IBM Touts Unified Comms Infrastructure For Partner Development

Amid the social networking buzz at Lotusphere, IBM Software also talked up a version of its latest portal software for smaller companies.

Trilog Group is integrating its ProjExec collaboration software with a full boat of IBM Lotus collaborative wares, including the new IBM Lotus Connections social networking wares, QuickR file-sharing software and WebSphere.

"We offer online project collaboration delivered as SaaS. We already integrate with Sametime 7.5 and will integrate with QuickR documents and with connections so people can search out expertise they need," said Alex Homsi, CEO of Woburn, Mass.-based Trilog.

The solution provider also uses IBM/Lotus Eclipse-based Expeditor toolset to help customers continue their work in disconnected mode.

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With all of that capability, Trilog solutions can compete with Microsoft Project solutions, Homsi added. "We also integrate with the Project desktop but as a solution we think we're five times cheaper than Microsoft Project," he noted.

Alphalogix, a Huntington Beach, Calif. Collaboration and portal specialist will use the latest Websphere Portal Express 6.0 to provide smaller companies with full portal capabilities, said Bob McCandless, CEO of Alphalogix.

The solution provider has done WebSphere-based portals for large companies including Twentieth Century Fox, but the price point of Express -- $39,999 per processor or $2,300 per 20-user pack-- is more palatable than the other versions for smaller companies (it is limited to use to 1,000 users).

By contrast, the high-end Portal Extend SKU weighs in at $130,000 per processor; Portal Enable at $95,000 per CPU; and Portal Server at $50,000 per processor or $2,500 per 20-user pack.

McCandless said partners building atop Portal Express can offer solutions that compete effectively with Microsoft SharePoint-based offerings.

Taken in the aggregate, the Lotusphere offerings present an alternate platform to Microsoft's stack for building collaborative and "unified communications." Unified communications is the melding of e-mail, voice-mail and instant messaging. Microsoft's Office Communications Server, will converge VoIP, IM and web conferencing.

The happy irony for IBM, and especially its Lotus software group, is that "the world has come back to groupware," said Dana Gardner, principle with Inter-Arbor Solutions, a Gilford, N.H.-based consultancy. "Eight years ago, there was a notion that the world had moved away from groupware—and so from [Lotus] Notes, Domino and that the Web, portals and SaaS would sidestep all that," he said.

Now, Gardner continued, "social networking and Enterprise 2.0, where you take social networking things like blogs and wikis and collaboration and apply them to an enterprise environment, you actually see a lot of convergence."

IBM Lotus execs at the show in Orlando last week, pitched the array of social networking tools as a great opportunity for VARs and solution providers to enhance and extend both those applicatoins htemselves but also build out from Domino-based infrastructure.

And as customers continue to need both synchronous and asynchronous (aka real-time and non-real-time) communications and as voice messaging moves to IP networks, "for-real" unified communications is coming to the fore.

At Lotusphere, IBM highlighted partners Nortel and Cisco, in its video presentations. Nortel and Cisco are publicly front-and-center in Microsoft's communications game plan. But most observers say Cisco, in particular, has its own strong ambitions in unified communications that put it at loggerheads with these other players.

The question then becomes: Which tech giant from the previous era-- Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, or other-- will seize this bull by the horns and win the battle?