IBM To Virtualize Unified Communications

communications software

At VoiceCon Orlando 2008 IBM announced key partnerships with ShoreTel, VBrick Systems, NEC and Ericsson to round out its unified communications portfolio.

The ShoreTel pairing will integrate ShoreTel's distributed unified communications solutions with Lotus Sametime. A plug-in will allow joint customers to access ShoreTel's distributed IP telephony features from within their Sametime application.

VBrick, which offers digital video appliances and solutions, is working with Sametime by introducing the VBrick VideoPlug-in for Lotus Sametime, a tool that streams live broadcasts and on-demand digital video content within Sametime, giving users a single point of access to digital video broadcast content and stored programming.

Another pairing thrusts IBM into virtual worlds. The Armonk, N.Y.-based vendor said it is working with Forterra Systems, a partnership through which Forterra will integrate its On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE) 3D platform with Sametime software and IBM's Unified Communications and Collaboration platform, dubbed UC squared.

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Similar in appearance to Second Life, the new system, called "Babel Bridge," enables online collaboration through the display and can leverage communications tools. At the offset, the solution is being developed for US intelligence and government agencies.

However, it can also be used in the enterprise. Participants can share information such as streaming videos in a virtual world. Under the agreement, Forterra will deliver plug-ins to Sametime and integration with the Lotus Notes calendar to offer access, scheduling and launching of virtual meetings. Forterra will also embed key services, such as presence and location information, document, whiteboard and applications sharing from Sametime into the virtual world to enable faster communications.

Integration with Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony will also allow any landline PBX, VoIP or mobile phone caller to join a virtual meeting.

Rhodin said all of IBM's announcements from VoiceCon work toward the goal for IBM and Sametime, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, to help people become more productive and change the way people meet.

"The real business problem everyone's dealing with here is how do you have more effective meetings," he said, adding that it's not necessarily about adding video and voice, but changing the processes to make meetings more efficient and effective.

Along with the string of partnerships Rhodin announced at VoiceCon, he also announced that Lotus Sametime 8 advanced edition will be available next week. The advanced version of Sametime 8 takes all of the standard features like presence, instant messaging, video, VoIP, telephony, file transferring, Web conferencing, public instant messaging federation, mobile clients and Microsoft office integration and adds in persistent group chat, real-time community collaboration, instant share and location services.

Sametime Unified Telephony, which will ship in the second half of this year, will act as a middleware solution tying together communications solutions from several other vendors and IBM partners allowing call routing based on location, presence status and role.

Still, all of the advancements in UC discussed this week at VoiceCon may still have users wondering where to start, Rhodin said. He said there is not a one-size-fits-all starting point.

"You've got to chose based on your business' needs and what you're trying to get done in your organization," he said.

Along with announcing products and partnerships, Rhodin also predicted the five trends that will drive unified communications in 2008. Essentially he said, the virtual workplace will become the rule; instant messaging and other real-time collaboration tools will become the norm, bypassing email; communications will evolve beyond phone calls to collaborative business processes with deep integration into applications; interoperability and open standards will tear down productivity walls across business and public domains; and new meeting models will emerge.

"What's important is that we build the right platform," he said, adding that IBM is leveraging "next generation technologies to push the bounds of communications and collaboration. The key thing for all of us is going to be about managing and deploying these solutions."