In what looks to be a toe-to-toe face-off with Microsoft Corp., IBM will announce Thursday the first of several software products aimed at small and mid-sized businesses.
Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., offers its SharePoint Portal Server to the SMB market. And through its Business Solutions division, Microsoft also offers business applications to SMBs.
IBM is introducing its WebSphere Portal Express software, designed for simple deployment and simple usage—two key functionality differentiators in the SMB market.
For smaller companies, IBM scaled back its WebSphere Portal software that enables internal and external Web sites for employee, partner and supplier communication.
The idea is that with only a few clicks of the mouse—IBM specifies five clicks—users can customize a page layout, add a new portlet, add a new user or change the portals interface.
Big Blue will also scale back on its pricing to fit the pocketbook of small and mid-sized businesses. While it has not released specific pricing details to date, IBM said it would price on a per-user basis.
The portal offering comes bundled with IBMs Web Application Server and Portal Server and can be deployed on a single server.
Portal Express offers capabilities for portal personalization, campaign management, single sign-on across applications as well as authentication, authorization and communication between portlets.
Portal Express also has the ability to grow with users as their companies grow; portlets used within WebSphere Portal Express are reusable across the WebSphere Portal suite, officials said.
IBM also will announce tomorrow a sister product, WebSphere Portal Express Plus, which includes instant messaging, online chat, group calendaring, task management, document libraries and document-sharing and revision capabilities.
: IBM, Microsoft to Face Off for SMBs”>
The real key issue, however, is gaining market share where there is opportunity—in the SMB market.
“[When you] really get down to brass tacks, this [allows IBM to] compete head-to-head with Microsoft. Theyve been selling SharePoint and it drops right into a Windows environment. It sells itself,” said Gene Phifer, research analyst at Gartner Group, in Stamford, Conn. “IBM is really wanting to hit this head on, and [WebSphere Portal Express] will be a viable alternative.”
What IBMs new offering wont do is lure away those companies only interested in other Microsoft solutions.
At the same time, small shops interested in the IBM solution will have to have some in-house Java expertise.
“Dont get me wrong—you dont need to be a Java developer, but the portal is Java based,” said Phifer. “IBM isnt obviating the need for Java skills in those SMB shops; theyre just minimizing and delaying it.”
IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will work with Enterprise Resource Planning software maker and partner J.D. Edwards and company to reach the mid-market—an area that JDE is well versed in.
At the same time, IBM is also adding a new WebSphere Portal certification program, an online training system and an expanded curriculum of regional classes to update users on the new offerings.