VOICECON - IBM, Siemens unify on communication

IBM is embedding unified communications features into Sametime

IBM has announced Wednesday that it plans to embed unified communications features from the upcoming version of the OpenScape software from Siemens Communications into its Sametime instant messaging software.

The agreement is meant to quickly bring Sametime, part of Big Blue's overall 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 with Intellicom-Analytics. "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 arch-rival.

"This is meant to be a long-term partnership where IBM will stay closely aligned with the OpenScape roadmap," said Andy Chew, senior vice president of unified communications for 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 platform behind Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange.

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

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 PBX vendors, in addition to equipment from Nortel Networks, through an alliance it had announced earlier.

Microsoft did not return a request for comment. But 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 with Wainhouse Research. Siemens needed to find an alternative channel for OpenScape.

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

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