No Jitter is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

IBM Sametime 9 is a Welcome Refresh

This week, IBM unveils its latest release of Sametime, the real-time communications platform that has been the foundation of IBM's UCC strategy for years. But while the new features are welcome, I'm most interested in the way the vendor positioned the product in the pre-briefing I received last week.

But first, let's look at what's new in release 9:

A new user interface designed to refresh the look and feel of the product. Certainly, this is an improvement over earlier iterations, which even IBM's UCC program director John Del Pizzo acknowledged felt like a really old version of Windows. The new version doesn't quite feel like the new version of Windows, let alone the brilliant design we recently saw in Siemens' Project Ansible, but it's certainly an improvement.

Continuous-presence video out of the box. This gets Sametime meetings on par with many other conferencing services on the market, and it's a critical step. Integration with audio-only participants, myriad call-control options and lots of customization make this video experience look really nice. (I should note that in my briefing using the new technology, I couldn't get the audio plug-in to work. Browser issues happen, but strangely, the audio-only bridge we were given didn't synch with the conferencing system's bridge, so everyone else on the call had to disconnect and dial into the audio-only bridge in order for us to hear one another.)

Support for iOS and Android devices and enhanced integration of social data on mobile clients. Details will be released to the public on October 1.

The new offerings also come with new pricing and packaging models:

* IBM Sametime Communicate ($60 per named user) includes presence, IM, group chat, peer-to-peer audio and video, and a variety of clients for different devices.

* IBM Sametime Conference ($80) is essentially a stand-alone conferencing system; it doesn't include any of Communicate's features, but instead offers meeting capabilities and multi-party voice and video. Both licenses include unlimited external collaboration, so users need not worry about including people who aren't themselves licensed Sametime users; and the meetings have no practical upper limit on participants (the server can handle up to 2,000).

* Finally, IBM Sametime Complete ($120) includes everything in both Communicate and Conference, plus a few other bells and whistles.

To get any of this to work with your telephony system, you'll need IBM Sametime Unified Telephony (SUT), which at $168 per named user delivers telephony middleware to bring intelligent call control to heterogeneous environments.

OK, so that's the news. It's all good for IBM customers. But what intrigued me most about the announcement as I received it was the very strong and clear emphasis on social business. Now, IBM has been touting the value of social for years, and its Connections product does a better job than its large competitors at offering social capabilities to enterprise users. But historically, Sametime has been positioned as a "UC" product. Not now: the briefing was delivered via a PowerPoint deck whose header read "Social Business"; the first six slides set the stage by underlining the value of "social business"; and even the specific details on the new features and functionality (including the info that's embargoed until October) were delivered in the context of "social business."

I actually think this is a good strategy for IBM, which can't compete head to head with Cisco or Microsoft on the voice side, or really against UC in general. (The new video and meeting capabilities are nice, but they get the vendor to parity, not into leadership; and SUT, while a strong middleware product, will by definition never replace a PBX.)

IBM has made social a key part of many of its "Smarter Planet" initiatives, and it's a position the vendor is well suited for, and prepared to deliver on. What's more, as nascent as the UC market remains (by which I mean, a technology that has been around for more than 10 years still doesn't show mature penetration in the enterprise), I expect many late-adopters to leap-frog UC altogether and simply move to social (which will include classic UC capabilities, of course, but delivered in a social environment).

In which case, IBM's story makes sense: enterprise communications demand a host of baseline capabilities, but they all play into a larger goal--a social business that enables not just communication, but full-fledged, persistent, familiar collaboration.

Follow Melanie Turek on Twitter and Google+!
Melanie Turek on Google+