IBM Counters Microsoft with WebDialogs Deal

IBM's WebDialogs acquisition will provide unified communications integration with Lotus Sametime, Notes, Microsoft Office and Outlook

SAN FRANCISCO — IBM attempted to upstage Microsoft at the VoiceCon 2007 conference here with the news of its acquisition of WebDialogs, a Web conferencing services provider.

In his keynote address on Wednesday, IBM Lotus General Manager Mike Rhodin disclosed the acquisition of the privately held Massachusetts company. The acquisition, for which IBM would not disclose the terms, is already completed.

Along with the WebDialog news, Rhodin also announced that IBM will offer customers three different versions of Sametime with increasing levels of functionality, along with a new telephony integration module or communications middleware for Lotus Sametime based on technology IBM is licensing from Siemens Communications.

"Were making it easier to buy and consume Sametime products with three new editions," said Rhodin in his keynote address. The aim is to better serve small and medium-sized businesses.

The entry level version of Lotus Sametime, which is already available, delivers "presence awareness, rich chat, integration with (Microsoft) Office, Notes and (Microsoft) Outlook as a core capability," said Rhodin.

"For all Notes customers, as a part of (Sametime) Version 8, we will have a portal to make it easy to use and we will have a new package for Microsoft customers that want to use our unified communications capabilities. Were trying to lower the cost of entry in that environment," he added.

Lotus Sametime Standard Edition will build on that functionality telephony integration, screen capture and transmission, on-premises Web conferencing, mobile clients, enterprise and public instant messaging federation and an open programming model that will allow new functions to be implemented into the platform. It is due in the fall.


Click here to read more about Ciscos acquisition of the WebEx online conferencing service.

Lotus Sametime Advanced Edition adds to that persistent chat rooms, real-time social networking tools, instant screen share and dynamic location services for more complex location-based applications. It is due early next year.

Although IBMs new WebDialogs Web conferencing services operation is not a well-known brand, the company already has some 500,000 users through the various service providers that use its platform.

Among those users are AT&T, Conference Plus, Sprint Canada, as well as "almost all of the tier-two players in the conference market," said Bala Sridar, WebDialogs executive vice president for business development, at IBMs press conference. WebDialogs also has relationships with Skype and Yahoo as well, he added.

WebDialogs, based in Billerica, Mass. had also begun to market its service directly as the WebDialogs Unyte service.

"This is a natural extension of what we are already doing (with on-premises Web conferencing)," said Rhodin in an interview. "Some customers dont want to have to run the infrastructure. For SMBs simplicity is key," he said.

IBM plans to integrate the software as a service offering with Lotus Notes, so that users can schedule and launch a Web conference from within the Notes calendar. "We want to use a lot of consumer-oriented services on the Internet as an on-ramp to new services," said Rhodin.

IBM also plans to evolve the user interface for both its existing on-premises Web conferencing option and for the WebDialogs service so that they provide a similar look and feel. "Customers want "a blended experience," Rhodin said.


To read more about how IBM based its new Lotus Notes and Domino 8 on Eclipse, click here.

IBM will also beef up Lotus Sametime with a new telephony middleware option based in large part on technology licensed from Siemens Communications.

The new Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony module is based on Services Oriented Architecture elements of Siemens Communications OpenScape Unified Communications software, including Siemens one number services, aggregated presence, rules engine and integrated communications services.

IBM chose Siemens OpenScape technology for its interoperability with multiple PBX systems and its open approach.

"It brings into (Sametime) a unified API that makes it easy for applications to take advantage of that aggregated telephony infrastructure," said Rhodin in his keynote.

"They can use it whether (the infrastructure) is IP or TDM and whether its Cisco, Nortel or whomever," said Andy Chew, senior vice president of Unified Communications for Siemens Enterprise Communication Ltd in the UK.

Customers will benefit from the new Unified Telephony module by being able to split off their unified communications investments from their PBX infrastructure, so that they can have a consistent communications user experience across multiple vendors PBXes.

"They dont have to forklift the infrastructure (to enjoy the benefits of the Sametime Unified Telephony offering)," added Chew.

"Its all about integrating multiple systems into a common layer that makes it easy to build applications," said Rhodin.

This new middleware offering will give users more control over how the infrastructure serves them as they move from one telephony environment to another. Users can build rules into the module that allows the infrastructure to follow their movements and automatically route calls to the appropriate phone, whether they are working from home, on the road or in the office, Rhodin said. "We let the system track me. It works with any PBX," he added.

IBM is the first significant OEM to license Siemens OpenScape services, according to Chew. "This is of real interest to other software vendors. I think this is an opportunity for others to embed the communications natively within their applications," he added. The new Lotus Sametime Telephony Module will work with the new entry level, standard edition and advanced edition of Sametime 8.

The Sametime Unified Telephony option, a server based product, will enter beta testing in the first quarter of next year and will be generally available by mid-2008. Pricing has not yet been set.


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