i-Based SCS500 Internet Phone System Now Available
April 15, 2008 Alex Woodie
IBM this week officially ships the Nortel Software Communications Systems 500, the new voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system for Power Systems and System i shops with 1,000 users or less. The SCS500 was designed to provide a simple and affordable Internet-based phone system for small and mid size businesses (SMBs) that have neither the resources nor the need for more highly customizable and expensive VoIP systems, including the hugely scalable 3Com offering that also runs on the IBM midrange server.
IBM announced last June that it was working with Nortel on an easy-to-use VoIP offering that made sense for SMBs with as little as 25 users. When IBM ships the SCS500 later this week, it will have accomplished the bulk of its goals, says Josh Rosenblatt, a client reference manager in IBM communications.
“The solution is ideal for small and mid size businesses who want to have all the capabilities that a large hosted installation or an enterprise installation have, but who don’t have the resources, or may not want to manage it themselves,” Rosenblatt said during an interview at the recent COMMON conference in Nashville, Tennessee. “We tried to make it the best of all worlds for everybody.”
So, what do users get with the SCS500? At its core, the SCS500 is a Linux-based Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) engine that turns a System i or Power System server into a platform for “unified communications.” In other words, SCS500 customers can rip out their old legacy PBX phone system and replace it with software that not only delivers VoIP telephony, but also unites the phone system with instant messaging, e-mail, Web conferencing, and other collaboration mediums–courtesy of integration plug-ins for the Lotus Notes and Sametime clients and Microsoft Outlook.
SCS500 comes with its own Linux operating system, but requires i5/OS V5R4 or i 6.1 (so you can’t install it on a cheap Lintel server). The default user interface is a browser-based “soft phone” client that gives users access to the range of SCS500’s capabilities from Internet Explorer or Firefox. This includes making and receiving calls, “click to call” functionality, accessing voice mail, initiating video Web conferences, viewing “presence” information, and activating the “find me, follow me” feature that automatically routes incoming calls to a mobile phone or other phone number using rules defined by the user.
With the soft phone, users make and receive calls using their computers’ microphones and speakers, or a headset that plugs into the computer. Alternatively, users have four “hard phone” handsets from Nortel that they can use. These handsets look like traditional phones, but use the SIP standard to communicate with the SCS500 server. Customers can also use their trusty old phones from the bygone PBX era, as long as they buy and install a SIP gateway from Nortel.
Customers can also purchase plug-ins that connect their SCS500 system to their Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook e-mail environments. This allows users to access their voice mail from their e-mail accounts. The Sametime plug-in also provides more detailed SIP-based presence information, according to IBM. Besides the choice of phones (soft or hard) and plug-ins (Sametime or Outlook), the only other buying decision SCS500 customers can make is whether to purchase the high availability (HA) option.
Benefits? The SCS500 has plenty, according to IBM. For starters, there are the big convenience benefits of tying voice-based communications into new forms of digital collaboration (e-mail, IM, video Web conferencing, etc.) Then there are the infrastructure savings users get by ditching their old PBX system in exchange for SCS500 running on a POWER 6 processor (or perhaps less than a whole processor). Consolidation of wiring (Ethernet cabling or even WLAN instead of those “pesky” in-wall telephone wires) and authentication (any LDAP repository instead of separate user names and passwords in PBX-land) add to the list of bennies.
Finally, you can say “goodbye” to AT&T, Verizon, or whoever you use for long distance phone calls, which is a benefit anybody can appreciate. A mobile user equipped with a laptop and a virtual private network (VPN) connection back to the SCS500 server can access all of the product’s capabilities from anywhere in the world, just as if they were in the office down the hall. SCS500 also eliminates the sometimes exorbitant fees that AT&T, Verizon, et al. often charge for executing moves, additions, and changes (or MAC in telecom lingo) for the customer. With the SCS500, user provisioning is all in the hands of the systems administrator.
IBM and Nortel designed the SCS500 so that there is very little setup and implementation work required. Provisioning a new user is simply a matter of pushing a preconfigured soft client down from the server to the new user’s desktop.
IBM and Nortel designed the SCS500 to be a “one-size fits all” package with a limited number of configurations to eliminate confusing purchasing decisions for SMBs, Rosenblatt said. “There’s no packaging really. You buy the number of users licenses you need, and that’s it,” he said. By comparison, there are many more options available for the 3Com IP Telephony offering. However, the 3Com offering can support up to 100,000 users, while the SCS500 is capped at 1,000 users.
Likewise, IBM and Nortel put a lot of work into making the SCS500 installation process as painless as possible, Rosenblatt said. “Our intention was to come up with something that was really that easy to install, and I think we hit it,” he said.
SCS500 is an IBM product, but Nortel will sell and support the software and any additional hardware, such as SIP handsets or gateways. Licenses for the standard SCS500 cost $220 each, while licenses for SCS500 with HA cost $235 each. Bundles of 250 licenses are also available, but contain no discount. Maintenance is $34 per user per year for both packages. The software becomes available April 18.