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IBM takes DB2 to the masses

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Recognising that a gloop of middleware applications is not the easiest thing in the world to demo, IBM Software did the sensible thing and invited a bunch of European hacks to pig out at a Mexican restaurant, near the Las Vegas Convention Center. While the journalists tucked into their tacos, IBM showed off its latest take on the sub-enterprise market. It’s called The IBM Small Business Suite for Windows NT, and it squeezes DB2 and Lotus Domino into a new -- and much cheaper -- form factor. The suite is designed to supply “everything small and growing businesses running on the Windows NT platform need to transform their businesses into small businesses”. It combines email, calendaring and scheduling capabilities, fax and modem pooling services, and application templates for office directories, on-line discussion, document management and “other business management tasks” and of course, the famous relational database. The suite server is built around DB2 Universal Database and Lotus Domino messaging and costs under $500. Bundled into the suite client are Lotus Notes Desktop, DB2 Universal Database and Netscape Navigator , which costs under $100 per pop. Customers can licence up to 100 users. All very well, but what small business actually has the expertise to use this stuff? IBM recognises this could be a problem too –- “small businesses don’t buy middleware, they buy apps”, IBM honcho Steve Solazzo told the journos, as they waded into their refried beans. So the company is gunning hard for channel resellers and ISVs to build services and one-stop solutions around the suite. Solazzo has a very long job title -- vice president of Solution Developers and Small/Growing Businesses, IBM Software. Usually, the longer the job title at IBM, the more insignificant the job: this does not appear to apply in Solazzo’s case. At his disposal is a worldwide marketing programme of “many tens of millions of dollars”, which he is pumping into end-user awareness activity -- such as TV advertising and roadshows carrying the theme “ebusiness for small business”. The company is also investing heavily in feet on the street -- and bums on call centre seats -- in channel support. Ian Bonner, worldwide head of channel sales for IBM Software, is to see his staff expand from 125 to 225 over the next year. A call centre channel support team recently introduced, will grow from 150 people to 250 people, Solazzo says. IBM says it has the world’s biggest portfolio of NT-based offerings- over 250-strong. It also reckons the time is ripe for a full-blooded assault on the small and medium business market (which it defines as companies with fewer than 1,000 staff). And ebusiness is the battle cry. From a series of customer focus groups , IBM has learned that small companies want to do ambitious things with their Web sites. The wish list includes transaction processing, real time inventory checks, links into supplier and customer sites -- 24/7 operation, robust, scalable software -- in other words, they want exactly things that big companies want. And this is stuff that IBM can do in its sleep. Capability and deep pockets are always welcome, but are they enough? These days as any fule kno you don’t get fired for buying Microsoft. ®

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