IBM throws its hat into the hosted e-mail ring with Exchange Online competitor

IBM has introduced a new hosted e-mail offering, LotusLive Notes, that it is pricing at $5 per user per month -- the same price Microsoft charges for Exchange Online.

IBM has introduced a new hosted e-mail offering, LotusLive Notes, that it is pricing at $5 per user per month.

IBM is touting the newest addition to its LotusLive family as providing e-mail, calendaring and instant messaging. Other pieces of the LotusLive family of hosted services also provide Web conferencing, social networking and collaboration. The integrated suite of services goes for $10 per user per month.

Microsoft last year cut its hosted services pricing so that Exchange Online is $5 per user per month, and its integrated Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) bundle is $10 per user per month. Microsoft also provides a stripped-down hosted Exchange and SharePoint clients, known as Deskless Worker clients, for $2 per user per month (or $3 per user per month for a bundle of the two).

IBM announced an offering last year known as LotusLive iNotes, which the company also touted as a hosted e-mail offering. It was priced at $3 per user per month and included hosted email, calendar and contact management capabilities.

According to Wikipedia, there are several distinctions between the two. LotusLive Notes enables a customer to use their installation of Lotus Notes to access an installation of the Lotus Domino e-mail and calendar server that is hosted and managed by IBM Lotus. (It's the new name of Lotus Notes Hosted Messaging, Wikipedia says.) LotusLive iNotes is a Web-based e-mail/calendaring service that is built on the assets IBM acquired fom buying Outblaze, a Hong Kong-based application service provider (ASP), Wikipedia says.

LotusLive iNotes "really targets smaller businesses with a basic email offerings," an IBM spokesperson said. (In other words, it is more like Microsoft's Deskless Worker.) LotusLive Notes "helps businesses protect their current email investments by serving as a virtual extension of a company's on-premises Lotus Domino domains," the spokesperson added. (So LotusLive Notes sounds more like Exchange Online.)

"LotusLive Notes single point of access to e-mail, calendaring, contacts and instant messaging from the IBM cloud. New to this release is 'hybrid' capabilities for integrating with an existing Domino infrastructure, enabling company administrators to continue to manage users and groups utilizing the on-premises tools with which they are familiar," the spokesperson added.

New capabilities that are part of LotusLive Notes include e-mail retention of content of users' e-mail messages for later legal discovery; onboarding, data migration and custom mail template services (via IBM Software Services); and support for 21 additional languages.

The onboarding service and free trial options could be a draw, but the relatively small number of partners for LotusLive Notes could hamper the offering, said IDC analyst Robert Mahowald.

However, "IBM has a large base of customers with 1000+ users which are old-school Notes shops, and for which they have engineered some good selling scenarios for on-premise + LotusLive deployments. So as an IT person you get flexibility in how you want to deploy this, on-premise, and subscribe to some things- your choice. That's very much like Microsoft, and it helps them both stand out against Google - in addition to the fact that even in outsourcing scenarios, IT departments still value real-time portals on help desk tickets, usage patterns for internal charge-back, etc, which Google does not provide out of the box (though it can be added through integrators)," he said.

The day before IBM's LotusLive Notes rollout, Microsoft announced a number of new customers for its BPOS bundle, including DuPont, Spotless Group Ltd. and Sunoco Inc. Microsoft also recently touted that it had convinced one of the biggest messaging migration tool vendors, Binary Tree, to move from Google to BPOS.

It's not just a three-way horse race between IBM, Microsoft and Google in the hosted business-app space, Mahowald noted. Adobe has some of the cloud collaboration services, but lacks e-mail, he said. Cisco has yet to put thesee services into a "container" the way Microsoft and IBM have. Zoho is in there too.

One thing that has been important for Google and Microsoft, Mahowald said, "is a tie to the office productivity tools: Microsoft has Office Online, IBM has Symphony (which is free, but NOT online), Google has Apps, Zoho has Apps, Adobe has their online version, but Cisco does not."

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