Lotus teams with Cisco, Nortel on unified communications

A battle between the major players seems to be forming

IBM/Lotus Tuesday took on more partners for what is shaping up to be a battle between major players to supply unified communications clients and infrastructure to corporate users.

The partners, Cisco and Nortel, have familiar rings as both are supplying their own unified communications equipment and partnering with other vendors with real-time communication strategies, namely longtime Lotus rival Microsoft. The deals, which come during the 10th anniversary of IBM Lotus Sametime, call for Cisco, Nortel and Carestream Health to OEM the Lotus Sametime real-time communications software.

Cisco will integrate Sametime into its open unified communications portfolio and develop plug-ins that integrate unified communications capabilities with Sametime. Cisco will sell Sametime through its UC Advanced Specialized partner channel that is made up of 1,200 organizations.

Nortel plans to integrate Sametime into its Call Server portfolio to provide VoIP, presence and click-to-conference features. In addition, Nortel plans to bundle Sametime with the Nortel Small Business Communications Server 500 and package it on IBM System i hardware.

Lotus also is partnering with Carestream Health, which will integrate Sametime's instant messaging and VoIP capabilities with the imaging technology it provides to radiologists.

In addition, Lotus signed product integration and service deals with Ericsson and NEC. Ericsson will integrate Sametime with its MX-ONE platform, which lets uses click on a name to initiate a call that can be moved to a conference call or a mobile or office phone. Ericsson also will integrate presence information so Ericsson users can see if a contact is present via the Sametime client.

NEC will use its Univerge gateway module to integrate its PBX system with Sametime to let users see presence information and click to start a call via a Sametime instant message, Web conference interface or Notes e-mail message.

Lotus officials reiterated their plans to ship the new Sametime Advanced Server, which includes features such as persistent chat, in the first half of this year. The Unified Telephony version, designed to support call control, will ship later this year, but IBM/Lotus did not provide a specific timeframe.

Observers say partnerships between vendors show they are hoping to ignite a spark toward adoption of unified communications infrastructures that some predict could peak in about three years within corporate environments. Early adopters today are starting to tap into real-time tools such as instant messaging to speed communication but also to quicken the pace of business processes.

"What a lot of customers are doing, which is smart, is finding pockets in their organizations where [unified communications] makes sense such as customer service," said Melanie Turek, principal analyst with Frost & Sullivan. "Having the ability to have instant, presence-based communication is very valuable but it is also measurable. You can show you are cutting response time or that you are cutting more deals."

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