IBM Lotus goes modular

As vice president of messaging and advanced collaboration solution for IBM Lotus software, Ken Bisconti manages a broad portfolio of products, including Notes and Domino, Sametime, QuickPlace, and Discovery Server. Bisconti met with Mark Jones, P.J. Connolly, and Steve Gillmor to discuss the roadmap for IBM Lotus' next-generation products and building solutions that share a common, modular framework.

Q: How does messaging fit into the next-generation roadmap that IBM Lotus unveiled at Lotusphere?

Bisconti: We've been focused on business-class mail for some time. Messaging has been our flagship [and our] most established business. Logically, it's also the one that's growing the slowest. Most of the folks watching the market opportunity in messaging predict single-digit growth. This category called ICE [Integrated Collaborative Environments] is growing, but there are pockets of mail that are growing much faster. For instance, Web Mail and iNotes usage grew over 100 percent year on year last year, whereas the overall messaging business was relatively flat. New names [and] some old names are cropping up: Oracle re-entered this space, Novell pseudo re-entered this space, there were small startups [like] BlueTie and mirrorPoint, and guys who have been providing Exchange alternatives for the Outlook back end. We've seen some consolidation of people who were previously just doing service provider mail.

[The question is] who will be able to provide an architecture that spans all classes and needs of users? Who will have a solution that supports both the existing Lotus and/or Microsoft camps and gives options to consolidate onto one back end? As companies have rolled out messaging to all their information knowledge workers, they've started to [ask], "What if I went and tackled this other set of population -- people on the retail floor, people in manufacturing, people in distribution?" They can't do that perfectly with a Domino, iNotes, or even Exchange, Outlook, Oracle. …That's where we see a market opportunity and a void in our portfolio. On the technical side, what we're seeing is a call for more standards-based J2EE platforms -- but more modular componentized solutions rather than the big, pseudo-monolithic solutions that you'd get in something like an Exchange or even to some degree Domino.

Q: J2EE, WebSphere, and portal support are not new. What can you point to that allows you to classify your messaging strategy as next generation?

Bisconti: From an architecture standpoint, next-gen means building solutions that fit a modular framework. They can be used in combination, they can be used independently. They're not delivered in big behemoth products, they're delivered in a more componentized fashion. They're based on a J2EE run-time environment. Today we have a lot of ways of using Domino in combination with WebSphere, but they run more side by side [rather] than [being] a pure mail system built from the ground up on a J2EE- and DB2-based back end. Also, importantly, this next-gen portfolio is sharing the UI framework that we get from the Eclipse open client framework, sharing the development tools that we get out of WebSphere Studio -- which is also part of this Open Eclipse movement -- sharing the same level of support out of the pervasive team, sharing common data store, sharing a common Web application architecture. So across Software Group, you're seeing a synergy that has never existed before.

One of the things that may be confusing to some people today is [the question]: "Why did you talk about this as next-gen mail when you're introducing something that's very basic? When I say next-gen mail, I'm thinking of stuff like super smart agents working on my behalf [and] real-time integration and stuff I don't get even in Notes or Outlook today." We're working on that as well, but what was announced [at Lotusphere] was a very modular mail component that's based on the new Software Group common architecture.

Q: One of the interesting things about the QuickPlace demo was its ability to incorporate presence awareness of mobile clients. How will this evolve under the next-gen strategy?

Bisconti: [ Mobile presence awareness] is available today in our WebSphere portal solution. There are three flavors of WebSphere portal: WebSphere Portal Enable, WebSphere Portal Extend, and WebSphere Portal Experience. The two higher end flavors actually have collaboration components embedded in them, so you can deploy to someone today a dynamic workplace that has a rich iNote sort of portlet, [an] online awareness portlet, and access into Domino views and Domino applications with that online presence awareness overlaid. What we view happening going forward is that more and more people are going to build solutions that mix and match these components. If you look at the WebSphere portal solutions today, they take some of the SametimeQuickPlace technology in a modular fashion into an enterprise portal solution.

Q: How will Lotus' offline capabilities evolve?

Bisconti: We've had a great deal of advantage in the Domino platform based on our replication, our logic storage. For most customers, that will continue to be the best solution for certain needs. If I'm looking for offline in-box support, the replication quality and synchronization that you get in Notes and Domino -- even in the Domino offline services version in iNotes -- are best of class in the industry today.

Q: How will your offline technologies be deployed across the IBM Software stack?

Bisconti: We're trying to be consistent across all the brands and major areas of architecture. One of those major areas is in client platform UI framework technology, so we've been working [to] build a call-in client framework across Software Group that meets multiple needs. Sometimes you want zero footprint on the desktop for clients at an airport kiosk, and other times you're going to want the high-end, almost fat client kind of deployment that you have in something like Notes today. They've defined a client platform that serves multiple needs, and there are several different methods of offline support and there's a common way of supporting devices. Some of the next-gen solutions are built on those same portlets or edgelets. When we built Notes in Domino, we also wanted to make that available to these devices. We built technology to mobile-enable Domino and mobile-enable Sametime, but we had to spend our own development [time] doing that when it would have been more efficient for Software Group to have one team doing that and let Lotus spend all this development money on collaboration and not have to build PDA support. We've reached a point where the Software Group teams have stuff that's robust enough for us to start building next-gen solutions. We can use their edgelet technology for UI frameworks and portal frameworks. This is all common benefit that we get by Software Group having a really robust platform.

Q: Are other parts of IBM Software officially carrying the load when it comes to the underlying transport technologies?

Bisconti: Software Group really started only in the early '90s. At the time when Lotus was acquired, Software Group was still a fledging software business. Now it's a $13 [billion] to $14 billion software business, second only to Microsoft. We have reached a point where there are strong enough IDEs or development tools, strong enough pervasive device support platforms out there that we don't have to worry about that. Same thing with WebSphere -- there's now a strong enough J2EE platform that we don't have to go build some of the stuff that we used to build in Domino, and we can take the same amount of development money and go do umpteen new features in QuickPlace, in Sametime, in Domino. We can be much more effective and innovative in collaboration and not have to build offline device support.

Q: How well do you think the developers are doing in following your lead on this?

Bisconti: It's actually going quite well. We had several developer summits later last year where I saw a quantum leap in the communication interactivity and common architectural synergy that was happening between these different teams.

Q: What do you see coming down the pipeline in WebSphere Studio that will influence the messaging space?

Bisconti: We think we have really great solutions for [developers]. The Domino toolkit we announced [at Lotusphere], which is a JSP tag library and a plug-in for WebSphere Studio, was one step in giving them an onramp to this next-gen J2EE world [while] preserving their existing Domino applications and their comfort level of them being able to reuse code. The RAD capabilities in future versions of WebSphere Studio are probably the most significant thing that we're offering this developer base. WebSphere Studio is by far a more powerful tool overall than what Domino Designer is, but up until now it has not had the same level of RAD qualities that Domino has.

Q: There seems to be a lot of focus on drag-and-drop type of functionality, which indicates more component reuse.

Bisconti: A lot of component reuse. Most of our [Domino] developers are not low-level C++, Java coders. They tend to be more involved with the business process, more involved with being able to talk to lines of business managers and incorporate their needs into the application.

Q: They understand what the company actually does.

Bisconti: Exactly. They're looking for something that has a nice balance of "Give me some RAD qualities but let me not have to go away and write tons and tons of code." [They] want to have an easy-to-use and iterative type of development environment that's very flexible. Domino's been great there, but it's been limited in that it was capable of only handling what Domino in its entirety could do. We grew the Lotus portfolio with products like Sametime and QuickPlace and Workflow and Discovery Server, where Domino Designer didn't have the power to support all of those applications. Now Studio, which is a very open and extensible development environment, leverages this Open Eclipse framework.

Q: At some point do Domino-specific capabilities get folded into DB2 and Flash WebSphere? Do Notes and Domino morph into that next-gen space?

Bisconti: You will see over time -- and this is 2006, 2007 -- that everything you've known and loved about Notes and Domino has probably found [its] way in influencing other technologies. You will get qualities like rapid application development in a really cool IDE or you'll have a very flexible offline support and device support. And you'll have an incredibly rich in-box that manages all the information you deal with and now also includes presence awareness. This will probably have been delivered at some point in Notes and Domino, but you'll see them influence other technologies. In some cases you'll have products still delivered under a Lotus brand, in other cases you will have something like WebSphere Studio where the RAD stuff was influenced and/or delivered from Lotus but now is packaged in a different product set. Likewise, some of the stuff that we've done with [NSF] in our data store, we've been working with the DB2 team on ways that you can optionally use DB2 even with Domino.

Q: What's your Macintosh support like these days?

Bisconti: We support Notes 6 in a common or in a modern Mac platform, but going forward we're also seeing things like what we're doing with iNotes -- we just announced that we have support for iNotes running in a Mozilla browser environment, and that's both for Linux as well as Mac OS 10.

Q: To what extent does the Lotus group or IBM in general plan on dealing with the information capture aspects of Web content?

Bisconti: Where possible, we're going to look for componentry that either lives in operating platform deliverable or Software Group team deliverables. We don't want to be in the business of writing browsers or even adding function to browsers, but in the search [for] applications that increase human productivity.

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