Executive Corner: Interview with LotusLive Chief Architect Marshall Lamb (Part 1 of 2)

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Fang Feng and Neena Richard interviewed IBM LotusLive Chief Architect Marshall Lamb recently. The discussion concentrated mostly on technical issues of LotusLive and customer engagement. The transcript of their conversation follows.


Fang Feng: Hi, Marshall, can you tell us your official title?

Marshall Lamb: Okay, my official title is Chief Architect, LotusLive systems. And basically that means I’m responsible for the platform and the operational characteristics of the platform.

Fang Feng: Mainly, on the technical side, right? Not marketing.

Marshall Lamb: Correct, I’m on the technical side, Chief Architect. So I have a partner (Rob Yates) who’s the Chief Architect for LotusLive applications. He has architectural responsibility for the application layers running on the platform.

Fang Feng: We’re going through the questions I have prepared, but you can add what you think is helpful. From what you understand, what is cloud computing and how does LotusLive fit into the IBM portfolio of our cloud offerings?

Marshall Lamb:  Cloud computing is really about shifting as it applies, that is, shifting computing to the cloud, which means instead of owning I own infrastructure where I  do software development and test, I would shift that to the cloud and rent space to do that instead of owning the infrastructure for it. That’s my interpretation of cloud computing. That is not what LotusLive is, but, that’s what the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise is, and others like Amazon Web services. Those providers have an infrastructure as a service offering (IaaS) geared towards cloud computing where businesses and individuals alike can shift some of their computing work to the cloud and rent space for that.

It’s really not what LotusLive is about. LotusLive is a software as a service (SaaS)  offering, where it’s not about shifting computing resources to the cloud; it’s about shifting services to the cloud. So the classic example is, well, LotusLive is all about collaboration and about offering collaborative services and messaging. We are trying to appeal to the companies that don’t wish or don’t have the means to manage that type of infrastructure themselves.

Maybe they view collaboration and messaging as a business need but a lower priority to their business priorities where they want to focus maybe application development or application investment and IT investment on the core business technologies that they need to run their business. And, they may view collaboration and messaging as an important aspect of maintaining the business but secondary to their core business.

And so as a cost savings measure, they don’t want to run the software or necessarily staff the personnel to maintain the infrastructure to support the collaborative services, but instead rent them from a service provider like IBM. So, the target of LotusLive is to provide a low cost collaborative solution for companies both large and small, to allow them to have that capability at a lower price point than if they were hosting it themselves. But, the large differentiator between what we provide and what other similar competitors provide around collaboration and the cloud is the fact that we allow for both an organizational awareness, meaning you’re bringing on your entire organization to LotusLive.

You can restrict the collaboration to be just within your organization meaning the sharing of files, instant messaging, meetings and so forth. But you also have the opportunity to collaborate with people within or outside your organization and other organizations worldwide. So, we really push on this collaborative, multi-tenant idea where everyone’s in the same LotusLive environment and can collaborate with each other.

Fang Feng: Yes, that’s a very new idea, I think.

Marshall Lamb:  It’s very powerful for those companies that do a lot of business outside their walls where they work with vendors, they work directly with the customers, a lot of business-to-business transactions. They need an ability to collaborate with those people while also having the ability to restrict exposure to the outside wall – the outside world by collaborating only within the organization for certain things as well. So, we offer both perspectives.

Fang Feng: Okay. Is LotusLive the only SaaS site within IBM?

Marshall Lamb:  No, there are others. It’s the only one like this with those collaborative solutions. But we have software as a service offerings like a commerce offering with Sterling that was a recent acquisition, Sterling Commerce.

We have a Web Analytics service offering through the acquisition of Coremetrics. So we’ve actually acquired a couple of SaaS offerings. We’ve also built a few SaaS offerings within Tivoli and WebSphere that are very targeted offerings geared toward specific types of services that we feel might be good services to acquire over the web as opposed to hosting ourselves, such as monitoring or analytics type services.

Fang Feng: I see. Now what’s the current LotusLive market status against competitors like Microsoft, Salesforce, and Google?

Marshall Lamb:  They are the market leaders to be sure. They have a bulk of the mind share in the business. They’ve been around longest. Salesforce is one of the first successful software as a service offerings in the market, it certainly has a large mind share.

Microsoft has been in the business of providing cloud-based services for a while now as well and certainly has a good mind share or a large mind share in the market around collaboration also. LotusLive came late to the game and has some catching up to do.

But we are, besides trying to catch up with the competition, providing not only the same types of services, but market differentiators like the collaborative multi-tenancy that we provide, where you can collaborate with other companies outside your organization.

We also offer a more unique combination of services. With one offering, you get a combination of email, meetings, instant messaging, and advanced collaborative functions like file sharing, activity management, profile management, contacts and communities, and more social networking aspects of collaboration.

There aren’t that many competitors that offer all those capabilities wrapped into one offering – one service. So that’s another differentiator. We’re trying to appeal to both small and medium size companies, and also large enterprises.

Because large enterprises are faced with the same financial challenges as small and medium size companies too with needing to consolidate and trim their IT budgets and staff, and looking at ways to eliminate cost or at least reduce cost.

I think we have an opportunity to appeal to a much broader audience set than the Googles, and the Salesforces, and the Microsofts of the world. The IBM name also bears a lot of weight and respectability in the marketplace around some of the biggest concerns with cloud-based offerings such as security and standards compliance.

Especially in the federal area and the financial sectors that have very strict standards requirements; we have an opportunity to fulfill that, and some of our competitors might struggle in that area.

Fang Feng: Good point. Isn’t there some kind of financial goal for LotusLive this year and next?

Marshall Lamb:  Well I’m the wrong person to ask about financial goals being in the non-business side of the house – being more on the technical side of the house. And, I’m not sure that we could divulge what actual financial goals of the year would be.

We are expecting growth, of course, in the marketplace. It is a rich opportunity –  a rich environment for growth as more and more companies are looking to outsource their collaborative services and looking to providers in the cloud to do that at a low cost point.

So, we see a huge opportunity for growth and are actively pursuing functions and capabilities that help us attack those areas of growth. But  – I don’t have specific financial targets I can give you.

It is worth mentioning that LotusLive is one of the first SaaS offerings that IBM has brought to market. And we are learning a lot about the SaaS delivery model and growing technologies to help improve the cost and efficiency, as well as the ability to host SaaS offerings within IBM.

There are parts of functions and capabilities grown within the LotusLive offering that are now standard components of almost every SaaS offering that IBM has, as we grow a common platform and a common architecture that our SaaS offerings are taken advantage of.

LotusLive has been very successful even internally in that regard. It’s helping us develop the technology base for future SaaS offerings.

Fang Feng: What are the advantages LotusLive hase over the competitors? Or what are the selling points for LotusLive?

Marshall Lamb:  I think one large point about LotusLive is the affinity of the function to the on-premise products that the customer might already have from the Lotus portfolio.

So for example, Lotus Notes customers who are running their own Notes infrastructure  – they could look at LotusLive and adopt LotusLive’s hosted Notes offering as a means for outsourcing the maintenance and delivery of Lotus Notes outside their walls. Affinity to the on-premise products is a big boost for LotusLive. Because if you’re already a Notes user, then it can become simple to adopt LotusLive to help offload some of the costs of maintaining the Notes infrastructure.

Affinity to other Lotus based products such as Sametime Instant Messaging. You can, for example, today in your Sametime client, define a new community and point it at messaging.LotusLive.com and add instant messaging contacts from LotusLive directly into your instant messaging client. You can blend chat within the enterprise and to the extranet, in the Internet today, very seamlessly. That’s another good example of affinity with our on-premise products.

Another example with affinity is Lotus Connections. Now Lotus Connections powers much of what is in some of the advanced collaborative areas of LotusLive.  And what we’re working on today is a means by which the various connectors, applications, widgets, gadgets, and portlets that exist out there for consuming connection services (that are on-premise deployments of Lotus Connections) will work equally well with LotusLive.

So LotusLive can be, should be, and will be positioned not only as a SaaS offering but as a service provider that offers a series of services that can be consumed within other dashboards, portals, and applications without having to always go the LotusLive site.

The vision and roadmap for LotusLive is that we will not only offer SaaS in the cloud, but that other SaaS may take the service pieces of LotusLive into their offering too. Another differentiator I would like to mention is about security. IBM has a very rich security and compliance infrastructure built around IBM offerings. Customers should feel secure about putting their data in the LotusLive cloud more so than they may feel with some of our competitors.

Along with that is data privacy and location. We have multiple data centers both in the U.S. and in Japan; we’ll expand on that over time, and customers will have an explicit choice of where their data is held.

We have customers who would prefer to be in Europe, or prefer to be in Asia Pacific or prefer to be in U.S. and they will have that – they have that capability between the U.S. and Japan today. They will in the future with Europe as well. Not every service provider gives you that level of control.

It’s somewhere in the cloud; you don’t know where it is but many customers care where the data is. They are given that choice today and will continue to be given that choice.

Fang Feng: Do we automatically replicate data to different data centers or does the customer have to pay for that?

Marshall Lamb:  We only replicate customer data between the primary site and our disaster recovery sites within the same geography. We have a primary site and a disaster recovery site within North America. Likewise in Japan, we have a primary and a disaster recovery.

We do not, for data privacy issues, replicate customer data across geographies.

So, if you are a company in Japan within the LotusLive Japan data center, your data stays in Japan.

Fang Feng: I see. For the licensing, most of IBM cloud offerings use pay as you go (PAYG) and bring your own license (BYOL), like the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise. On LotusLive, do we ask the customer to buy a license, or if customers already have a Lotus license, do they bring their own license to the site?

Marshall Lamb:  Well, the pay-as-you-go and the bring-your-own licensing models were traditionally built as part of the infrastructure as a service offering like the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise. I was involved in the very early days of getting some initial software – IBM software group products in the Amazon Web services cloud. – their computing cloud but it was well before we had a IBM SmartCloud Enterprise.

And it was there that we developed the pay-as-you-go licensing model and the bring your own licensing model. That was really probably the hardest part, for IBM to start producing software offerings on the cloud, because we had never done anything like that before. How do we charge by the hour – by the compute cycle or by the machine or by the month? It was very different and very different for IBM to tackle that. But once we tackled that as part of those initial forays of the Amazon Web services, it made it much easier to project those licensing models into new endeavors like the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise

That same licensing model for the infrastructure as a service (IaaS) plays well for renting computers – that is, for renting operating system instances in the form of a virtual machine doesn’t translate to a software as a service (SaaS) where I am renting capabilities per user per month or per year based on a subscription model.

The offerings are priced based on subscriptions of users and durations of months or years. We don’t do any licensing of user by hour, I don’t think.

I’m not aware that we have a bring-your-own licensing option where if I’m already a Domino customer, I can take the license I own and translate that into a pay-as-you-go model in LotusLive.

There might be, but I’m not aware. I’m sure IBM sales and marketing would work something out with a customer who needed to do something like that. I just don’t know if that’s part of our standard offering.

(End of Part 1. Read more of our interview in Part 2.)

About Marshall Lamb
Marshall Lamb is a Senior Technical Staff Member and Chief Architect for LotusLive Systems within IBM’s Software Solutions Group.  His responsibilities include overseeing the LotusLive software as a service (SaaS) physical architecture, including its performance, high availability, and scalability characteristics. Before his current position, Marshall was a lead architect and chief programmer on WebSphere Portal for 5 years, focusing on administration and operations, and high performance, large scale deployments. Marshall has spent his career in networking and communications software including a focus on pervasive computing.

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Fang Feng

About Fang Feng

Fang Feng graduated from Texas A&M University. He has been working for IBM since 1996. Currently, he is a member of WebSphere Portal Level 2 support team, specialized in Portal security, session management and administration. Fang had joined the team that wrote the Redpaper "IBM WebSphere Portal V6 Self Help Guide." Follow him on Twitter @FangFeng88.
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