IM no longer novelty, says IBM

In the new world order of instant messaging (IM), the revered buddy list of contacts will soon be replaced by “presence awareness,” or so says IBM Corp., which announced upgrades to Lotus Sametime 3 messaging and conferencing server during a recent press event in Cambridge, Mass.

Big Blue also released Lotus Notes and Domino 6; QuickPlace 3, a Web tool for team collaboration; Lotus Web Conferencing, a hosted pay-per-month service; and Learning Space, an expansion of e-learning and virtual classroom capabilities.

But it was Sametime 3 that IBM was touting the heaviest. With the new IM gateway, companies are now able to exchange instant messages between the diverse instant messaging community, company officials said. There is one catch: this can only be accomplished so long as all users are using the recently approved session initiation protocol (SIP) for IM called SIP for instant messaging and presence leveraging extensions (SIMPLE). Both IBM and Microsoft Corp. are shipping SIMPLE-based software, and despite the fact that the IETF approved the standard in January, not all vendors – most notably AOL – will likely offer products based on the standard.

As organizations continue to find ways to trim excess overhead costs, IBM used itself as a case study to demonstrate potential cost savings by using IM internally. Based on approximately 300,000 employees using the Sametime Web conferencing/IM software, it was able to save US$4 million per month in travel expenses, adding it will save US$50 million this year alone.

The company said the idea of IM was being discussed internally some five years ago, but now it is technology that has moved beyond the early-adoption cycle.

“It’s no longer a novel technology to people. The main shift that we’re seeing is from a buddy list. The real value of IM isn’t the messaging, it’s the presence awareness. That will fuel how we will work together and with other people,” said Jeremy Dies, Lotus advanced collaboration software manager in Cambridge, Mass.

Financial services firm J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. is currently using Sametime 2.5 and has beta tested Version 3. With 15,000 employees in New York alone, the company said the biggest challenge was deploying the software. It has used Sametime to conduct virtual meetings and instant messaging. While the company doesn’t expect to fully migrate until late next year, there is incentive to upgrade based on what the new clustering feature could offer.

“With clustering, you should have a sign that the server is down and will bring you back up over to another server,” said Philip Kaplan, vice-president at J.P. Morgan Chase in New York.

Lotus also highlighted varying levels of integration between the four products as it builds toward “contextual collaboration,” the ability to embed individual components from any of the servers into other applications.

But observers say features designed to support standards-based integration of Lotus components with each other and with applications built for IBM’s Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) WebSphere platform are still well down the road.

“If you are a developer waiting for the goodies on how to exploit Domino and WebSphere, you will have to wait,” said Dana Gardner, an analyst with the Aberdeen Group in Boston. “Version 6.0 is geared toward administrators, total cost of ownership and client interface improvements. I was underwhelmed by the feature set. This is really a 5.5 release with the developer and integration features pushed out.”

Lotus officials say Domino 6, which ships with a free version of WebSphere, is a first step toward contextual collaboration and J2EE.

“We are taking new products like Notes/Domino 6.0 and embedding new technology like WebSphere,” said Scott Cooper, vice-president of Lotus solutions. “Over time you will see more and more of this base infrastructure in place in our products.”

But Gardner said despite some integration points between Sametime and QuickPlace there is really not much integration with the core of J2EE and Domino.

“The focus is on modularization of Lotus products, but as Web services invoked through WebSphere that is still an open question,” Gardner said. “Unfortunately, the end point of that roadmap is still fuzzy.”

Users say they understand the component strategy but that the tools are not there to easily support it. For example, the Sametime API Toolkit is used to tie that server’s collaboration components such as instant messaging, chat and conferencing into other applications.

Lotus added improvements for administrators including Smart Upgrade for pushing out updates to the Notes 6.0 clients, new policy-based administration, and spam controls. The company also drew from the IBM software portfolio, adding Tivoli Analyzer for Lotus Domino, a management console that can troubleshoot network problems, such as overloaded Notes databases, and automatically fix those problems.

Domino 6 also features server consolidation enhancements that allow multiple languages of the Domino software to run on the same server and for multiple instances of Domino to be partitioned onto a single server. Lotus also touted compression and scalability improvements.

Lotus CEO Al Zollar said the company is aggressively working toward answering those questions but that Domino 6 is primarily a move to help corporations lower the cost of deploying a messaging infrastructure.

“We are making an investment of a billion dollars over the next three years to ensure that we continue to innovate,” he said. Zollar added that Lotus would leverage all the middleware capabilities of IBM/Lotus, namely WebSphere, to explore new ways for users to consume collaborative technologies.

“We are laser focused all the time on increasing human productivity.”

– With files from IDG News Service

Info Box (ran in CW 21)

Notes/Domino 6 features:

a free version of WebSphere

Smart Upgrade for pushing out updates to the Notes 6.0 clients

Tivoli Analyzer for Lotus Domino, a management console that can troubleshoot network problems

compression and improvements in scalability