplace is this environment where it is a portal, but not simply that—it's context document management."

For example, he says, the Workplace Services Express solution has features ranging from collaborative document management capabilities, which can integrate into desktop office productivity tools, enabling users to store documents, create folders, to have threaded discussions around document conversion, check-in, check-out. There's instant messaging, directory services, threaded discussions—all the collaboration tools—and integration of e-mail, address books, calendar.

As a result, it provides the capabilities around Web-based team and document collaboration and, because it's built on a portal framework using portal standards, users can integrate third-party applications, such as SAP (sap.com) and Siebel (siebel.com), through standard interfaces.

"Services Express is our first offering for the mid-market of Workplace," says Loria, "and it's designed for very simple, one-button installation with a lot of out-of-box capability. We demystify a lot of what takes place in the portal marketplace. Application building is all menu-driven and drag-and-drop. Users can build a Web-based collaborative environment without writing a single line of code."

Along with more than a dozen solutions designed for particular vertical markets, IBM Lotus launched two other significant offerings in November:

IBM WebSphere Portal 5.1 is said to increase the business value of portal deployments. V 5.1 is designed to facilitate employees and trading partners making faster decisions and improving their productivity by delivering the capability of linking business processes with the portal experience through orchestrated workflow. Support for virtual portals is also provided, enabling WebSphere's value to be delivered quickly to new communities at a lower cost, says the company. A new integrated, limited-use version of Lotus Workplace Web Content Management is also included. As employees contribute and add value to existing intellectual capital via the WebSphere Portal, claims IBM, enhanced search and document management technology now allows portal users to rapidly respond to customer requests and market opportunities.

IBM Lotus Web Conferencing Service will be available on demand from IBM and will be offered through pay-per-use and subscription usage plans. IBM Lotus Web Conferencing Service is the latest addition to IBM's software-as-a-service portfolio.

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