Lotus Foundations, and Cracking the Maintenance/Administration/Support Nut

Our recent piece about Lotus Foundations got me to thinking, primarily, about an underlying issue it addresses -- how to economically provide IT systems to small and medium businesses (SMBs) or to remote branch offices in larger organizations?

The barrier to economic provision is not hardware or even software costs; rather, it's maintenance, administration, and support costs. How does one reduce these? There are currently two approaches:

  1. Relocate the IT system from being hosted by dedicated server(s) on customer premises, or in branch offices, to being hosted on multitenanted servers in an application service provider (ASP), or corporate, data center (e..g., to the "cloud").
  2. Continue to host IT systems on servers sited on customer premises, or in branch offices, but use hardware and software that truly deliver remote maintenance and support (e.g., Lotus Foundations).

While the latter is a new approach in the Wintel or Lintel server arena, it has a much earlier genesis in IBM's historic SMB and branch office offerings -- the System/36, the System/38, and the AS/400. These were systems that were preloaded with vertical applications, remotely maintained, and which just sat in a corner and ran. Compared to today's server hardware and software, they were expensive, but their maintenance, administration, and support costs were much, much, lower. So one way to view Lotus Foundations is as an AS/400 for the modern era.

While the plummeting per-bit cost of high-speed data communications would seem to hand an advantage to "cloud"-based approaches, there are locations (in the developing world, or rural areas) where the communications infrastructure is just too unreliable, slow, or expensive for a cloud-based approach. Here Lotus Foundations may well achieve real success.

Whether this success can also be extended to SMBs and branch offices in areas served by reliable, low-cost, broadband communications remains an open question. This may well come down to an issue of relationships. SMBs may be happier with an on-premise offering from a nearby value-added reseller (VAR) than a cloud-based solution from a largely faceless ASP. If remote maintenance and support can really be performed using Lotus Foundations, then both the cost to an SMB and the margins that a VAR can achieve may end up turning Lotus Foundations into a solution preferred by both SMBs and VARs.

... Nick Shelness

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