Sun joins collaboration race
- By John K. Waters
Sun Microsystems believes companies want collaborative communications services -- things like messaging, calendaring and access to groupware applications -- to scale across distributed and increasingly mobile user communities. It also believes corporate users want such capabilities wrapped together in an integrated package with secure, Web-based access.
"Collaboration solutions that meet the needs of a couple thousand users at headquarters are fine and useful," said Patrick Dorsey, group manager of the SunONE communications software group. "But our customers tell us that what they really want to do is to extend that out to retail shops, whether that's a grocery store or a hamburger stand. [This will] allow their store managers and people in the field to get e-mail, calendaring and to communicate daily using Web-based communications services, as well as extend those out to wireless devices."
Sun today unveiled its answer to the new requirements: the SunONE Collaborative Business Platform, which the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is billing as the industry's first integrated "anywhere, anyplace collaboration platform." The new offering is said to combine a set of existing Sun products --- including real-time collaboration, calendaring and scheduling, content and knowledge sharing, and messaging -- make them accessible via the Sun portal server, and protect them with the firm's Liberty-based identity management service.
Dorsey contends that the Sun bundle is not aimed at traditional client-based tools like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes from IBM.
"We're taking a different cut at it," Dorsey said. "Exchange and Lotus are very much about the Outlook client and having desktop-based access. We think that's important and we provide interoperability with those applications; but we are coming from a strength in a service provider market, which differentiates us when you're trying to deploy to a large number of users in a number of communities. To expose these services to a broader set of users, you have to get away from client-based solutions and start worrying about mobile devices and Web-based access. And when you do that, you need an engine and a platform that is fundamentally based on a service provider model to allow it to scale and to be reliable."
Through an initiative called GovConnect, the State of New Jersey has been using some pieces of the SunONE bundle for about three years to electronically link clerks and finance officers in more than 500 municipalities, according to Odysseus Marcopolus, director of the New Jersey Office of Information Technology. Today, the State of New Jersey is using the platform to deliver collaborative services to a broad set of user communities through a secure portal platform.
"We wanted to build a portal that would accommodate any user community," Marcoplus said. "Today, we use that same single infrastructure for probably a hundred different user communities. And we can turn on a new user community in 24 hours."
The Collaborative Business Platform includes consulting services from Sun and its iForce partners, including AC Technology, ANTlabs, Avcom East Inc., Back Bay, DewPoint, eForce, IC Synergy, InSolutions, Intraware, MG Solutions, Navidec, NCS, Sharp Consulting, TLA Consulting, True North Technology and Wingra. According to Sun, these value-add consulting services are focused, fixed-price packages to help customers get their SunONE product up and running quickly.
The collaboration package also includes the latest release of Sun's instant messaging product, also brought out today. The new SunONE Instant Messaging (IM) 6.0 is said to combine presence awareness with chat, conferences, alerts, news, polls and file transfers. New features in this release include the ability to archive and retrieve message transcripts, real-time, pop-up notifications of calendar events and task deadlines in SunONE Calendar Server, and the ability to enable content filtering for virus and SPAM detection.
"IM has become a requirement in the proposals that we see from our customers," noted Dorsey. "Increasingly, whether it's communication with customers or employees in distributed locations, this type of real-time communication is an essential technology."
According to Dorsey, Sun is targeting organizations with about 10,000 users with its new soup-to-nuts solution. For companies that size, the pricing is around $25 per user, he said. And customers can still buy the individual components of the package.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached