As Its Collaboration Offerings Grow, Lotus Tries to Fend Off Exchange


IBM’s Lotus Gets Bigger on Collaboration


By Jacqueline Emigh


IBM is banking on Lotus Domino’s collaborative support to help fend off
Microsoft Exchange. For their part, Domino/Notes administrators are
enthusiastic about the Lotus Sametime and QuickPlace collaborative apps,
but some of them are biding their time about upgrading to new releases of
Lotus’s products.


“Microsoft Exchange is doing phenomenally well. How can IBM respond? One of
its strategies is to broaden the category to include collaboration, as
well,” observed Jasmine Noel, who heads up industry analyst firm J Noel
Associates.


QuickPlace 3.0, the latest release of Lotus’s instant messaging software,
offers increased integration with Lotus’s Sametime collaborative software.
End users can now start a Sametime chat from within QuickPlace, for
instance, and see which other users are online, said Tim Kounadis, senior
market manager for IBM Lotus Software.


In Sametime 3.0, also available now, IBM planned to add support for a SIM
gateway, aimed at secure communications across supported Sametime
communities. Late in the development cycle, though,this feature was pulled
from 3.0, in favor of putting it in a future Sametime release instead.


Microsoft Network (MSN) and America Online (AOL) are also contemplating
support for the emerging SIP/SIMPLE protocol, Kounadis pointed out. Other
new collaborative and administrative features, though, did make it into
Sametime 3.0.


Many users are happy, anyway

Many users seem happy with Sametime and QuickTime without further
enhancements, anyway. At Ryder Systems Inc., for example, QuickPlace and
Sametime are supporting a Notes-based knowledge portal from a third-party
software provider.


“We’re using QuickPlace instant messaging as a replacement for some of our
phone calls. Before calling people, we ping them first to make sure they’re
available. This helps us to cut down on phone tag,” according to Dave
Baildon, Ryder’s group director of product and knowledge management.


Sametime comes into play at Ryder for collaborative meetings around topics
ranging from financial budgets to truck dispatch schedules. “We also use
Sametime to find people who are knowledge experts in particular areas,”
Baildon added.


Meanwhile, Lotus has also launched the first edition of LearningSpace –
Virtual Classroom, a “collaborative learning environment” for online
instruction in realtime. Virtual Classroom builds on capabilities already
present in Sametime and earlier editions of LearningSpace, according to
Susan Lawler, global offerings manager for IBM Mindspan Solutions.


Lotus has been beta testing the new editions of its collaborative software
among users that include Daimler-Chrysler and CUNA, for example.


“We’ve gone live with Virtual Classroom a couple of times. It’s really
making a difference, because we can offer two types of curriculum and hold
breakout groups for each,” said Marlo Foltz, manager of eSchool production
at CUNA. CUNA has experimented with a live polling function, too.


Not everyone, however, has been willing to work with beta software. Ryder,
a QuickPlace/Sametime user since the year 2000, is interested in some of
the other new features in QuickPlace and Sametime, according to Baildon.


“We haven’t gotten to 3.0 yet, though. We don’t do betas. That’s just our
policy, because we don’t have the time. Once the new software is out there
and approved, we’ll test it in a nonproduction environment. We’ll bang on
it till we’re sure we’re getting the best out of it, and then we’ll
acclimate (our users) to it,” he said.


Meanwhile, facilitites management outsourcer Unicco, a former cc:Mail
customer, is now using Notes, Quickplace, and Domino.doc to help build a
series of integrated portals for external users, customers and employees.
Unicco’s future plans call for using Sametime meetings to help cut down on
employee travel costs, said Jeff Peterson, Unicco’s VP of technology.


IBM, however, is running into new competition lately in the collaborative
space, as well. Documentum, for instance, recently purchased eRoom. “But
IBM isn’t nearly as concerned about companies like this than about
Microsoft,” Joel pointed out.


Another IBM strategy, of course, is to position Notes/Domino as a better
administrative environment than Exchange. For example, Lotus Domino/Notes
6.0, also released this month, adds capabilities ranging from user
interface enhancements to built-in spam filtering and better support for
server consolidation, Kounadis said.


“Many Notes 4.6 customers who didn’t upgrade to Release 5.0 are planning to
upgrade to Release 6.0,” he contended.


Having it both ways?

Other analysts, too, have pointed to IBM’s tendency to pitch Lotus’s
products in both collaborative and administrative directions. “IBM has a
comprehensive product family that relates closely to and integrates with
the messaging/collaboration of Lotus Domino/Notes. It includes Lotus
QuickPlace (a team collaborative application); Sametime (a real-time
conferencing, instant messaging, and online presence awareness
application); Discovery System (a search and retrieval server); Domino.Doc
(a document management client application), Domino Enterprise Integration
connectors, and Everyplace ( a mobile access server),” according to a
recent report from IDC.


“IBM will be addressing IT administration requirements with the next
version of Domino, (6.0), that (are) expected to include enhanced
performance (replication, client/server interactions, network compression);
policy-based management, statistics monitoring, roaming user support, ASP
administration and configuration, and centralized directory,” IDC noted.


With QuickPlace and Sametime 3.0, as well as the new LearningSpace –
Virtual Classroom, IBM appears to be rolling these two strategies together.
Even in 2.0, some users are finding QuickPlace to be a more secure IM
environment than other alternatives.


“Lotus gives you security at the application, content, and network layers.
QuickPlace is encrypted end-to-end,” maintained Ryder Systems’ Baildon.


Without protections like these, IM can be “like having a business meeting
in the street — and this just isn’t acceptable to a lot of companies,”
Joel observed.


Uncontrolled IM traffic can also tie up bandwidth on expensive WAN links,
according to Joel. “But if chat technology can be secure – if
administrators can control how it flows through the network – then it will
be ready for primetime as a business tool, and this is what IBM is trying
to deliver.”


The latest editions of IBM’s collaborative apps are clearly succeeding at
keeping some customers in the Domino/Notes fold. Ryder was a long-time
Notes shop anyway, but the transportation firm turned to an outside
consultant a couple of years ago for help in deciding whether to use
QuickPlace/Sametime or a third-party vendor to meet its “business needs”
for collaboration and messaging.


“It’s our understanding that IBM has sped up performance in 3.0. This will
help us a lot, especially with users who are dialing in by modem,” Baildon
said.


“Sametime will have new tools for measuring who’s using it, and how much.
QuickPlace will start letting you keep track of which QuickPlace groups
you’re in. Up to now, we’ve been relying on spreadsheets to do this.”

SIP Connector and Crossplatform Considerations

To get the most out of Sametime, QuickPlace and Virtual Classroom,
administrators need to know the ins-and-outs of these products, of course.
Even when Sametime does add SIP support, for instance, you’ll still need to
learn how to install a separate upcoming product from Lotus, known as the
SIP Connector.


Lotus’s collaborative applications require use of a Domino server. Domino
provides greater crossplatform support on the server side than the
collaborative apps. On the other hand, virtually all of Lotus’ products
give you more multiplatform operability than Microsoft does.


Let’s take Sametime, for example. Sametime is a client-server application
for collaborative activities such as chat, screen sharing, shared
whiteboarding, meetings, and audio/video streaming. The Sametime server
operates only on Windows 2000, Windows NT, and IBM iSeries and pSeries
servers. You can configure the Sametime server as either a Domino or an
LDAP server, though.


Domino, on the other hand, is already available for Windows 2000, NT, IBM
AIX Version 4.3.3x and 5.1, Sun Solaris 2.8/SPARC; Red Hat 7.2 and SuSE 8.0
Linux, running on Intel; and IBM iSeries and zSeries servers. The IBM
iSeries and zSeries support multiple instances of Domino.


Which client does what?

The Lotus Notes client runs on Windows and Mac machines. Sametime, however,
works with not just Notes clients but five other client applications:


  • Web browser;
  • Sametime Connect client;
  • Sametime Meeting Room client;
  • Sametime Broadcast client
  • H.323-compliant clients such as Microsoft NetMeeting.


What’s more, Sametime’s six client applications each have different sets of
capabilities. The Sametime Connect client is a Windows app which contains a
“presence list” showing which users are online. In contrast, Sametime
Meeting Room client is a Java applet which runs on the user’s browser
during “instant” and “scheduled” meetings.


The Meeting Room and Broadcast clients each play a role during broadcasts
of streaming media content. The presenter uses the Meeting Room client,
whereas the audience-members use the view-only, noninteractive BroadCast
client.


To complicate matters a bit more, the Notes client can be used for
accessing a Sametime Discussion or TeamRoom database, but not for accessing
the Sametime server home page or Sametime Meeting Center on the Web. These
pages can be used from a Web browser only.


Authentication, Encryption and Password Administration

Sametime 3.0 supports authentication through both Domino SSO and Secrets
and Tokens databases. In fact, the Sametime 3.0 server is set up to support
Secrets and Tokens by default. Future editions of Sametime, however, will
use only SSO for authentication, according to Lotus’s Sametime 3.0 Administrator’s Guide. If you’re using a third-party product such as Netegrity SiteMinder which
relies on Domino Web server API (DSAPI) filters, you should make sure that
Sametime 3.0 is set to support Secrets and Tokens.


Chat activity between the Sametime 3.0 server and Sametime 3.0 and 2.5
clients is always encrypted. If you’re using Sametime clients lower than
version 2.5, though, you’d better stay on top of things.


These earlier versions allow end users to decide to conduct unencrypted
chats, even when using a Sametime 3.0 server.


Another option is to encrypt all T.120 screen-sharing, whiteboarding and
audio/video data that passing between the Meeting Room and Broadcast
client.


You can save time on password administration by enabling automatic login
for “Sametime Connect for browsers.” To do so, go to the Configuration –
Community Services option” of the Sametime Administration Tool. Then,
select “Allow Connect users to save their user name, password and proxy
information” from the checkbox.


Alternatively, in situations requiring tight security, you might decide to
force users to specify a “meeting password” that will be good for that
particular meeting only.


Sametime 3.0 gives you a lot of other security of management features,
including charts, logging tools, and a variety of administrative controls.
Supplied through the Sametime Administration Tool in 3.0, the charts are
for monitoring free disk space on the server, Web statistics, meeting
services, broadcast services, audio/video services, and community services.


Separate tools are built in for Sametime logging and Domino logging. You
can also stipulate which activities will be logged, and whether activities
will be logged to a database or to text files.


Ironing out the quirks?

Lotus’ products allow for a lot of flexibility on both the collaborative
and administrative sides. Still, though, administrators have encountered
some glitches in Sametime, QuickPlace, and Virtual Classroom, as well as in
Notes. In beta testing, IM hasn’t always panned out well, according to
CUNA’s Foltz. Foltz, however, blames the problems on training issues.
“Some of our users have never done instant messaging before,” she
acknowledged.


For its part, Ryder has come across difficulties with both whiteboarding
and “working offline” functions.


“We often get error messages when we try to synchronize – and in
whiteboarding, sometimes it works better to attach the presentation to the
whiteboard as a (Microsoft) PowerPoint file,” Baildon said . In the Release
Notes for Sametime 3.0, Lotus says the whiteboard can be saved in either of
two formats: Rich Text Format (RFT) or Sametime Whiteboard (SWB).


“We’re hoping that Lotus has ironed out these little quirks of 2.0,”
according to Ryder’s Baildon.


The sky’s the limit?

Meanwhile, IBM has big ambitions for future development. In subsequent
editions of the Virtual Classroom product, Lotus is expected to add more
capabilities in the areas of both administration and “blended learning,” or
integration with other sorts of electronic and classroom media.


Ultimately, Lotus will build an infrastructure for “tying (Virtual
Classroom) into back end systems and launching differerent applications,”
Lawler predicted.


Lotus is also eyeing the possibility of bringing together Sametime and
QuickPlace into a single product, Kounadis admitted. The two software
offerings are already being sold side-by-side in some product bundling
deals.

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