IBM Taps Nortel for Entry-Level System i VoIP Solution
June 19, 2007 Alex Woodie
IBM and Nortel last week unveiled plans to launch a new System i-based voice over IP (VoIP) solution later this year. The offering, which will run under a Linux partition and integrate with Lotus collaboration software, will support organizations with as few as 25 users–a significantly smaller target customer than the System i-based VoIP offering that IBM and partner 3Com started shipping last year.
IBM has identified VoIP as a major new application area for System i platform, and for good reason: Organizations are considering the replacement of legacy PBX systems with software-based solutions that can do everything that traditional PBX systems can do, and more. And because there’s only one converged network to manage, instead of separate voice and data lines, organizations are finding an attractive return on investment scenario..
IBM tapped 3Com to help it bring the first VoIP offering, the System i IP Telephony solution, to market last November. That solution is based on a proven System x offering that was designed to scale from a few hundred users up to 10,000 or 100,000 users. Because of its size and scale, the 3Com System i VoIP offering requires a six- to nine-month sales cycle, which means the first customers are just starting to implement the product now, according to Chip McClellan, System i product marketing offerings manager based at the IBM lab in Rochester, Minnesota.
The Nortel solution, which goes by the official name Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications, is going to be a little bit different than the 3Com offering, in several ways, McClellan says. First, it’s a lighter-weight application, and that’s going to effect who decides to use it.
“The 3Com product had a significant heritage in enterprise-class, carrier-grade backbone systems, whereas this solution is built from scratch, but more closely related to the open source IP PBX solution you see on the market,” McClellan says. “Nortel built the new offering and chose to bring it to System i before any other platform.”
It will be easier for small and mid size businesses (SMBs) to justify the Nortel offering, McClellan predicts. “We haven’t done the benchmarking, but the goal is to cover down to about 25 [users] and go as high as 1,000. We could we extend that–obviously the System i platform can scale vertically very well,” he says. “[But] the focus in terms of the feature set and the design point, ease of administration, is in the SMB space.”
While the new solution will target smaller shops, it will offer the same type integration and collaboration features that you can find in the 3Com offering. IBM just recently started referring to this as its UC2 (unified communication and collaboration) strategy.
“We’re talking about a solution that’s more that just dial tone here. With all the others on the market, that’s a tough market to get into,” McClellan says. “But what we’re delivering here is something different. We’re supporting IBM’s UC2 strategy, offering telephony with IM and e-mail for real time communication, for integrated collaboration.”
That means features like click-to-call, click-to-message, and other capabilities delivered through integration with Lotus Notes desktop, the Sametime 7.5.1 instant messaging client, LDAP, and other products–most notably the Notes/Domino version 8 products, which are due out soon.
Users of the Nortel offering–like users of the 3Com offering–will have their choice of handsets. Users can choose any handset, as long as it’s compatible with session initiation protocol (SIP). Or users can use soft-phones that connect to their computers through their Sametime or Notes desktop interface.
The strongest pairing, McClellan says, will be a soft-phone connected through Notes or Sametime, which will tremendously broaden users’ range of communication possibilities. “When you’re on the road, and bring up your laptop, you bring it up with your soft client. The customer doesn’t know–they called your number and you picked it up. But you’re not at your office–you’re at Starbucks talking on a Bluetooth handset,” he says.
The integration possibilities are wide ranging, McClellan says. In the future, there will be close integration between System i-based VoIP solutions and line of business applications, such as i5/OS ERP applications, he says. And IBM is relying on its business partner, iMessaging Systems, to provide the APIs to enable users to build interactive voice response (IVR) and call center applications that run on the System i.
IBM’s go-to-market strategy for the Nortel offering also differs than how the 3Com offering is being sold. While the 3Com VoIP offering is sold strictly through the existing System i sales channel, the Nortel offering will be sold by Nortel’s channel, in addition to the System i sales channel.
Because Nortel will become a peddler of System i gear, that raises the question of whether Nortel will call it a System i product, or use some other moniker. McClellan indicated that the topic hadn’t been broached by the partners. “My personal preference is yes,” he says. “This is something that will be differentiated. We’re not some OEM. Everything that we’ve talked so far with Nortel–all the capabilities—will be delivered all in a single server footprint. I don’t think we want to hide that.”
Lori Mclean, the Nortel general manager in charge of the Nortel-IBM alliance, called this a “remarkable opportunity to grow with a unified communications solution” from two worldwide leaders. “This integrated solution makes the move to IP telephony along with unified communications as easy as a software upgrade on IBM System i,” she says.
While the core Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications solution is a software product, there will likely be many hardware elements to an implementation. For starters, most users will require a gateway to be installed. Integrating faxes and other devices will require more hardware. And customers will also have the option of using complementary Nortel offerings, as well as IBM software. Products that Nortel will sell to System i VoIP users include the Business Communications Manager (BCM), the Business Ethernet Switch (BES), the Business Secure Router (BSR), and the Business Access Point (BAP). There are also services involved in migrating from an older PBX system and performing network voice readiness assessments to ensure a minimum quality of service (QoS). More network devices to enforce that QoS may also be required.
Beta testing of the Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications solution is slated to begin during the third quarter, with a possible fourth quarter ship date; Nortel is doing the development (with help from Rochester) and they are in charge of the development timetables, McClellan says. It’s also too early to talk final pricing, but all indications point to a relatively affordable solution.