Home IBM Launches iNotes, a Gmail Competitor for Business

IBM Launches iNotes, a Gmail Competitor for Business

Looking for a more affordable and more stable hosted email service than Gmail? According to Lotus, that’s exactly what their new hosted email system called iNotes can provide. The company isn’t being subtle about their desire to compete head-on with the Internet giant, either. Says Sean Poulley, an IBM executive overseeing the new service, “Google has shown itself to be weak. There is a world of difference between supporting a consumer-grade service and a business-grade service.”

Should Google be worried? Some analysts think so. “This is trouble for Google,” said Matthew Cain of Gartner. Google of course, disagrees.

iNotes vs. Google Apps

Google, whose online suite of applications is collectively known as Google Apps, has been making steady inroads in the business world with offerings tailored to schools, nonprofits, SMBs, and the enterprise. The company currently touts 15 million Apps users in nearly 2 million companies worldwide. Marketed as a less expensive and easier-to-manage alternative to on-site systems like Microsoft Exchange, the suite has encouraged many companies to switch to their hosted solution, mainly due to ever-decreasing IT budgets which have left penny-pinching companies scrambling to find ways to cut costs.

However, pitting iNotes against Google Apps isn’t exactly a fair “apples to apples” comparison. That’s because iNotes’ focus is just email, calendaring, and contact management. Google Apps, on the other hand, is a more comprehensive suite that includes Google Docs, an online office suite, an intranet-building tool called Google Sites, and much more. Also, iNotes only provides 1 GB of storage for their product – if you want extra, you’ll have to pay. Google, however, starts you off with a 25 GB inbox.

Still, since Lotus is the lower-priced solution, that alone may be enough for them to compete. Google Apps currently charges $50 per user per year but iNotes will be only $36. Those cost savings combined with the brand recognition of the IBM name will help iNotes quickly get in the game.

IBM: iNotes Delivers More Than Cost Savings, it Offers Stability

In addition to IBM’s primary focus on price, the company is also taking advantage of some very public recent Gmail outages, including one which locked out corporate customers from their email for 2 hours last month, to prop up their solution as the more stable alternative. According to Poulley, IBM has a long-standing record of running “the world’s mission-critical systems for banks, telcos, and utilities…We’re bringing business class services and support with mission critical reliability at a price lower than the competition.”

Google Responds: iNotes is No Google Apps

Google isn’t taking all this lying down, though. Dave Girouard, President of Google’s Enterprise division, said that Google will learn the business of selling software more quickly than IBM will adapt to cloud computing.

Andrew Kovacs, a Google spokesperson, also noted that IBM’s positioning of their iNotes product seemed to be more of a complement to their on-site solutions than it was a replacement for them. With iNotes, it appears that IBM wants to supplement their current install base of Lotus Notes servers to deliver email to both deskless workers and those who didn’t have email accounts already. Google Apps, on the other hand, is designed to be a complete “rip and replace” solution allowing businesses to do away with their on-site systems entirely in favor of a fully hosted cloud product.

He also pointed out that IBM’s claims of reliability when it came to their iNotes product were unproven at this point. iNotes, which is based on IBM’s acquisition of a Hong Kong company called Outblaze, does not appear to offer any service level agreements (SLAs)… at least it doesn’t mention any on its website. IBM confirms that’s the case, saying the company “has not made any specific promises regarding uptime” but that the company has a solid history of reliability. Still, without an SLA documented in black-and-white, companies, especially those in the enterprise space, are bound to be wary.

Finally, Kovacs spoke of the various ways in which Google products interoperate with other technologies used by large companies. The Google Apps system works with Microsoft Outlook, mobile phones including iPhone, Android, Windows Mobile, and Blackberry. It even integrates with Blackberry Enterprise Server and directory systems like Microsoft’s Active Directory.

In the end, though, Google says they’re excited about the iNotes launch as it serves as “further validation that the future of computing is in the cloud.” Having a well-respected and trusted organization like IBM offer something like this will bring more visibility to cloud computing and that is something that will be good for everyone.

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