IBM Vs. Microsoft In Telephony Integration Middleware Race - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

IBM Vs. Microsoft In Telephony Integration Middleware Race

Presentations at the VoiceCon show this week show how similar the two companies are in their services, yet vastly different in their core strategies.

IBM's plans to ship next year telephony integration technology as a foundation for its Sametime unified communications client highlights the company's approach to the emerging UC market, along with its key differences with rival Microsoft.

Mike Rhodin, Lotus' general manager for IBM, on Wednesday unveiled Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony at the VoiceCon show in San Francisco. Along with the new product, which is expected to be released in beta in the first quarter of next year, Rhodin also introduced a new version of Sametime that starts to ship in the fall, and announced the acquisition of Web-conferencing company WebDialogs.

Unified Telephony, in general, would provide a software platform that IBM customers could use to leverage PBX or IP PBX systems from multiple vendors within the Sametime UC and collaboration client. PBXs interconnect telephone extensions to each other as well as to the outside telephone network. Unified communications enable the real-time redirection of voice, text, or e-mail to the device closest to the user at any given time.

IBM has partnered with Siemens to get the technology IBM needs to connect the Unified Telephony platform, scheduled to ship in the middle of next year, to legacy telephone systems. "It's a natural marriage of skills," Rhodin said during a news conference that followed his VoiceCon keynote. "They're very good at the back-end stuff, and we're very good on the front end."

The partnership also demonstrates a difference in approach to the UC market between IBM and Microsoft, which has yet to partner with infrastructure companies like Siemens in delivering its UC platform in the fall. IBM's announcements came one day after Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group, told VoiceCon attendees that Microsoft would ship Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, and Office Live Meeting Oct. 16.

IBM has chosen to approach the market with technology that can leverage companies' existing telephone systems, while Microsoft has made it clear that it hopes to one day replace those systems with software-based communications running on servers. "When you don't have a software-centric point of view, then you're heading in the wrong direction," Pall said at VoiceCon.

Rhodin, on the other hand, said IBM has no plans to compete with PBX vendors, but prefers to use standard integration technology to connect its middleware to whatever telecommunications systems its customers choose. "IBM is not trying to drive down a path that will require ripping out technology," Rhodin told reporters.

IBM also looks at Microsoft's UC platform as catch-up technology, arguing that the software maker is just starting to deliver capabilities that can match those of IBM, which has been in the UC market years longer than Microsoft. "We think we're in the lead here ... and we plan on staying ahead," Rhodin said.

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