IBM and Cisco have announced an alliance bringing together Big Blue’s Sametime collaboration platform with Cisco’s Unified Communications portfolio, in an obvious face-off against Microsoft and Nortel’s Innovative Communications Alliance.
The two industry heavyweights unveiled the initiative a the VoiceCon Spring event in Orlando, Florida, describing plans to deliver something they call the Unified Comms and Collaboration (UC2) Client Platform, which they call an open set of application programming interfaces offered by IBM as a subset of Lotus Sametime… along with communication APIs by Cisco to access comms functionality such as voice and video services.
The partners intend to drive app development for their joint offerings by fostering the use of the Eclipse Java development environment and the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) framework, both of which IBM has been heavily involved in over the years. Indeed, the collaboration capabilities of Sametime are already based on Lotus Expeditor, which uses both OSGi and Eclipse.
Beyond that, however, they’ll be doing their own app dev work, delivering specific customer offerings including a joint solution based on the new client platform and a set of plug-ins that bring together the communications and collaboration capabilities of both companies.
The UC2 Client Platform will now form the basis of both companies’ comms and collaboration clients, IBM saying Sametime 7.5 is already based on it, while Cisco committed to porting its newly launched Unified Personal Communicator client in future versions. Among other companies expressing support for the new platform from the get-go were Nokia and RIM, both of whose handset will presumably be able to house the client, as well as Citrix and Presidio, which is a Cisco partner for its high-end TelePresence conferencing portfolio.
To seed the market for the client and bolster it against Microsoft’s Office Communicator, IBM will offer it to developers free of charge, with minimal costs for support and redistribution. As usual in these scenarios, the partners drop into their announcement the fact that, between them, Eclipse and OSGi already number some 2.3 million members in their respective developer communities.
Open APIs mean developers can create solutions with confidence, knowing that the APIs will not change at the whim of a vendor, they said, in an obvious side swipe at Microsoft.
In addition to the UC2 client serving as the basis for joint offerings, IBM and Cisco also promised communication and collaboration products from both companies as well as expanded go-to-market activities including Cisco selling Lotus Sametime and IBM selling Cisco Unified Communications Manager [i.e. the Cisco IP PBX], Cisco Unity [the voicemail platform] and Cisco Unified MeetingPlace [its conferencing platform]. There is also a services dimension with IBM Global Technology Services offering assessment through to implementation on the combined portfolio.
In terms of the join offerings using the client, the two companies listed click-to-call and voicemail integration in the first half of this year, IMing between Sametime and Cisco IP phones, with federated presence, a softphone, hardphone control, conferencing and video telephony all earmarked for the second half of this year. They also expect to integrate MeetingPlace with Sametime and Notes in the second half.
And so the battle lines are drawn in unified communications, with Microsoft and its operating system and Real-Time Collaboration Suite, going in alongside Nortel’s CS1000 IP PBX and its MCS5100 app server for conferencing, and IBM hooking up with Cisco for an equivalent offering, with a greater open source component from Big Blue and Cisco increasingly embracing Linux.
It is, in essence, the Notes vs. Exchange battle writ large, and with Microsoft and Cisco moving increasingly into competition in a variety of other areas such as network access control, it is only natural that the networking heavyweight should seek an alliance with IBM to present as broad a front as ICA promises.
Microsoft has said this week that it already has three companies working on Office Communicator-enabled phones, namely Polycom, LG Nortel and Tandberg, with two models designed to work with desk- and laptops and the third a regular IP deskphone but with the OC client interface. It will be interesting to see whether any of the companies expressing their support for UC2 actually deliver handsets carrying the client. They certainly have little or no interest in strengthening Microsoft’s position in unified comms.
Perhaps one area where the ICA team might have the edge is in click-to-call from desktop apps, since Microsoft owns the office productivity suite market where IBM has only the groupware piece. Still, if the UC2 team can price their offerings to be sufficiently appealing, the battle promises to be a compelling show.