Update: VoiceCon: Microsoft's presence unifies IBM, Siemens on communication

IBM is embedding unified communications features into Sametime

IBM will announce today that it plans to embed unified communications features from the upcoming version of the OpenScape software from Siemens Communications Inc. into its Sametime instant messaging software.

The agreement is meant to quickly bring Sametime, part of IBM's Lotus Notes messaging and collaboration suite, up to snuff with Microsoft Corp.'s soon-to-arrive Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 as the two companies prepare for all-out combat in the corporate communications market.

"This sets IBM up to be a more credible player in unified communications," said Barry Marks, an analyst at IntelliCom Analytics LLC. "OpenScape has very good features. This is something that Sametime needed."

The renewable, five-year deal also realigns Siemens, which until recently was a close partner with Microsoft on unified communications, with IBM, Microsoft's ival.

"This is meant to be a long-term partnership, where IBM will stay closely aligned with the OpenScape road map," said Andy Chew, senior vice president of unified communications at Siemens. He declined to disclose exact financial details.

IBM executives were not available for comment before the announcement, expected to be made by IBM Lotus General Manager Mike Rhodin during a keynote at the VoiceCon show in San Francisco this afternoon.

IBM officially released Lotus Notes 8 and its accompanying Domino Server last Friday. Notes/Domino is the second most-popular messaging and collaboration system behind Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange.

Microsoft, meanwhile, plans on Oct. 16 to officially release OCS.

Working closely with Exchange 2007, OCS is, like other unified communications products, designed to enable companies to set up voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone systems and manage corporate instant messaging, e-mail and videoconferencing on a single IP network. Microsoft first released a beta of the product last December.

The company said in May that OCS would interoperate with gear from some private branch exchange (PBX) vendors, in addition to equipment from Nortel Networks Corp. through an alliance it had announced earlier.

According to Marks, the new OCS offers features that Microsoft, with its current-generation Live Communication Server 2005, must now rely on Siemens' OpenScape to provide.

"The relationship with Microsoft is no longer as shiny and wonderful as it once was," said Brent Kelly, an analyst at Wainhouse Research LLC. Siemens needed to find an alternative channel for OpenScape, he said..

"I've often thought OpenScape was ahead of its time," Kelly said. "But OpenScape hasn't taken off in the market. And it wasn't going to happen with Microsoft."

Siemens also depends on Microsoft. Its current version of OpenScape relies on Session Initiation Protocol technology (SIP) licensed from Microsoft. The new service-oriented architecture (SOA) version of OpenScape, however, "removes any dependency upon Microsoft's SIP technology," Chew said. "We're still using SIP, but our own SIP infrastructure."

Due by year's end, the SOA version of OpenScape even boasts features that OCS lacks, Chew claimed. Those features are ones that IBM plans to inject into Sametime, which today is best known as a corporate counterpart to IM services such as AOL Instant Messenger. They include "one number" and "aggregated presence" features that help detect at which end point -- whether an office phone, cell phone or PC instant messaging client -- a user is available, and forwards calls and/or messages accordingly, Chew said.

IBM will also license a rules engine to help the system manage the forwarding of messages and calls, as well as OpenScape's extended communication capabilities, which Chew claims allow the features to used with "any underlying PBX infrastructure," including previous-generation Time Division Multiplexing boxes and current IP-based one.

Through a spokeswoman, Microsoft disputed Chew's claims, saying OCS 2007 provides the very features that he claims are lacking. She said that the relationship between it and Siemens remains unaffected by the latter's deal with IBM. She declined to comment on Chew's claim that Siemens' new version of OpenScape no longer relies on Microsoft intellectual property.

Siemens declined to say how many users it has for OpenScape. Customers include SAP AG, Accenture Ltd., Shimano American Corp., Telstra Corp. and PepsiCo Inc.

Chew said that Siemens' deal with IBM is non-exclusive and that his company hopes to license the OpenScape technology to other vendors.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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