System i VoIP from Nortel Expected Soon
January 29, 2008 Alex Woodie
Remember the System i-based voice over IP (VoIP) solution for small and mid size businesses that IBM and Nortel announced seven months ago? While the companies didn’t get the offering, dubbed Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications, out before the end of the year as planned, both firms are still planning to get the product into customers hands, hopefully by the time spring rolls around.
IBM has been pushing into the VoIP area for the last couple of years, as businesses have started to deploy VoIP solutions that allow them to replace their physical PBX switches with more advanced software-based telephone systems that integrate with other forms of collaboration.
First, IBM paired with 3Com to port the vendor’s industrial-strength VCX VoIP offering to run inside a Linux partition on the System i. This offering, called the System i IP Telephony, became available in the fourth quarter of 2006, with customer deployments starting six to nine months later.
Then, in the spring of 2007, IBM and Nortel began talking about developing another VoIP offering for the System i. The Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications offering would be a little different than 3Com’s System i IP Telephony offering. For starters, 3Com’s system would be an enterprise-class, carrier-grade backbone system capable of supporting tens of thousands of users. The Nortel offering would be targeted at small and medium size businesses with as few as 25 people.
In terms of similarities, both VoIP offerings plug into IBM’s unified communications strategy and are supposed to work with Lotus Sametime and IBM’s other collaboration products. This gives people the capability to do things like click-to-call, voicemail, conferencing, “hunt groups,” integrated voice response, and “find-me, follow-me” functions, where calls are automatically forwarded to cell phones or other numbers based on rules set by the user.
At the time of the initial announcement last June, IBM and Nortel were planning to test the joint VoIP solution–which was brand new, with the System i the first targeted platform–during the third quarter of 2007, with a fourth quarter ship date. However, the product was not ready to go by then. Unfortunately, there were no formal announcements about new timetables–not even a bit of VoIP hype to hold us over through the holidays. It was as if the product had never been conceived.
Then, out of the blue last week at the Lotusphere show in Florida, IBM started talking about Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications again! Buried in a press release about Lotus Sametime and how IBM’s Unified Communication strategy is being used by millions of users, there was mention of the nascent Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications solution, and how it will make obtaining IP telephony and advanced multimedia and collaboration services “as easy and cost-effective as a software upgrade.” Finally, IBM and Nortel were back in the VoIP saddle again.
IBM even started talking about product timetables. According to an IBM spokesperson, customers can start ordering the Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications offering on March 25, with deliveries starting April 5.
According to Leif Rush, an IBMer who holds the title of marketing manager for IP telephony and collaborative technologies, customers will be able to purchase the software through IBM, while they’ll need to go to Nortel to purchase the phones and the gateways (while the offering will run in a Linux partition on the System i, a separate piece of hardware will be required).
Rush says the solution works with both soft and hard phones. “Since this a fully SIP-compliant software package, a user could theoretically use any SIP-based phone,” he writes in an e-mail. “However, Nortel will support a specific set of phones (6800 series) based on the fact that they have developed profiles for those phones.”
IBM will be pushing the system’s simplicity as a major benefit. “We are really going after making this simple to install and manage. It’s a highly streamlined and tight package that provides all of the functions a business would need for their telephony systems,” Rush says. “If a customer already has a System i, this is a relatively easy purchase.”
Pricing is not final, but is expected to be between $500 and $550 for a phone, gateway and software, which includes a year’s worth of maintenance. A PDF brochure of the new solution to give to your boss can be found at this location on the Web.