IBM said it has plans to crank up its first-ever Notes hosting service that will cater to companies with between 1,000 and 10,000 users.

The company also said that its partner iEnterprises has developed a module that integrates its CRM application with Lotus Connections, a collection of social networking tools.

In addition, IBM announced The Center for Social Software, a new facility for research and testing social software. The centre will involve corporations and academic institutions.

The announcements were made by Bob Picciano, the general manager of Lotus Software, during his keynote address at Interop . Picciano took over from former Lotus Software general manager Mike Rhodin earlier this year.

Picciano said after his keynote that the Notes hosting service would offer Notes at a price of £4.41 ($8) to £9.93 ($18) per seat per month.

He said IBM will offer hosting of "messaging and advanced collaboration environments" but did not elaborate. He said more details, including the service's start date, would be released at a later date.

"It initially is a certain number of features," he said. "And we will be adding other features from the Notes portfolio as we go."

While the target customer is between 1,000 and 10,000 users, Picciano said smaller installations could be served.

IBM has a number of partners currently that host Notes environments for users including Blue Sky Hosting, Domino Developer Network and Prominic .Net.

IBM has never had a formal hosting service around Notes and Domino for customers. What has been offered is one-off, highly customised environments. This new service will be opened to a mass audience.

IBM rival Microsoft has a similar service called Exchange Online that was launched in October 2007 and is available to any company with 5,000 users or more.

IBM said the Social Networking for CRM Module offered by iEnterprises is the start of a trend that will see the company begin to integrate social networking with everyday applications.

The module lets users link and synchronize information between Notes and the iEnterprises iExtensions CRM for Lotus Notes systems, and extend data to mobile devices.

"We are talking about being able to decompose a set of functions like unified communications or Lotus Connections and put them in the context of business applications as opposed to just e-mail or calendar applications," said Picciano.

IBM is doing similar integration with SAP around something called Project Atlantic, which is an integration of Notes with SAP Business Suite.

IBM is also working on a set of hosted business application services code-named Bluehouse that will factor into integrating applications and social networking tools.

IBM says the technological underpinnings of these integrations will tap into web services technologies such as Representational State Transfer (REST) and Web 2.0 techniques such as mashups, feeds and widgets.

iEnterprises is expected to ship the Social Networking for CRM Module next month.

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