IBM to unwrap Express apps

IBM Corp. will underline its ongoing companywide commitment to SMBs (small and medium-size businesses) this week when it introduces new versions of DB2, Notes, and Tivoli at its PartnerWorld conference in New Orleans.

The new ”express” versions of the server-based products contain the core functions necessary for SMBs to effectively run an e-business, as well as make it easier for them to create a range of on-demand computing strategies, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

“These are not the fully featured versions, they include only the stuff that is important for mostly mid-cap companies. They are trying to extend out their express brands like they have done with WebSphere” said one business partner briefed by IBM.

Last year IBM introduced WebSphere Express, a pared-down version of WebSphere.

At this week’s conference, several top IBM executives will be stressing the importance of pursuing SM’s as part of their respective overall product strategies, including Marc Lautenbach, the General Manager of IBM’s SMB group.

“IBM has done a great job with large companies, Microsoft with small ones. We are the Democrats and they are the Republicans and now we are going after the independents, namely the mid-size companies, which is where a lot of our money will go this year,” said on IBM insider.

With a mandate coming from the highest reaches of IBM management, Big Blue redoubled its efforts over a year ago to pursue opportunities in the SMB markets. Many analysts agree that the financial worth of those markets is about $300 billion a year.

In an interview last year, Lautenbach said all of IBM’s product divisions planned to invest some $100 million in marketing efforts alone just to get its message out. That message was that Big Blue, in concert with its business partners and solution providers, would focus hard on solutions to users both large and small and not on selling individual products. Lautenbach said that about 60 percent of market opportunity is driven by solutions spending.

Some analysts think IBM’s redoubled effort to go after the SMB space is well timed given that market has been largely untapped by the top-tier vendors. They also believe many smaller companies need more comprehensive solutions that a large company like IBM can offer.

“Looking at their Portal and WebSphere Express offerings this is a very natural extension of that. If you look at the deployments of many small and mid-market customers, they have a hodge-podge of different solutions. I think IBM can help bring some order to that,” said Stephen O’Grady, an analyst at RedMonk, consultants based in Hollis, N.H.

O’Grady thinks some of the Express offerings will be more readily accepted than others, with Tivoli being the latter.

“For small market customers especially, some of these offerings will be more relevant. For example, I do think it is necessary for Tivoli to have an Express offering, but to be frank, with portals and things like that out there, I expect the uptake of the systems management and security stuff to be slower,” O’Grady said.

IBM will also introduce at the conference next week its Solutions Grid, according to a source familiar with the company’s plans. The new grid is optimized to work with DB2, WebSphere, Domino, Tivoli , and IBM’s eServer line of host systems. Corporate users and developers can use the Globus Toolkit to develop applications that will work across multiple operating environments, sources said.

“I think they are looking to take advantage mainly of WebSphere’s cross-platform abilities in terms of executing distributed applications and getting a more total storage solution,” said one source familiar with the company’s plans.

IBM officials declined to comment on next week’s announcements.