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IBM Lotus preps small biz software appliance

Domino, Symphony, idiot-proofing

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Idiot Proofing Made in China

The Lotus Foundations appliance, which is made in IBM's factories in China, is meant to be installable by idiots - er, small and medium businesses with limited IT expertise and business partners who are going to try to make a living selling lots of these boxes rather than put in billable hours doing break/fix maintenance on hardware and software sold on commodity X64 servers.

The box doesn't have a screen, a keyboard, or a mouse, and it includes enough smarts that it can boot off the DOM, find the Internet, find the LAN and its PCs, set up a VPN and a firewall, and create a DHCP server if it can't find one. Once it does that, an LCD screen on the front reads out the IP address on the network for the appliance, and you call up your channel partner and give them this IP.

They punch it into IBM's software distribution and maintenance system for the Foundations appliances, and then IBM's hosted services take whatever domain you have for Web and email serving and start feeding traffic to the appliance. The box has Domino for mail serving - which is installed with a single click - and assumes that people have Notes or Outlook clients to log into to get their email and calendar. IBM's Web-based Symphony office automation suite can be installed on the machine as well from the IBM servers, meaning customers don't have to pay for Microsoft Office if Symphony is good enough.

IBM's Lotus unit realizes that small businesses sometimes have Windows-based applications that they want to run on their servers, and that is why Big Blue is piloting the use of VMware's freebie VMware Server running in conjunction with the baby Linux inside the appliance to support Windows applications on the x64 processor in the box. (VMware Server is the kicker to the old GSX Server, which is not a bare-metal hypervisor, but a hypervisor that runs inside Windows or Linux that in turn supports guest operating systems).

IBM is being a bit cagey about the price of the Lotus Foundations appliance, since it is not available yet, but Barlow says that a five-user bundle including the hardware and software will cost around $5,000. The machine is designed to scale to up to 500 users, provided the load is not too heavy. I can't imagine that 500 concurrent Symphony users can be supported on such a machine. The current Lotus Foundations Server software stack costs $849 for five users, and the less sophisticated, non-IBM iron it runs on costs $2,499. The IBM appliance has more goodies and more capacity, and hence it is more expensive.

IBM has not said specifically when the Foundations Start appliance will ship in December, but it did say that on November 21 its Smart Business Developer's Kit - which independent software vendors will use to package up Domino applications so they can be deployed on the appliance - will be available. IBM wants to have a consistent framework for deploying and supporting software on these appliances, which makes it easier for SMBs to consume software and for partners to support their customers. ®

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