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IBM Lotus preps small biz software appliance

Domino, Symphony, idiot-proofing

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It's pandemonium out there. Cats are living with dogs. There's chocolate in my peanut butter. Software units are selling servers and calling them appliances.

Late yesterday, IBM's Lotus collaboration software unit, one of the key pillars in the company's Software Group, lifted the veil a bit on its next-generation of Lotus Foundations Start appliances, which are set to ship in December.

Caleb Barlow, senior product manager for the Lotus Foundations appliance, isn't keen on giving away a lot of the details about what comprises the guts of the machine, but he says that the box is based on an x64 architecture and that it runs a very lean implementation of Linux based on Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Sever 10.

Back in January, IBM acquired Linux appliance maker Net Integration Technologies, which was based in Toronto, for its appliance expertise. NIT had created its own streamlined implementation of Linux, called Nitix, and had an OEM agreement with IBM to distribute the Domino collaboration server atop of Nitix. After IBM brought the Nitix team on board, it selected SLES as the basis of a new set of appliances and let the Nitix team loose in the IBM hardware supply chain to create a box to run the resulting Foundations Start software stack.

The new Linux implementation weighs in at a mere 100 MB, and it's stored on a disk on module, or DOM, inside the system. (DOM is a fancy name for a flash drive with a SATA disk interface instead of a USB interface). Barlow says that IBM and the Nitix experts it acquired did a lot of engineering work with SLES to streamline it and integrate the components that are used in the appliance, which includes a virtual private network, a firewall, a MySQL database server, a Web server (which one, IBM is not saying), and a print and file server. The mail server is Domino, and it is not stored inside that 100 MB DOM, but rather on the disk drives inside the appliance.

The appliance supports up to seven disk bays, and up to 7 TB of disk capacity. It also includes something IBM calls intelligent disk backup. Rather than using tape backup, IBM has created an anodized aluminum case for a removable hard disk that is encrypted and that does continuous incremental backups of the key software configuration information for applications and their data (as much as you can cram on a single drive). Customers can remove these IDB disks and store them off-site for emergencies instead of messing around with expensive (and sometimes not successful) tape backups. Every disk drive in the appliance is automatically populated with a backup copy of the Linux stored on the DOM, so even if the DOM fails, it still boots up.

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