Nortel and IBM join forces

Their target may be small business, but there’s nothing small about the alliance. Backed by Nortel Networks and IBM Corp., the Nortel-IBM System i Unified Communications solution will be looking to make noise in a competitive unified communications space.

Targeting SMBs and branch offices with anywhere from 75 to 600 seats, the platform will integrate IBM’s System i business computing platform and IBM Lotus Sametime unified communications and collaboration platform with Nortel’s suite of VoIP and multimedia technologies into one complete solution for unified communications, running on a single system.

Lori McLean, general manager of the Nortel/IBM alliance with Nortel, said the initial target market will be the 240,000 businesses worldwide currently running IBM’s System i. For those users, McLean said moving to the new 100 per cent SIP platform will be a simple software upgrade.

“It’s really just a CD delivered to an SMB and a simple software upgrade to add Nortel’s IP telephony and multimedia feature set to that SMB running System i,” said MacLean.

While entrenched System i customers are a significant market, MacLean said there is also a large Greenfield opportunity for new customers to move to the Nortel/IBM platform.

“In this case the System i would come configured with the OS, the Nortel unified communications solution and whatever options they chose, pre-configured,” said MacLean.

The goal, said MacLean, is to differentiate the offering in the competitive SMB space by being seen as cost-effective, scalable and easy to deploy and manage.

3Com Corp. has combined VoIP and other applications with System i for more than nine months, announcing medium-size customers last October. And, in March, 3Com announced additional capabilities on the System i.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston, said the System i combinations with both 3Com and Nortel applications are only suited for smaller businesses, since larger ones wouldn’t want to combine VoIP and systems servers.

He said the newly announced Nortel offering “in theory” should do well, although the similar offering has not been that effective for 3Com so far.

Sara Radicati, president and CEO of The Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based analyst firm, said both Nortel and IBM bring a lot of strength and knowledge to the table, adding these types of partnerships are essential to getting the unified communications market going.

“Bringing (IP telephony, collaboration and real-time communications) together is really essential for competing in the new generation of products that begins to combine real-time data capabilities with IP telephony,” she said.

While the Nortel/IBM platform seems aimed specifically at the SMB space, Radicati said unified communications is a priority for companies of all sizes and vendor competition is strong, with companies like Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Siemens and Alcatel all playing in the space and bringing SIP together with IP telephony.

The challenge in the past, said Radicati, has been having channel partners that are able to handle both voice telephony issues as well as data issues.

“That has been the holy grail of [unified communications],” said Radicati. “Yeah, you can build it but nobody has a good enough channel that understands both sides of the fence (well enough) to do it right. They have a huge job ahead of them, clearly, in terms of prepping the channels.”

Nortel and IBM appear ready to address that challenge, tapping the channel as their main delivery model for their new unified communications platform.

“We’re going to be doing this almost entirely with a channel go to market strategy,” said MacLean. “When you think about SMB it’s by definition really a market that needs to be as low-touch as possible.”

The platform won’t be available until Q4 but MacLean said the vendors wanted to announce it now so their respective channel partners could get trained-up on the other vendors’ technology. IBM partners that want to offer the platform will need to get certified on Nortel VoIP and multimedia, and Nortel partners will need to become certified on IBM’s System i.

“This is easy,” said MacLean, noting most of the training is Web-based and is available now. “If you already know System i it doesn’t take long to learn Nortel multimedia (and visa versa). If you need to learn about both of them, we think it would be about five days training.”

She stresses however that the unified communications solution won’t be restricted solely to IBM and Nortel channel partners, but will be open to any integrator that wants to do the training.

“It’s not an exclusive relationship, any and all channels can take this to market,” said MacLean. “As long as you’re certified you’re welcome to be a new channel to market for this.”

— With files from IDG News Service

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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