Will Lotus users bite Microsoft's bait?

analysis In the cut-throat world of commercialisation, the slightest hint of blood would rouse a hungry shark, and the IT industry is no exception to this rule. So, when two software giants tried to devour each other, you hardly bat an eyelid because it's just the nature of the game.
Written by Fran Foo, Contributor
analysis In the cut-throat world of commercialisation, the slightest hint of blood would rouse a hungry shark, and the IT industry is no exception to this rule. So, when two software giants tried to devour each other, you hardly bat an eyelid because it's just the nature of the game.

It started innocently enough. Opportunity knocked on the door for Microsoft when IBM pulled the plug on the six-year-old Lotus Notes/Domino version R4.6.

Microsoft, together with Hewlett-Packard, will be investing more than US$500,000 in time, resources and training as part of a conversion program called Lotus Notes co-existence and migration program.

In most Asia-Pacific countries, the duo will join forces with partners Casahl, SourceCode and Ultimus to migrate Notes/Domino users to Microsoft Exchange and the .Net platform. In Australia, Microsoft will also partner with Avanade and Dimension Data.

"This program has created a lot of excitement within the Lotus Domino/Notes community and we've had very positive response from our customers," claimed Allen Foo, Microsoft's solution marketing manager for Asia-Pacific and Greater China.

The pitch
Since February 2002, Avanade has been working behind the scenes to migrate its first customer -- consulting firm Accenture.

Avanade, which is jointly-owned by Accenture and Microsoft, banks on an in-house solution called Avanade Messaging and Collaboration Solution (AMCS) to help users make the leap of faith.

AMCS is a package of "proven best practices and tools" for helping companies assess the value of the Microsoft platform as an alternative to Notes.

"We have successfully migrated Accenture's 75,000 seats of Notes messaging and application environments to Exchange," said Rita Seroski, director for Messaging and Collaboration Solutions at Avanade.

During a tour of Australia, Seroski has been marketing the Accenture example to customers, using its position as the second largest Notes user globally as a weapon. "In fact, the world's five largest Notes portfolios are in talks with Avanade [to migrate]," she claimed.

However, checks with IBM told a different story.

"Accenture, is not our second-largest Notes customer globally," said Hala Batainah, IBM's Lotus Brand Manager for Australia and New Zealand. "Our top 10 customers have over 100,000 Notes seats."

"We don't believe that Avanade actually knows our customer base well enough to know which companies have the largest Notes portfolios. IBM is the world's largest Notes deployment and we are certainly not in talks with Avanade.

"Importantly, when discussing Accenture's Notes migration, we must bear in mind that Avanade is a joint venture between Microsoft and Accenture and there may have been factors beyond actual business requirements for the migration," Batainah said.

Avanade's parental lines might pose a problem to the whole equation but Accenture discounts any talk for impropriety or favouritism.

"I am not sure precisely where we rank in size compared to other Notes customers, but I am sure we were among the largest. In 1991, we were certainly the largest," said Charles H. Porter, chief technology officer at Accenture Technology Infrastructure Services.

Porter, who has spent 30 years at Accenture, said Notes became a very important part of its operations environment. "This made it a tough emotional decision to leave and required a rock-solid business case," he said.

"In spite of our long-time loyalty to and relationship with Lotus, we found that the migration to .Net had an extremely compelling business case. Our migration activities to date have proven that business case to be valid," Porter said, but declined to reveal return-on-investment figures.

"We have turned off more than half of our Notes databases, replacing them with Microsoft .Net-architected applications. We are now completing migration of the remaining Notes-based applications and databases. We will have completely eliminated Notes from our environment within the next 18 months," Porter said.

Under the hood
Although Notes/Domino R4.6 support officially ended in January 2003, the market was abuzz 12 months prior -- at the time, IBM made another significant announcement with its decision to retool Lotus software technology to conform to the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) standard.

Using J2EE as a framework meant that Lotus and Domino developers had to ditch LotusScript, the native programming method, and learn new skills to adopt Java.

Like developers, customers have a predilection for backward compatibility so when software companies decide to end support for a product, it is imperative to have a well-defined migration path.

"We have a structured migration path with tools and services for all customers with older versions of the Notes messaging client, which means that there is absolutely no rip and replace required. As such, there should be no question of being 'forced' to migrate away from the Notes environment.

"Specifically for R4.6 customers, there is a smooth upgrade path to Notes/Domino 6.5. In fact, they are upgrading to R6 six times faster than the upgrade rate from R4 to R5," IBM's Batainah said.

IBM estimates that only a small percentage of customers are still on Notes/Domino 4.6.

Big Blue offers a number of programs including Tradeup and Move2Lotus to fend off the competition, particularly Exchange, she explained. "Our overall efforts have resulted in 1,500 companies worldwide migrating to Notes/Domino over the last two years."

Although Lotus' next generation platform, Lotus Workplace, is already shipping, current Notes/Domino customers can stay put.

"They can continue to use Notes/Domino 6.x, upgrade to 7, and follow that path in the future," Batainah said. IBM has tools to leverage Notes/Domino applications within WebSphere and WebSphere Portal without modification, further demonstrating that there is no need to ditch Notes.

But Microsoft is confident of achieving a high conversion rate. "In speaking with Lotus/Domino customers, they're really concerned about the whole issue so we're in a very strong position to convert these users," said Andrew Cunningham, product manager for Microsoft Exchange.

Cunningham acknowledges that the migration process will be a long road but says Microsoft has the right tools and products capable of helping customers take the plunge. "Lotus users understand that it won't be a simple process...it's a whole platform change."

To nonplussed customers, Meta Group's Brian Prentice believes IBM has done a good job at putting in place an intelligent migration strategy. "It's perfectly acceptable for IBM to want to make changes to the underlying foundation of their collaborative infrastructure and they've done a good job at doing so," said the senior analyst for Enterprise Applications at Meta.

Prentice also reviled Microsoft for misleading customers.

"It's disingenuous for Microsoft to say that there are no similar changes for customers -- be they Notes/Domino or Outlook/Exchange -- should they want to move to their next generation collaborative platform. Remember that Exchange 2003 requires Windows Server 2003. Exchange 5.5 customers are still facing an Active Directory issue by making that transition.

"Exchange Server 2003 is no longer the single centre of Microsoft's collaborative strategy. To really get the full advantage, customers need to consider Live Communications Server (which requires SQL Server), in addition to leveraging the Windows Sharepoint Service which is in Windows Server 2003," he said.

To move or not?
The real issue for Notes users is architectural requirements to support an organisation's collaboration strategy -- not their e-mail strategy, Meta's Prentice said.

"The idea is that future collaboration is not about store and forward messaging but how you blend this model with real-time store and forward (instant messaging) with teamware, Web and video conferencing in order to have collaboration support the processes within an organisation as opposed to just person-to-person or person-to-group communication.

"It is imperative for organisations to support this approach when future collaboration purchases are made," he said, adding that if Notes/Domino customers don't like their e-mail system, they could just run Outlook over a Domino server because the cost associated with these migrations would not align with the business value necessary in justifying such an expense.

Longtime Notes user David Tan concurs.

After weighing the advantages and disadvantages between Notes and Exchange, the regional systems engineer at a leading multinational marketing agency said: "I would not consider migrating.The advantages of using Notes far outweigh Exchange."

Even Microsoft acknowleges that it will be difficult to unseat Lotus in the messaging and collaboration space. "Lotus is a significant player in the marketplace so we certainly don't underestimate them," Microsoft's Cunningham said. But he was quick to add that it is committed to helping customers better understand the value of moving to an Exchange/.Net environment.

He conceded that the migration process is no mean feat. "It is a complex issue but customers need to examine what's really best for them," he said.

Wilvin Chee from market research firm IDC agrees.

"In any migration plan, there are many issues to consider -- business objectives, IT issues, cost issues and even legacy factors," said Chee, associate director for software at IDC Asia-Pacific.

Chee believes that IBM has offered an attractive follow-up plan for Lotus Notes/Domino R4.6 users and said that any party which can portray a committment to open standards will gain more attention.

He advises customers stuck between a rock and a hard place to weigh all the relevant factors before making a final decision. "Ultimately, IT vendors can only suggest," Chee said.

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