IBM's Panasonic Deal Latest Blow in Battle Royal for Cloud Collaboration Title

Ann All

In many ways, the battle for technology market share reminds me of professional wrestling, filled as it is with unexpected alliances, double crosses, good guys who turn bad and villains everyone loves to hate (until they can get something from them). Right now giants like IBM, Microsoft, Google, HP and Cisco, along with countless upstarts, are putting on their tights up and preparing to beat each other bloody in one of the biggest battle royals in years. At stake is the cloud-based collaboration business of companies that seem ready to move their e-mail and other business communications to the cloud.


A few months ago, IBM came out swinging against Big Steve Ballmer and Microsoft, convincing U.S. Bank to switch from Microsoft's SharePoint to IBM's Lotus software. IBM also took some shots at Google, undercutting it on price by selling LotusLive iNotes for less than the enterprise version of Google Apps and throwing in some trash talk by calling Google's Gmail, part of the Apps suite, a "consumer-grade service."


Now Big Blue is announcing an even bigger deal, with Japanese electronics manufacturer Panasonic, in which 150,000 Panasonic employees will use IBM's LotusLive e-mail, social-networking Web conferencing, file sharing, instant messaging and project management applications. Among the losers: Microsoft's Exchange and IBM's own on-premise Lotus Notes software. A number of reports said 100,000 employees will switch initially.


While financial terms weren't disclosed, eWEEK reports the cost likely will be between $3 and $15 per employee, though it could run as high as $50 depending on the number of solutions used. The number of users could grow to 300,000 if enough Panasonic employees decide to use LotusLive Connections software to communicate with suppliers and others outside the company.


While Google has announced some decent deals for the enterprise version of Apps, including a 30,000-seat deal with automotive supplier Valeo last spring and more recently a similar-size deal with the city of Los Angeles, those deals are dwarfed by IBM's with Panasonic.


Google's high-profile consumer services might hinder the search giant's ability to win enterprise business. While wildly popular, they undergo periodic outages that make at least some enterprise buyers nervous. Of course, folks may accept short outages as part of the cost of doing business as the cloud becomes more popular. As I once pointed out, our on-premise e-mail at the office sometimes goes down, and so does everyone else's. But eWEEK doesn't call us about it when it does.


IBM further pumped up Lotus as a possible SharePoint replacement by signing a deal with open source content management provider Alfresco that allows Alfresco solutions to be integrated with Lotus. Network World quotes 451 Group analyst Kathleen Reidy, who says Alfresco might help IBM by offering potential IBM clients an easier-to-use enterprise content management option than Big Blue's own FileNet. Alfresco Content Services for Lotus also includes an implementation of the Microsoft SharePoint Protocol so companies can switch from SharePoint to IBM's Lotus Quickr without changing SharePoint clients on the front end. Take that, Microsoft!


Microsoft isn't exactly lying down and taking it. (If it seems to be, perhaps it's hoping IBM will get cocky and allow it to unveil a surprise move that will unleash some real pain.) Microsoft has been positioning its forthcoming Azure cloud platform as one that plays unexpectedly well with others. Microsoft followed up last month with a patent for a process that purportedly can help companies migrate their on-premise data to the cloud. As in wrestling, some observers wore themselves out analyzing the patent, looking for the razor blade hidden in the extended hand.


Forget the concealment. Yesterday Microsoft whipped out a technology alliance with HP. Just like a wrestler wielding a folding chair, it knows the audience can see it. But it's not like they can do much but jeer and look on as it advances toward its opponents. As IT Business Edge's Mike Vizard wrote:


As major vendors such as IBM, Cisco and Oracle increasingly focus on delivering vertically integrated solutions that span the application to server stack, it's going to be increasingly important for Microsoft and HP to be tightly aligned to compete with rivals that will be touting tight integration across complete end-to-end stacks. In fact, [Microsoft's Steve] Ballmer described the alliance with HP as being "cloud computing driven," given that tight application and infrastructure integration will be especially important in next-generation private cloud computing.

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