As a small business you shouldn't need to worry about hiring a full-time system administrator. But setting up IT infrastructure is a lot to organise.
Even for a small business, you'll still have a server that forms the centrepiece of your system, and branching out from this via a network are all of your workstations, notebooks and printers. Then there is software including email, calendar, an office suite, virus and spam protection, back-up software, and perhaps even a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM).
Do you have the time or experience to set all this up? Wouldn't it be wonderful if all that software was pre-installed on the server so that all a user needs to do is log-in to the server from their workstations and have everything necessary waiting for them?
IBM realises that IT administration is a constant challenge for small businesses, and Lotus Foundations Start helps small businesses overcome this.
The package can be purchased either as software that can be placed on your own server or, better yet, purchased pre-installed on a server, which means you can be sure it is compatible with all the needs of the package.
Lotus Foundations Start is a new product with the Start edition being the first in a family of options. At the time of writing, there wasn't a Foundations appliance available in Australia for our TestLab staff to examine. Because of this, our review here is primarily a software review.
Software included in the Foundations Start package includes:
Other services include: VPN, LDAP, firewall, web-filtering (by port or black/white-listed internet addresses), spam filtering and Intelligent Disk Backup.
These are services that managers in a small business don't want to think about and so, to a large extent, they are self configuring. Obviously an administrator will have some say in determining the strictness of the regime, but there is comfort in knowing that the system starts off secure. It is much safer to open channels as necessary than scrambling to fill holes after a leak has already caused damage. The VPN component ensures that notebook users can connect to the network from home as securely as workers in the office.
Foundations provides simplicity not only by having everything integrated in one package, but also by ensuring critical background tasks will proceed without the need for human oversight — updates and backups are handled automatically. Upon logging in, users have instant web access to email and calendaring (including shared calendars).
Users can also easily connect to the server's file system and download software. By executing a single batch file users can opt to download and install Lotus' office productivity suite, Symphony, from the Foundations server to their desktop or notebook. The whole install is managed automatically. Symphony includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation components, which integrate closely with each other as well as Lotus Notes.
Of course, users are free to use other email clients if they wish. For example, many users will already be familiar with Microsoft Outlook and there is no problem using this client with the Lotus Domino server. Similarly, users are free to use whichever software they wish on client machines. Foundations has firm control of the server, but not individual client freedom. An administrator can easily add users and select which facilities each user has access to.
It also comes, at last, with a user manual written in plain English! It features all the detail required for IT innocents — without the length and drama of War and Peace. The entire management document is much simpler to read than some of the manuals for other software products that address only one or two of the issues managed by Foundations Start.
Foundations rests on the Suse Linux operating system.
Foundations should not be considered just for the IT challenged. Foundations is a great solution for a wide range of businesses because it takes away the need for an on-site IT guru; not every business is an IT firm. This software is about minimising management overheads so staff can get on with core business activities.
Lotus provides plenty of information to get things started — there is even a YouTube video demonstrating how to set up the server software — it's a silent video with the occasional sub-title.
Its pricing is also a pleasant surprise: the server software licence is only AU$368.91, this includes an operating system and a full suite of security and management programs; and client licences are AU$240.03 per user. The low server licence fee makes this system particularly attractive for use in small deployments with only a dozen or two dozen clients where the price of server overheads make a real difference per user.
Check out our Lotus Foundations Start gallery here.