IBM’s Open Collaboration Client Solution Saves Money?

IBM recently presented its Open Collaboration Client Solution (OCCS), in conjunction with Virtual Bridges, to Ferris. IBM proposes that OCCS presents substantial cost savings over the equivalent Microsoft approach. We're skeptics.

Background:

  • IBM's OCCS is not a new product offering.
  • Rather, it is a bundling of existing Lotus products for Linux (Eclipse-based offerings, such as Notes 8.x, Sametime, and Symphony, and native Linux offerings such as Domino) under a new moniker.
  • Virtual Bridges provides software that supports Linux-hosted Windows (Win4VDI) and Linux (VERDE) virtual desktops.
  • Think of Win4VDI as Citrix-like functionality delivered atop Linux, as opposed to Windows, clusters.
  • VERDE is an analog to Win4VDI, delivering Citrix-like functionality for virtual Linux, as opposed to virtual Windows desktops, again atop Linux clusters.

At the heart of this offering is IBM's belief that customers are spending so much money on Microsoft licenses that there is none left to spend with other IT vendors, including IBM. This is a situation that IBM only expects to get worse in the current "credit crunch" and recession.

IBM proposes a five-level approach to eliminating or reducing Microsoft license payments:

  • Switch from an annual Microsoft Enterprise Agreement to "an only license when you upgrade" Microsoft Select Agreement licensing plan.
  • Replace Microsoft Office with Linux-based Lotus Symphony on the desktop.
  • Replace Windows Exchange Server + Office Communications Server (OCS) + SharePoint + Windows Server, with Lotus Domino Server (including Sametime) + Quickr Server atop Linux, on the back end.
  • Replace Windows with Linux on the desktop (real or virtual).
  • Replace PCs on the desktop or Citrix/Windows Terminal Servers with Virtual Bridge VERDE Linux clusters or IBM zSeries servers.

IBM claims that the first saving ($75 per user per annum) is achieved by only purchasing Microsoft software licenses under a Microsoft Select Agreement when installing new Microsoft software (every 3-5 years), rather than entering into an Microsoft Enterprise Agreement and paying an annual license fee. This analysis is based on list prices. This is a false argument. In practice, organizations are able to negotiate Microsoft Enterprise Agreements that eliminate this $75 per user per annum differential.

For many years, competitors (Corel Office, Lotus SmartSuite) have offered productivity suites at significantly lower price points than Microsoft Office. For some time, Star Office-derived offerings (Open Office from Sun, and more recently, Symphony from IBM/Lotus) have been available at zero cost. We accept that there are users who do not need the power (and attendant complexity) of Microsoft Office. However, these alternative offerings have had little impact on Microsoft's Office market share.

IBM's approach also involves a hidden cost. Lotus Symphony is written in Java and runs atop Lotus Expediter and open-source Eclipse, also written in Java. Under Windows and Linux, Java JAR files are treated as data, which considerably increases the memory footprint of these applications. In fact, Lotus recommends at least 1GB of memory to run Symphony effectively. Business users who wish to migrate desktop PCs from Microsoft Office to Lotus Symphony may find that they will need to upgrade (replace?) these PCs at significant cost. In fairness to IBM, users who wish to upgrade to Windows Vista will also require a significant PC upgrade.

Ferris is very dubious about any cost savings that accrue from replacing Microsoft Exchange + SharePoint + OCS with Lotus Domino + Quickr + Sametime, or vice versa. In both cases, Ferris data indicates that migration costs swamp any putative savings. In addition, as with IBM productivity applications (see above), upgrading to Notes 8.x, which is Java/Expediter/Eclipse-based, introduces a 1GB PC desktop RAM requirement. This is a requirement that is not satisfied by the vast majority of currently deployed business desktop PCs (see above). In addition, Ferris believes that any organizations that are willing to allow Microsoft to host their collaboration data will be able to realize considerable cost savings by switching to Microsoft's Online offering (see MS Exchange Online Pricing) of which Exchange Online + SharePoint Online + Office Communication Online + Live Meeting can be purchased for $15 per user per month.

Certainly, replacing Windows with Linux on the desktop can deliver significant license costs savings. In general, Ferris data shows that support costs swamp license fees on most business desktops. If a move to Linux on the desktop increases the support load by even a few percent, then this cost will more than swamp any license cost saving.

Finally, IBM has been at a disadvantage when competing with Microsoft Terminal Server- or Citrix-based hosted desktop solutions. Yes, IBM has had a zSeries mainframe-based hosted Linux offering, but for most customers this is not an option. By partnering with Virtual Bridges to offer hosted Linux desktops atop Linux clusters, IBM now has a more attractive offering. Unfortunately, because the majority of IBM desktop software is written in Java and runs atop Expediter/Eclipse, which are also written in Java, and because Java code is treated as data, no code sharing can be achieved. For example, every hosted desktop will require at least 1GB of dedicated memory. This inability to use shared code images, combined with a large memory footprint, will require more DRAM and thus more servers in an IBM solution than a Microsoft- or Citrix-hosted Windows desktop application server. This additional hardware + software cost may well nullify any putative license fee savings.

We cannot help but feel that IBM is today, as it has been for many years, interested in the idea of reducing Microsoft's desktop revenue. It has tried with mainframe-based offerings, with Java-based Network Computers, and now with its Linux-based Open Collaboration Client Solution. IBM has not succeeded in the past, nor do we expect it to be any more successful with this offering. In our opinion, the greatest threat to Microsoft's desktop hegemony comes from the cloud (e.g., Google Apps, etc.). We believe that Microsoft's rapidly emerging Live and Online offerings mean that Microsoft is already well positioned to benefit from any move to the cloud, just as it did with an earlier move to the browser and Web server.

... Nick Shelness

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