Consider IBM Lotus SameTime for UC, not just Microsoft OCS

For a successful unified communications (UC) deployment, enterprises should consider their options beyond the popular Microsoft OCS. In this tip, Gary Audin discusses one such offering, IBM's Lotus SameTime.

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Microsoft has been promoting its Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 as the next big thing in unified communications (UC). Some say OCS is the only future for UC and cannot be ignored. The enterprise has to evaluate the OCS's capabilities and how they deliver UC and integrate with the enterprise's existing communication infrastructure, especially the PBX. But then there is IBM's Lotus SameTime to consider.

IBM Lotus SameTime is a competitor to Microsoft's OCS. There are about 20 million SameTime licenses. IBM and Microsoft are promoting their respective products with increased capital expenditures and sales and marketing efforts. There are many differences between OCS and Lotus SameTime. The IBM focus is to integrate with PBX vendors, not replace them, which appears to be Microsoft's ultimate goal. However, when the partner company's integrated solutions are included, there is much less difference. The enterprise should compare the two offerings, not just go with OCS. The focus of this tip is on Lotus SameTime, not OCS.

One of the first differences is that Lotus SameTime integrates with Outlook and other Microsoft applications. The reverse is not true; OCS does not integrate with Lotus SameTime. A limitation of Lotus SameTime is that it does not support voice and video traffic from the Internet but is designed to work only over the enterprise LAN/WAN. Lotus SameTime does not offer a softphone capability like the proprietary Office Communicator 2007. IBM announced SameTime Unified Telephony in 2007. This will deliver a softphone capability, multipoint IP voice, and integration with different vendors' PBXs.

A major advantage of Lotus SameTime is that it is built on the Eclipse framework, an open software development and runtime framework. Eclipse is supported by Oracle, Sybase, Motorola, BEA, Nokia, Intel and Actuate. This allows Lotus customers to expand, extend and/or embed other UC capabilities within the enterprise's business application. It also supports multiple IM federations with AOL, Yahoo, GoogleTalk and Jabber-based IM systems.

Another advantage is IBM's approach to operating systems. It can run on multiple platforms, IBM's pSeries AIX and i5/OS iSeries, Microsoft Windows XP and Server 2000/2003, Sun, Linux (Red Hat and Novell), and Apple operating systems.

The components of the Lotus offering are:

  • Lotus Domino for the email server and LDAP directory
  • Lotus Notes for the email client
  • SameTime Server for the UC server
  • SameTime Connect
  • SameTime Mobile
  • SameTime Meeting Room
  • SameTime Unyte

The Lotus platform is not a PBX replacement, which is what Microsoft seems to be moving toward. IBM embraces the PBX vendor products as well as other third-party functions. Lotus does not include telephony, presence or softswitch functions. The OCS telephony presence cannot work with PBX-connected phones. There is no evidence yet that IBM will try to encompass the telephony functions in future offerings.

IBM Lotus offers two ways to integrate with a telephony vendor's systems. The telephony vendor can develop applications using the SameTime Application Program Interface (API) and Eclipse. The second approach is to use the standard call control interface, Telephony Conferencing Service Provider Interface (TCSPI).

One of the issues is the list of UC functions that Microsoft and IBM include in their definitions. Here are the features that both OCS 2007 and Lotus SameTime 8.0 support:

  • Computer presence
  • IM multiparty messaging
  • Multiparty voice and video
  • Point-to-point video
  • Call control features
  • Presence/calendar integration
  • Rich text support
  • Screen sharing
  • Web conferencing
  • File transfer

This list may not include all of your enterprise's definitions of UC, but it does cover what Microsoft and IBM support. There are definitely UC features that other vendors will offer. OCS and Lotus SameTime are good building blocks, but neither is the complete UC picture.

For those who can access the VoiceCon site, there is an excellent presentation entitled "Choices in Unifed Communications Solutions: Comparing Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 to IBM Lotus SameTime 8.0." The presentation was created by Brent Kelly of Wainhouse research.

About the author:
Gary Audin has more than 40 years of computer, communications and security experience. He has planned, designed, specified, implemented and operated data, LAN and telephone networks. These have included local area, national and international networks as well as VoIP and IP convergent networks in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia.

This was first published in April 2008

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