Lotus Development Corp currently leads the electronic mail server market with a 30% share by most market estimates. But the battle is still fairly close, with Microsoft Corp and Novell Inc coming in with 25% and 15% market shares respectively. Our sister publication Computer Finance expects that organizations will continue migrating from host to client-server-based […]
Lotus Development Corp currently leads the electronic mail server market with a 30% share by most market estimates. But the battle is still fairly close, with Microsoft Corp and Novell Inc coming in with 25% and 15% market shares respectively. Our sister publication Computer Finance expects that organizations will continue migrating from host to client-server-based electronic mail systems over the next two years. Not surprisingly, vendors are attempting to lock in users by adding client-side bells and whistles such as group scheduling, electronic forms, and discussion databases. Is vendor lock-in a factor? Most organizations have Microsoft Office and Windows on the desktop, some Windows NT on the server, and perhaps BackOffice components as well. The groupware suite is one place where organisations still have viable alternatives to an all-Microsoft solution. Electronic mail is becoming a battleground because groupware engines have yet to become fully transparent to different electronic mail systems. While Notes release 4 includes a MAPI driver for Microsoft Mail, enabling Mail users to access Notes servers, it fails to provide the full message, shared folder, or directory support that Microsoft Mail users need. In the latest skirmish, Microsoft recently sponsored an Exchange versus Notes cost-of- ownership study that focuses on electronic mail, conducted by Redwood City, California-based Zona Research Inc. Zona based the study on an unidentified sample of users, but not disclosing the number of users polled, and which versions of the Lotus and Microsoft products were involved. It compared three- year lifecycle costs, concluding that Exchange was 47% less expensive than Notes as an electronic mail system, or $388 per user for Exchange versus $727 for Notes. The results were based on estimates of costs for planning, product acquisition, deployment, training, and ongoing maintenance and support. Among the highlights, Zona claimed that, compared with Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange Servers are 430% more scalable and require 71% less time to install and configure. Zona also says that Exchange requires 75% less end-user training and 50% fewer help desk and end-user support personnel. The deciding factors in the study were the number of users supported by each server and the amount of time necessary to reach full deployment. Zona noted that the study did not factor in peripheral areas, which it believed would have produced further savings, including: variations in administration costs between specific environments or locations; hardware installation and maintenance; any application costs other than Microsoft Exchange Client or Lotus Notes Client; custom development costs, if any; impact of inflation, deflation, currency fluctuation, lease or rental terms; impact of network load; energy costs; network infrastructure costs; and taxes and shipping costs. Not surprisingly, Lotus issued a strong rebuttal of the Zona study. This ‘study’ [Lotus’s quotes] was based on Microsoft-directed scenarios which break basic rules of cost comparison, resulting in biased information, and unfortunately impeding customers’ ability to make informed choices. The prime advantage of Notes, it says, is machine-independence. Zona counters that, since Microsoft dominates the desktop, the issue is moot. Among the overall survey sample, 97% used Intel Pentium servers. The study assumed that hardware costs were equivalent, with the prime difference being that Notes servers do not support as many end users as Microsoft Exchange. In the Zona sample, the average number of users per server was 54 for Notes compared with 232 for Exchange. The actual ranges in the survey sample were four to 2,750 users per Exchange server, and five to 428 users per Notes server. Lotus counters that the sample was stacked in Microsoft’s favour. It claimed that the sample was based on a mix of release 3 and 4 users of Notes versus the latest release of Exchange. According to the Meta Group, in fact, release 4 offers dramatic scalability improvements, supporting symmetric multiprocessing platforms which can serve up to 1,000 users. The study assumed that the local area network and associated servers were already in place, and that the software was installed onto an existing Ethernet network server. Lotus claims that, from an applications standpoint, the study compared apples and oranges: Notes users were using it for both groupware applications and electronic mail, while the Exchange sample was almost exclusively electronic mail. It also claimed that the Notes users implemented more stringent security measures than the Exchange sample. Zona concluded that Notes installations require twice as much help desk staffing to cover the same number of end-users. It did not indicate whether there were any differences in staffing requirements for other positions, such as system administrators and developers. Zona assumed that any anticipated reductions in support costs during the first three years would be offset by additional support expenses caused by upgrades, added users, and new applications. It defined ongoing technical support to include hands-on maintenance of client software, and the training of end- users after initial installation. The technologies being compared are fast-moving targets and while the mail functions of both Notes and Exchange are roughly comparable, Notes has been well- established as the functionality leader in groupware. For instance, Notes provides more complete support for automated workflow. Macros, scripts, and agents can establish rules and roles, integrate external applications, and import or export a variety of data types within Notes documents and databases. Exchange users, on the other hand, must resort to routing forms through electronic mail. Unfortunately, until very recently, the rich functionality of Notes also made it a more complex electronic mail engine. Prior to release 4, the Zona conclusions regarding end-user training and technical support were probably correct. Meta believes that with release 4, Lotus has solved the problem, adopting the simpler cc:Mail user interface for messaging. The major bone of contention in the report was scalability. Again, this is a shortcoming which Lotus fixed in release 4. All the results are likely to be moot. Exchange itself will be superseded by Outlook, a component of Office 97, a clear break from the past, using all new code and none of the existing Schedule+ or front-end Exchange components. Exchange applications should be backward compatible with Outlook. Tools include custom forms, views, fields, and Visual Basic script. It will work against both an Exchange back end and the NT file system. Meta believes that Outlook represents an attractive and intuitive vehicle for managing personal information and accessing and sharing files and data and concludes that, despite Outlook’s tie- in with Microsoft’s dominant Office suite, groupware will remain a fragmented market. As for electronic mail users, Meta believes that effective use of Outlook groupware applications will be limited to those using Exchange. The electronic mail wars are likely to continue.