IBM turns up Unified Communications heat

IBM turns up Unified Communications heat

IBM is hoping to broaden the appeal of its Sametime enterprise IM software by expanding the current standalone offering into a family of products in a bid to better compete with other unified communications players like Microsoft and Cisco.

Software vendors and telephony companies are betting customers will rush to adopt unified communications (UC), an emerging technology area they claim will turn into a multibillion-dollar business.

When IBM relaunched Sametime about a year ago, the company positioned the IM software as the basis for its UC offerings. General manager of IBM's Lotus division, Mike Rhodin, announced plans for three new Sametime products during a keynote address at the VoiceCon conference in San Francisco last week.

The next release of IBM's current Sametime software will be known as Sametime Standard 8.0 and is due out towards the end of this year, according to IBM vice-president for unified communications software, Bruce Morse. The new version includes support for Microsoft's Office 2007 desktop suite and the ability to run Sametime server in VMware's virtual environment. Sametime Entry 8.0 and Sametime Advanced 8.0 debut in early 2008.

Sametime Entry takes the IM capabilities already embedded in some IBM products and turns them into a standalone offering. Sametime Advanced adds in features like the ability to share a desktop and ways to store and reuse geographic information.

The software also includes persistent chat so a person can log onto their company's group chat and be able to browse what was discussed earlier.

The third new member of the Sametime family is still at an early development stage and is known under the working title of "Sametime for Unified Telephony," Morse said.

The move was all about combating Microsoft, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research, E. Brent Kelly, said.

He estimated about half of IBM's customers used Microsoft's Outlook and Exchange groupware, not IBM's Notes and Domino alternatives. Those users were ones Microsoft would hope to see embrace its enterprise IM as embodied in Office Communications Server 2007, which has just been released to manufacturing.

However, the software giant didn't have a low-end version of OCS, so IBM has the opportunity to try and win new business among corporate users keen to try out basic IM functionality, he said.

IBM had lagged Microsoft and Cisco when it came to tightly integrating its IM with telephony systems, Kelly said. Instead, IBM had offered separate integration with switches from Avaya, Cisco, Nortel and Siemens.

Customer feedback caused IBM to rethink that approach and offer a nonspecific version of Sametime, Morse said.

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