Lotus slips again on delivery of Discovery Server

The long-awaited release of the server at the heart of Lotus's knowledge management platform will be delayed another month, company officials said Thursday.

Lotus Discovery Server was expected to ship by the end of March, but problems with the sophisticated algorithms used for profiling users and organizing data continue to delay the server's release.

Discovery Server is the most significant push into the knowledge management space Lotus has made since it helped define the category nearly 2 years ago.

But this is the second delay in the release of Discovery Server, which was originally slated to ship in the middle of 2000. In the fall last year, Lotus uncoupled Discovery Server from the set of portal-building tools that were originally part of its package. The tools, now called K-Station, are for building custom desktop portals with links to enterprise and Web data. K-Station, which was released late last year, also includes a set of templates for building knowledge management applications.

"The issue with Discovery Server is not software bugs; the issues are on the qualitative side," says Scott Cooper, senior vice president and general manager of knowledge management at Lotus. "It's the algorithms and the tuning. We are testing the server to see if it is building good profiles. Are they accurate? Are they redundant? We are looking at whether the server is clustering information that should be clustered together."

Cooper says addressing those issues are key for successful customer deployments. Some 50 enterprises are helping test the product.

The beta cycle for Discovery Server also has been extended another month, Cooper says.

Discovery Server features powerful search algorithms developed in the labs of Lotus parent IBM that can analyze and catalog large amounts of data and locate information "experts."

The server's Discovery Engine, the jewel of the platform, analyzes data and creates a content catalog built on IBM's DB2 database. The engine also includes an Expertise Locator, which builds a profile of users to determine "experts" on certain topics. The profile is based on a range of criteria including expertise, skills, experience, education and job type.

The Discovery Engine is intended to separate Lotus from other vendors trying to create so-called knowledge management platforms. For example, Microsoft is countering with its Digital Dashboard, a customizable desktop portal, and its SharePoint Portal Server, which will be generally available next month.

Critics say, however, that SharePoint is not as sophisticated as Discovery Server, an assessment that might be reflected in the pricing.

While SharePoint is priced at US$3,995 per processor and $72 per user, the Discovery Server is $100,000 per processor and $395 per user.

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