The State of the Groupware Space

Wednesday Feb 19th 2003 by Carl Weinschenk
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An influx of smaller players and a focus on total cost of ownership is sculpting the shape of the groupware and collaborative applications space. This overview examines these and other trends, including the connection between e-mail and other applications, the growth of corporate instant messaging, and changing usage patterns among end users.

With the two big players -- Microsoft and IBM -- in the product introduction phase, it is an interesting time for the groupware and collaborative application software market. Although new features are part of these and other packages, the lumbering economy makes total cost of ownership the key driver of new products across the sector.

Groupware and collaboration is an extremely elastic category. The terms, in essence, refer to anything electronic that helps people work together efficiently. The space can include e-mail, calendaring, instant messaging, audio and video conferencing, document repositories of different types, content management, bulletin boards, and voice services.

Currently, Microsoft -- which is expected to introduce "Titanium" midyear -- has a 32 percent market share, according Marcel Nienhuis, an analyst for the Radicati Group. Nienhuis noted that IBM, which took the wraps off version 6 of Lotus Notes/Domino last fall, has 28 percent of the tie. For those of you keeping track at home, that means the behemoths currently own 60 percent of the market.

Novell, in case you're wondering, was once one of the big three, but it failed to take off when Microsoft and IBM started to expand their offerings. GroupWise has lost market share over the past two or three years and is no longer nearly as big a player as Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes/Domino. Several of the analysts we spoke with grouped it with the smaller players, which at this time include Critical Path, Gordano, Ipswitch, Mirapoint, Oracle, Qualcomm, Rockliffe, Sendmail, SmartMax, Stalker, Sun, and Vircom as well as a host of companies with marginal share.

New Players Emerge

Though Lotus and Microsoft still dominate, the smaller players are beginning to find a niche. Michael Katz, the president of RAE Internet, a distributor of Linux-based antivirus software, told ServerWatch that early adopters in the small and midsize business space are starting to move away from Exchange server to products such as VirtualTek's Joydesk and Bynari. Often these companies retain the Exchange client to make the transition easier for non-technical users accustomed to Microsoft products.

Software vendors generally associated with e-mail servers are entering the space more fully. Generally, the idea is that there will be a market for products "thinner" than Exchange and Domino that focus on the two key applications: e-mail and calendaring. "Right now, with Microsoft's forced migration path to the Titanium platform ... because of those costs, people are looking for other alternatives," Ali Liptrot, Stalker's director of sales and marketing said.

Stalker isn't alone. "The second-tier messaging companies are realizing the need to add collaboration to compete with Microsoft and Domino," Nienhuis says. "A good handful have announced plans to add more collaborative features to better compete."

This is just one of the trends that will emerge as the year progresses. Other key trends include:

  • Since e-mail is the single dominant application, anything that impacts e-mail has a profound effect on groupware and collaboration. The ongoing struggle against viruses and the explosion of spam will have a big impact on how servers will be configured and protected. For example, servers must be able to accommodate rapidly changing third-party antispam software.
  • The usage patterns of groupware and collaboration are changing in three important ways. 1) Users will be more mobile, 2) real-time audio and video will become more prevalent, and 3) instant messaging will continue to grow as a corporate tool. Corporate IM may, in fact, prove the big story in 2003 because its deployment demands significant infrastructure adjustments. "IM ... at a consumer, teenage level is kind of ephemeral," said David Marshak, a senior vice president at the Patricia Seybold Group. "But doing it in a business context means it has to be stored. You have to prove you made the offer, gave this advice to this client, etc. It has a big impact on storage, and on search and retrieval capabilities."
  • There is an increasing demarcation between users served by an enterprise that need full-featured collaborative applications and those that need only e-mail and calendaring. This is best illustrated by the example of a college campus that has a mix of permanent staff and faculty -- some of whom are heavily involved in research that cries out for collaboration -- and students who are typically there for four years.

The students may be more aptly served by lightweight servers supporting Web-mail-based e-mail, while the permanent employees would ideally have an entirely different and deeper system. This type of bifurcated environment is not uncommon.

To offer another example: a highly mobile sales forces may be predominantly e-mail users, while corporate administrators require the more full-featured products, and manufacturing floor workers need only portal-based Web mail accounts to check schedules, lunch menus, and exchange e-mail.

"People want to enable access to apps anywhere in the world without a client," says Patrick Dorsey, group manager for SunOne Communications Products for Sun. "This means the use of browser-based apps or portal-based computing."

Although implementing different systems within an enterprise is a trend, it is just starting to emerge. Novell is beginning to see it in the airline and hospital environments in addition to academia. "We see that as being really something that is probably in its nascent stage right now," said Jay Wood, GroupWise solutions marketing manager for Novell.

Robert Mahowald, an analyst with IDC, added that both IBM and Microsoft have re-entered the market for simplified e-mail and calendaring servers.

The following chart offers a glimpse into what some of the groupware vendors have planned for 2003. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what is going on in the space, and companies have been included based on the capabilities of their products, not by its main function (i.e., several mail servers with groupware features have been included).

Company Product Target Audience New Groupware and Collaboration Features When Introduced Future Planned Features
Critical Path Communications ISPs Calendar with group scheduling, Internet file Fall 2002 Mobility, presence platform server, IM
Cybozu Share360 Enterprises with fewer than 100 employees Several, including PocketPC sync 11/02 IMAP, increased admin security
IBM Lotus Notes 6.5 Large enterprises Checklist view, personal header, antispam 10/02 Integration at server, policy-based admin
Kerio MailServer Small to midsize businesses Shared folders, shared and private calendars Folders early 2002; Address books 12/02 Public address books
Microsoft Exchange 2000 All size enterprises Support for Active Directory, IIS integration 2000 Titanium, due midyear
Novell GroupWise 6.5 All size enterprises Checklist view, color-coded categorization, spam control Ongoing Transition from 6 to 6.5 -- ongoing
Oracle Collaboration Suite Midsize to large enterprises E-mail, calendaring, voicemail, fax, Web conferencing, desktop management, search 9/02 Sharing, chat by July
Sendmail Workforce Mail Fortune 2000 enterprises Intelligent Inbox 12/02 None at this time
SmartMax MailMax 5 Small and midsize enterprises Shareable Calendar 7/02 None

Fewer, Bigger Servers

The overall impact of these trends is the consolidation of servers that are easier to maintain and less expensive to operate. "The important trend is consolidation of messaging servers into fewer and fewer servers that are larger and larger and that are clustered in data centers," said James Kobielus, a senior analyst at the Burton Group.

The result of centralization is that fewer operating systems are run simultaneously. This means that administrative costs and time are saved, enabling personnel to be redeployed or work at getting more out of the software.

Kobielus says that squeezed budgets are encouraging enterprises to drive as much value out of their e-mail infrastructures as possible. The most cost-effective way to do this is to consolidate servers. This eliminates multiple points of failure and generally increases efficiency.

"Those hubs are in data centers in big cities, very larger servers -- Unix, Solaris, Windows 2000," Kobielus said. "These are highly scalable clusters that can be load balanced and generally have the ability to do failover -- if one goes down, the others can pick up the load."

Lotus agrees, and noted that it has even taken this approach internally. "Through a number of technologies and tactics we've consolidated a 'wheat field' of servers' to a few. In Europe we've gone from 28 to 2," said senior marketing manager Arthur Fontaine. "We eat our own cooking."

Perhaps the biggest push to consolidation is Oracle's new Collaboration Suite, which is designed to run on an Oracle 9i relational database. According to the company, this enables one central source for both end users and administrators. These groups dip into the database through Oracle 9i Application Servers sitting atop the databases. The system, according to Oracle, is designed to increase the number of users that can be supported to about 10,000.

"The architecture is a database-centric messaging system," said Nienhuis. "Everything is stored there." He added that the result can be a much lower total cost of ownership and that other vendors are looking at similar architectures.

A subsidiary trend to server consolidation, Kobielus said, is that the management of each surviving machine is more vital. This has led many enterprises to consider outsourcing administration to specialists such as IBM and EDS. "There are dedicated network administrators watching those server farms 24x7 because they are so critically important. Maybe outsiders are brought in to do it."

Software will be impacted as well, Kobielus noted, "They want to make sure that the software can scale up to the big processors, to take advantage of features of the hardware and OS environments, such as clustering and hot swapping of disc drives ... They want to make sure they can sell into the large server farms."

The theme that runs through collaboration and groupware space in early 2003 is clear: Enterprises are seeking mobility, support for IM, and the capability to offer stripped-down and robust applications on different systems. Most of all, however, they are seeking ways to reduce the amount of money it takes to buy and operate collaboration and groupware services.

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