Here at Lotusphere, I have access to scads of IBMers who love to talk collaboration software. For kicks, I took an informal poll about what IBMers think of the cool new big company on the block, Google. Is Google an IBM competitor, or an ally?
IBMers said it's too early to tell, and so the company is cautiously watching the search giant.
That's the high-level view, and they're sticking to it. The answer is more complicated and involves a tricky mix of cooperative competition. On the collaboration software front, Google Apps threatens Lotus and Symphony just like it threatens Microsoft Office and SharePoint.
On the other hand, Google and IBM are staunch allies in cloud computing, which lets users procure computing, storage or even application services from a collection of servers running in parallel.
The idea, fostered by Google, Amazon and now IBM, is to configure servers to behave more like the Internet: universal and ubiquitous, with infinite scalability.
Since October, IBM and Google have been lending their cloud computing expertise to universities, providing a testing ground for erstwhile engineers who want to write for horizontal paradigms, not vertical silos.
IBM expects to offer the first cloud computing servers under the Blue Cloud banner this spring. It isn't yet clear how Google will factor into this, but you can bet that when Google speaks cloud, IBM listens.
With or without Google's help, I like IBM's increasingly modernized programming philosophy. Big Blue is no Google, and still has plenty of, dare I say, antiquated technology that tons of businesses use but don't care to talk about (hello, CICS), but IBM is really smart for aligning itself with Google on this.
That door swings both ways. Google can benefit from allying with a veteran vendor like IBM, one of the few high-tech concerns left with fingers in more pies than Google.
Remember, Microsoft is investing billions of dollars in the cloud and Google and IBM will want to keep Microsoft from gaining not only market share, but the underrated mind share category. Leadership positions, no matter how truly or falsely perceived, are key in getting new markets off the ground.
Right now, it's safe to say IBM's relationship with Google is no different from its relationship with Cisco Systems. The vendors compete in unified communications and a few other areas, but also cooperate where it serves each company's competitive advantage.
IBM and Google, just like IBM and Cisco, are competitors, but they also present two strong fronts versus Redmond as co-conspirators.