IBM, Nortel Buddy Up To Attract Smaller Clients - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

IBM, Nortel Buddy Up To Attract Smaller Clients

The joint System i Unified combines IBM's business computing platform and Lotus Sametime along with Nortel's suite of VoIP and multimedia technologies.

Small and medium-sized businesses often get the short end of the stick when it comes to deploying unified communications. But that could change. Nortel and IBM unveiled plans on Tuesday to create, what they claimed to be, a simple and cost-effective offering tailored for small to medium-sized businesses or SMBs.

"There is a general misunderstanding of what unified communications means and what it does," says Henry Dewing, an analyst at Forrester. Some confuse it with advanced voice over IP capabilities, others confuse it with unified messaging -- an integrated in-box for multiple kinds of messages, Dewing says.

Industry experts define unified communications as combining presence information with e-mail, voice mail, instant messaging, and videoconferencing to optimize business processes through efficient communications.

Since so many different types of components are involved in unified communications, the integration work and upgrade costs often outweigh the benefits for SMBs that already have limited IT staffs and resources.

Costs are a major factor for Glenkirk, a nonprofit organization evaluating unified communications. "The two things that will drive a final decision to move forward would be the need to replace aging equipment, and further expansion, which might make increased communication capability an even greater necessity," said John Manchester, Glenkirk's VP and CTO, in an interview.

Nortel and IBM plan to introduce an offering called System i Unified Communications, which integrates IBM's System i business computing platform and the IBM Lotus Sametime unified communications and collaboration platform with Nortel's suite of VoIP and multimedia technologies. Using the system, Lotus Sametime users will be able to review their contact list to determine who's available on their Nortel phone through presence information or click-to-call their contacts to reach them quickly.

System i Unified Communications will come with IP-PBX features for call routing, voice mail, and unified messaging; it will also integrate with e-mail clients like Lotus Sametime and Microsoft Outlook. The system will be available in the fourth quarter of 2007.

Cisco System in April unveiled the Smart Business Communication System, which gives small businesses with fewer than 20 employees a universal in-box to access all types of communications and lets them migrate to VoIP.

Microsoft also rolled out its small-business unified communications product that uses phones and other hardware from D-Link, Quanta, and Uniden, and includes a gateway that allows calls to the public phone network.

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