IBM Readies Unified Communications Integration
April 7, 2009 Dan Burger
What’s wrong with unified communications? In short, it’s the same thing that’s wrong with data centers. There’s a frustrating lack of interoperability. IBM is taking steps to improve that with its Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony package that was announced at the VoiceCom conference last week and is scheduled for release in July. Unified communications, for most companies, will be a complex task. That’s why IBM has a services option lined up to sort things out.
Integrating complex heterogeneous telephony environments with the extensive Lotus collaboration offerings is IBM’s biggest obstacle in unified communications. To reach its goal, Big Blue has put together a team of partners and an interoperability validation program designed to remove the wrinkles from the implementation process.
Participants in the Sametime Unified Telephony Validation Program include, IP PBX service providers Alcatel Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, NEC, Nortel, Mitel, and Siemens; media gateway vendors Dialogic and NET (these are the interoperability experts that get the above mentioned service provider products to communicate with one another); and enhanced voice quality providers GN Netcom, Plantronics, Polycom and Psytechnics (makers of head sets, speaker phones, and other voice quality and conferencing products). IBM says additional partners will be announced in the coming months.
IBM, the self-proclaimed champion of open protocols and interfaces, plans to integrate existing telephony architectures with Sametime, Notes/Domino, and all the social networking functionality they offer. The hardest nut to crack in this, as you may have already concluded, is the capability to put this together with existing telephony equipment. That would include voice over IP, if it’s already deployed, but it does not require VoIP and all of its infrastructure upheaval to be part of the unified communications process. Therefore, the complexity and the cost are both reduced. Just don’t say eliminated. Complexity and cost will remain sizeable. The return on investment will not be quick, but projections for long-term advantages are many.
So that customers don’t have to get their hands dirty or lose their minds trying to fit together the UC puzzle, IBM will also introduce a service called IBM Converged Communications Services for Sametime Unified Telephony provides strategy, assessment, architecture, design, integration, and implementation of the solution.
In most cases, unified communications will be a phased deployment in enterprise organizations where traditional communications have been standardized over the course of many years. Companies that are interested in moving forward on this are being driven by opportunities for major gains in areas like sales, help desk, and mobile service workers.
Dave Marshak, senior product manager of IBM’s unified communications and collaboration segment, says interest in Sametime Unified Telephony tends to focus on business processes and getting information on one hand and, on the other hand, reducing communications costs. Improved business processes have to do with increased worker productivity, shortened sales cycles, and improved customer satisfaction. Reduced costs are attributable to the elimination of desk phones and lower telephone call rates based on more calls being made via IP and shorter calls being made do to more information being available as communication and information enjoy closer links.
Sametime Unified Telephony (SUT) runs on a very specific version of Linux, Marshak explained. Rather than refer to it as a server, Marshak calls it an appliance that is dedicated and highly optimized for telephony. “This is carrier grade telephony equipment with five nines availability,” he says. It is the integration point between the collaboration environment and the telephony environment using Session Initiation Protocol.
The system takes two servers, unless you call one of them an appliance. The server that is not handling the PBX systems connections is responsible for the data integration.
Among the SUT middleware features are capabilities that allows users to see whether the person they intend to call is currently available or on another call. It also can automatically route incoming calls to the appropriate device based on the recipient’s presence status, location, and preferences. SUT also transforms PCs into virtual telephones via VoIP.
And that’s not all. The click-to-call feature means you only need to click on a person’s name to start a voice conversation, an IM chat, or a video conference. It also allows users to drag-and-drop names from an IM client to join conference calls. And, calls originating from a mobile device, an office phone or a PC can be transferred among those devices without interrupting the call.