IBM puts Domino users on path to WebSphere

After years of rumors, Lotus' Domino platform now is going to be melded with IBM Corp.'s next-generation WebSphere collaboration and messaging platform. Company officials said last week that the parallel development tracks of Domino and the new Lotus Workplace, a platform for collaboration services built on Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition and relational databases, will merge sometime in 2005.

While the convergence might happen fast, Lotus says migrations to Workplace will happen as part of a natural evolution of Domino and that Domino will be around for years to come. Users, however, will have to become familiar with IBM's WebSphere product family, which supports Workplace, and Java development. They also likely will have to retool portions of Domino applications to make the transition successfully.

"The important change is that now the two are on a deliberate path of convergence, the current Domino platform and the next-generation Workplace," says Ken Bisconti, vice president of Lotus Workplace products. "Sometime within the magic date of 2005, across the entire portfolio we will have reached functional parity between the current software (Domino) and the second-generation (collaborative) components."

Those components include messaging, personal calendar and address books, team spaces, instant messaging, Web conferencing and e-learning. And they fit into the company's On-Demand and identity-management strategy because users can activate components on an as-needed basis and tightly define access control per component.

Convergence is an announcement users have awaited.

"We knew it was coming eventually," says Scott Wenzel, a Notes administrator for a federal agency and creator of several unofficial Lotus Web sites. "We have been hearing this convergence story for five years, and now they are finally telling us how it will work."

Users haven't always been receptive to WebSphere-inspired changes. Two years ago, Lotus created an uproar when it pulled J2EE technology out of Domino. Users at the time said it was a message to get on WebSphere or be left behind.

Analysts say convergence could bring another rocky transition period for IBM and users, but that the strategy is on the right track.

Despite the convergence, Bisconti says he doesn't expect the end of life for Domino anytime soon. "We will continue to invest in Domino, and it will have a long life as a rapid development environment," he says. But Bisconti also says the key area of investment will be to make Domino's collaborative features compatible with more-modern architectures.

"We are evolving to a service-oriented platform," he says.

That means a set of collaboration components that run on a J2EE platform and can be accessed through a portal, which is the foundation of Lotus Workplace.

Bisconti says within that strategy Domino will become a component of Workplace. It won't be rewritten on J2EE, but rather Domino applications and functions eventually will be available through the portal to various clients.

Lotus plans to have five client options for Workplace: the Notes client, a Web browser, Microsoft Office, mobile devices and a Java client being built on the Eclipse platform.

Bisconti says the convergence will be a natural byproduct of Notes and Domino evolution as upgrades to the platform introduce the core tenets of Workplace.

"As people go to 6.0, 6.5 and beyond, they are rolling out Workplace: Notes with instant-messaging, integration, a DB2 back-end," Bisconti says.

Just last month with the release of Notes/Domino 6.5, Lotus integrated instant messaging directly into Notes, which eliminates the need for a separate instant-messaging client. This shows how collaborative features can be added to existing client software. Earlier this year, Lotus released Workplace Messaging, an e-mail engine and the first Workplace component.

Analysts say this slow merge from the Domino track to Workplace won't be without questions.

"To a certain extent, IBM is in a difficult space for the next 18 months to two years," says Matt Cain, an analyst with Meta Group Inc. "Future investment in Domino will focus on integrating it into Workplace. It's a murky transition area where they wind down investment in Domino as a stand-alone platform, yet the whole Workplace environment on WebSphere is not fully baked." Cain says users who license Domino in this time frame should ask if they will get the rights to run it on either platform.

He adds, however, that convergence is a good idea and should have happened out of the gate. "Domino should be on an enterprise scale and keep up with modern architectures," he says.

Other observers agree convergence is good, but that it will leave the Domino faithful with some questions to answer.

"This extends the life of Domino applications and data, but I'm not so sure it extends the life of the internal developers, corporate managers and third-party (independent software vendors) whose skill sets are Domino," says David Marshak, an analyst with Patricia Seybold Group.

He says the big picture is not an evolution of the old Domino infrastructure into a new one, but a move to separate the presentation of data from the back-end data source so the data and the logic can be built into portlets that are exposed on WebSphere Portal server.

"There is a lot of information and data in Domino databases," Marshak says. "The Domino applications may be old, but you can use the new portal access, including the user interface, the logic and the workflow, to get at that Domino data. IBM is trying to show that the portal interface is a strong personal productivity model."

IBM/Lotus will be aggressive in pushing the portal interface to present all types of data, Lotus' Bisconti says. Next year, IBM/Lotus will introduce access to Domino through portlets, including a technology called Reverse Proxy Portlets that will provide access to the logic and user interface of Domino applications.

Absent from the convergence message, however, was talk about contextual collaboration, a concept for building client access to collaborative components from within other applications such as CRM. Both Lotus and rival Microsoft Corp. have been touting the concept for nearly two years.

"I think this convergence might be the first phase," Meta's Cain says. "The focus now is on resolving migration with Domino, but once that is solved they may turn back to creating an environment where you can embed components within applications."

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