IBM has partnered with Alcatel-Lucent, attacking Microsoft head-on in the unified communications market.

Through the partnership, announced in Boston at the Fall VON conference, Alcatel-Lucent is offering integration of its OmniTouch audio conferencing with IBM Lotus Sametime, the companies said.

Customers that have both OmniTouch Unified Communication software and Sametime can take advantage of the new offering, which will be available in the next few weeks on IBM's Sametime partner website.

It is the first time IBM and Alcatel-Lucent have collaborated on unified communications, though IBM counts other networking providers including Cisco, Avaya and Nortel as partners.

IBM is positioning itself as an open-standards alternative to unified communications offerings from Microsoft, which made a big splash earlier this month when it launched Office Communications Server. Microsoft also has wooed telecommunications companies and networking and wireless handset providers to push its products in this market.

This latest deal calls for Alcatel-Lucent and IBM to offer the OmniTouch My Teamwork for Lotus Sametime, a free plug-in that provides the ability to click-to-conference directly from both Lotus Sametime and Lotus Notes, as well as to provide audio-conference scheduling and management from Lotus Sametime's web conferencing feature.

Akiba Saeedi, an IBM program director for unified communications and collaboration, said that IBM two years ago revamped Sametime as not only an application, but also a platform on which partners can build new software for unified communications. The company's open-standards architecture is designed to make it easy for partners such as Alcatel to build software that can plug-and-play directly into the product, she said.

Other companies that have built unified communications plug-ins for Sametime include Cisco and Avaya, which have both built click-to-call features for Sametime, and Polycom and Radvision that also offer audio and video-conferencing add-ons to Sametime.

Microsoft also has tapped some of these same companies to support its Office Communications Server. However, Saeedi said that Microsoft also has built audio and video features into its platform that compete with offerings from its partners. Taking a different tack, IBM wants partners to add value to Sametime and does not plan to build features that compete with plug-ins they provide, she said.