IBM and 3Com Unveil New Collaboration Solution for System i
March 27, 2007 Alex Woodie
If you’ve been following Microsoft for the last few years, you would have witnessed the software giant executing its unified communication strategy to deliver a next-generation collaboration solution that provides a platform for integrating voice, video, e-mail, and IM, of which the upcoming release of Office Communication Server 2007 is a major part. Not to be outdone, IBM and 3Com yesterday unveiled their own Lotus-based offering, called System i Integrated Collaboration, to challenge Windows supremacy in the emerging market for unified communication systems.
The new System i Integrated Collaboration builds on the voice over IP (VoIP) offering, called System i IP Telephony, that IBM and 3Com announced about a year ago, and started shipping in November. That offering, which involves 3Com’s Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based VCX software running in a Linux LPAR on a System i server, enables i5/OS shops to put their System i in charge of routing telephone calls to and from the office, instead of using a traditional PBX system. Like other VoIP offerings, System i IP Telephony also lets users ditch their phone company and save money by using the public Internet for phone calls.
With the new System i Integrated Collaboration, IBM and 3Com have delivered a set of applications, tools, and APIs that let System i customers take their VoIP offering to the next level. The new offering also provides a foundation for allowing other i5/OS-based applications, including those from System i ISVs, to tap into the System i IP Telephony solution to create a seamless voice-enabled experience for users of i5/OS applications, in much the same way that Microsoft is leveraging its own applications and those of its partners to dominate the burgeoning field of unified communication.
Chief among the new deliverables expected is the 3Com software development kit (SDK) for System i IP Telephony. This set of tools enables people in the i5/OS ecosystem–ISVs, system integrators, and large end-user companies–to use 3Com’s Open Network (3Com|ON) APIs to integrate existing i5/OS applications, such as ERP systems, with the System i IP Telephony offering. IBM has already brought several ISVs, including iMessaging Systems, KMR Systems, RJS Software Systems, Touchtone, and Vacava into the System i IP Telephony fold through this new program, and expects to bring in a total of 100 before it’s all said and done.
Also included is the System i IP Telephony Contact Center, a call-routing application that uses business logic to route calls to the appropriately skilled person, who will receive a “screen pop” on their desktop PC when that call comes through. This offering is specifically targeted at organizations with high call volumes, such as help desks and call centers.
i5/OS shops running Lotus Sametime on their desktops can integrate their Sametime contact lists with their System i IP Telephony system as part of the new collaboration solution. This offering, which only works with Sametime version 7.5, allows Sametime users to place a phone call using their IP desk phone by simply clicking on a contact in their Sametime contact list. It also allows a Sametime-using worker to see whether their Sametime-using colleagues are logged onto their Sametime client applications–a wonderful demonstration of the power of SIP and VOIP uniting on the System i server to help workers become more productive.
Last but not least is the new Unified Messaging capability that lets users receive voicemails, faxes, and e-mail in a single, unified inbox. This new offering lets users receive voicemails as e-mail attachments that can be opened using standard multimedia applications. IBM says the offering will work with both Lotus Notes/Domino and Microsoft Exchange/Outlook based e-mail systems.
One of the i5/OS shops taking early advantage of the new collaboration environment is Roland, the electric guitar manufacturer. Roland integrated its ERP system with the System i IP Telephony system to provide its sales people and customer service representatives with recent information about their customers, allowing them to serve them better.
“With advanced features like ‘find me,’ ‘follow me,’ and ‘click to call,’ our sales team in the field will now be able to be reached quickly from a central location, no matter where they are located–in the office or on the road,” says David Williams, Roland’s IT director. “IBM and 3Com, along with our IBM business partner Sirius Computer Solutions, presented us with a very competitively priced solution that allows us to leverage our investment in existing resources and technical skills.”
Another early adopter is the Scott & Co. Group, a group of sheriff’s officers and messengers-at-arms based in Edinburgh, Scotland, that provides debt collection services. By the time it’s implemented summer, the group expects to be running all of its call center operations, including VoIP and integration to back-end databases, off the System i server.
“We considered competitive, Windows-based IP telephony offerings, but we would have required at least 16 stand-alone servers to support the entire suite reliably,” says David Lyall, Scott & Co.’s CIO.
Expect to hear more about the total cost of ownership of the System i IP Telephony and collaboration solutions versus Windows servers as we get closer to GA, which is currently slated for the second quarter of 2007 (which invariably means June 30).
Microsoft also expects to start shipping its flagship VoIP offering, called Office Communication Server 2007, by the end of the second quarter. Yesterday, it announced the start of public beta tests for the product, which forms the hub of its VoIP strategy, and will be accompanied by the Office Communicator 2007 client.
IBM says pricing for Domino and Sametime integration starts at $500 per server for each application. Pricing for System i IP Telephony Express Editions start at $37,900.