IBM Becomes Service Provider, Gets SaaS-y

Salesforce.commight have Twitter, but IBM is poised to make a big blue splash in the software-as-a-service market with its own cloud-based suite of social networking + productivity services.

The computing giant will go commercial with the Web-delivered LotusLive Engage on April 7, with the mission to help business users share information both inside and outside of the organization by melding social networking with business collaboration. That’s important, considering that one of the biggest issues with corporate unified communications is the difficulty in extending that functionality outside to suppliers, partners, customers and the like.

Geared to the small to mid-size business market, features include profile and contact management, file sharing, conferencing, instant messaging, e-mail and project management. Desktop package Lotus Notes – the main DNA behind LotusLive, as you might suspect – is used by 145 million users today. IBM expects that companies will link multiple LotusLive services with Lotus desktop for a hybrid model, as well as bring in third-party applications for cloud-based mash-up.

“What you are seeing are the beginnings of the whole IBM company moving toward cloud computing,” IBM Vice President Sean Poulley told Reuters.

It will cost $10 to $45 per user per month. Channel partners will be able to private label LotusLive or simply resell it as an IBM offering, Bethann Cregg, a product management director at Lotus, told CRN. Full channel details are still being developed.

Gartner Inc. estimates that the worldwide market for cloud offerings will total a modest $10 billion this year. But IBM has the power to increase that significantly; about 30,000 businesses were involved in the pilot program leading up to the LotusLive Engage launch.

It’s also worth noting that embracing new lines of business might be a must for IBM and a boon for its resellers, as portions of its traditional computing bread and butter are suffering. Its AIX Unix offering is widely considered to be nearing obsolescence at a time when the market is contracting. And for 2008, worldwide server revenue fell 3 percent year over year for a total of $53.3 billion, according to the IDC – the worst performance since the first quarter of 2002.

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