Telephony has at last become an IT product, claimed Nortel as it announced SCS500, an open source-based unified communications suite for small and mid-sized businesses.

The company said that the Software Communication System 500 will be sold through IT channels, not telephony resellers. It will be available as a software application, as well as in Dell-based appliances and on IBM System i servers.

SCS500 is based on the open-source SIPfoundry sipXecs project, and will work with either Microsoft Outlook and Exchange, or IBM's Lotus Notes and Domino. It is intended to bring unified communications to companies with between 30 and 500 employees, said Charlie Wade, who runs Nortel's enterprise product marketing in Europe.

Unified comms systems combine fixed and mobile telephony with email, fax, presence and other messaging applications. They can provide a single point of contact for each user, with one unified inbox and a single username and password.

Wade claimed that SMBs have been under-served with unified comms, as the big vendors have instead concentrated on large enterprises.

"Our focus in our alliances with IBM and Microsoft has been on organisations with more than 500 employees," he added. "Even for Microsoft, that's where OCS [Office Communications Server] gets interesting."

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The new software slots in between Nortel's small business BCM50 and its large CS1000 offering. Being pure SIP, it looks less well-suited than the other two to migrations where you want to re-use some existing telephony kit.

Nortel said that the software will work with IBM's Websphere, as well as with Lotus Domino. Indeed, IBM will sell SCS500 on its System i platform - the AS400, as it used to be known - where it will run on its own dedicated Linux partition.

IBM also recently announced plans for Lotus Sametime Unified Telephony, which will combine VoIP, video conferencing and IM. It said that SCS500 would work with Sametime, adding SIP telephony to its existing roster of collaboration tools.

(For larger organisations, IBM also did a deal last year with 3Com to sell the latter's VCX SIP-based telephony system on System i.)