IBM puts Notes and collaboration in the cloud

Tomorrow, IBM will announce serious, enterprise-class email, file-sharing, and social networking as an integrated cloud offering

Lotus Notes is not exactly the best-loved product on the planet. But tomorrow's official announcement of LotusLive Notes is still noteworthy, mainly because IBM is serious about gaining back some ground from Microsoft Exchange by offering Notes email -- along with LotusLive collaboration and social networking capabilities -- as a set of IBM-hosted cloud services.

Hey, it's the cloud! Everything old is new again.

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As you may know, Microsoft has been offering its own Live versions of Exchange and SharePoint, served up via the cloud by Microsoft itself, since 2008. A year ago, IBM jumped in the game with iNotes, a Web email product with a subset of Notes' features that targeted small businesses. Sean Poulley, IBM's vice president of cloud collaboration for Lotus Software, told me that tomorrow's announcement heralds "full-blown, enterprise-class email" run by IBM for $5 per user per month.

The deluxe version, the LotusLive Suite, adds enterprise social networking capabilities and file-sharing to the email value proposition for a total of $10 per user per month. Employees can create user profiles, fire up online meetings, try a little lightweight project management, share files (with an interface Poulley describes as closer to iTunes than SharePoint), and engage in collaborative data visualization (the latter based on the very cool Many Eyes technology).

For the most part, only small businesses have warmed to the idea of someone else handling their email as a cloud-based service. But Poulley sincerely believes IBM will change that. He sees three potential types of enterprise customers:  1) those who want to reduce the total cost of running core infrastructure, 2) those who "don't run those systems very well," and 3) those who want to add additional capabilities in the form of the full LotusLive collaboration suite, but would prefer that IBM handle it.

Poulley says one of the differentiating features of LotusLive Suite's social networking is the selective ability to expose profiles and other information to the Web at large, along with the potential to collaborate with partners. "The real magic is the ability to associate with people outside the company," he says, in contrast to other enterprise social networking products, which tend to be a closed loop.

And what about the usual objection to ceding applications to cloud providers, which is that security and availability are no longer under IT control? Poulley thinks this is where IBM really has a leg up. "Trust counts," he says, beginning with security, noting that the IBM data centers running this stuff "look like they're built for nuclear warfare." IBM's experience with business process outsourcing for customers in such industries as banking and air travel should go a long way toward inspiring confidence, says Poulley. "Our business model is based on secure information," he adds.

Indeed, confidence in the provider is a huge gating factor for cloud computing. I'm not sure whether Lotus Notes is the best test case, but make no mistake: This latest IBM offering is another milestone in the ongoing saga of IT functions slowly migrating to the cloud.

This article, "IBM puts Notes and collaboration in the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter and on your mobile device at infoworldmobile.com.

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