IBM Lays SAAS 'Foundations' for SMBs

IBM makes two significant overtures to the SMB customer set, offering a SAAS system for extranets and a line of turnkey servers.

Orlando, FLA.- IBM introduced a software-as-a-service offering and line of servers designed to serve the multimillion-vendor SMB market at its 15th annual Lotusphere show Jan. 21.

Ready now in managed beta, Bluehouse is a platform that provides extranet services to make it easy for small and midsize businesses to securely collaborate beyond their organizational boundaries. Businesses can share contacts, files and project activities, and collaborate with chat and Web meetings.

Mike Rhodin, general manager of IBM Lotus Software, said the software system, which is accessed simply via password and e-mail, will allow typically walled-off SMB users to collaborate with partners.

The Armonk, N.Y., company is still working out user scenarios, but Rhodin and his team showed a demo of how users can create live files, create graphs, publish and share them with partners.

To support Bluehouse, IBM is building Lotus Foundations, a line of Linux-based small-business software servers installed on-premises and supported by server technology from IBM's Jan. 18 purchase of Net Integration Technologies.

Lotus Foundations machines and software require minimal technical expertise and employ "autonomic" tools, IBM's technology that enables a product to "manage and heal itself." The idea is to let SMBs, which typically have limited or no IT shops, run their business instead of spending time and resources managing technology.

Rhodin, admittedly taking a page out of Apple CEO Steve Jobs' playbook from Macworld last week, took the first device from this line, the laptop-sized Lotus Collaboration Server, out of an envelope to demonstrate its light, compact nature.

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The server will include the Lotus Domino mail and collaboration server, directory services, a firewall, file management, backup and recovery, and office productivity tools. Lotus Foundations will eventually let system integrators and independent software vendors integrate their new or existing applications into the Foundations platform.

With Bluehouse and Foundations, IBM is betting on the notion that SMBs need comprehensive collaboration and business software as much as large companies.

These products should also help IBM better tap into what Rhodin said was an SMB user base of 64 million users, as well as compete for market share versus Microsoft's popular SharePoint collaboration software suite.

Hammering home the collaboration theme, Rhodin also announced a partnership with SAP AG. Code-named Atlantic and created on the request of thousands of mutual customers of IBM and SAP, the project integrates IBM Lotus Notes software with SAP Business Suite to let users create applications with a Lotus Notes look and feel.

The first iteration, which both vendors will begin selling in the fourth quarter of 2008, will support SAP reporting and analytics and the use of roles from within the Lotus Notes client.