IBM plans to embed unified communications features from Siemens' upcoming OpenScape software into its Sametime instant messaging software.

The agreement is meant to quickly bring Sametime, part the Lotus Notes collaboration suite, up to snuff with Microsoft's soon-to-arrive Office Communications Server 2007, as the two companies prepare for all-out combat in the corporate communications market.

"This sets IBM up to be a more credible player in unified communications," said Barry Marks, an analyst with Intellicom-Analytics. "OpenScape has very good features. This is something that SameTime needed."

The renewable, five-year deal also realigns Siemens, which until recently was a close partner with Microsoft on unified communications, with IBM, Microsoft's arch-rival.

"This is meant to be a long-term partnership where IBM will stay closely aligned with the OpenScape roadmap," said Andy Chew, senior vice president of unified communications for Siemens. He declined to disclose financial details.

IBM officially released Lotus Notes 8 and its accompanying Domino Server last Friday. Notes/Domino is the second-most popular messaging and collaboration platform behind Microsoft's Outlook/Exchange.

Microsoft, meanwhile, plans to officially release OCS on 16 October.

Working closely with Exchange 2007, OCS is, like other unified communications products, designed to enable companies to set up voice-over-IP (VoIP) phone systems and manage corporate instant messaging, email and video-conferencing on a single IP network. Microsoft first released a beta of the product last December.

The company said in May that OCS would interoperate with gear from some PBX vendors, in addition to equipment from Nortel Networks, through an alliance it had announced earlier.

Microsoft did not return a request for comment. But according to Marks, the new OCS offers features that Microsoft, with its current-generation Live Communication Server 2005, must now rely on Siemens' OpenScape to provide.

"The relationship with Microsoft is no longer as shiny and wonderful as it once was," said Brent Kelly, an analyst with Wainhouse Research. Siemens needed to find an alternative channel for OpenScape.

"I've often thought OpenScape was ahead of its time," he said. "But OpenScape hasn't taken off in the market. And it wasn't going to happen with Microsoft."

Siemens also depends on Microsoft. Its current version of OpenScape relies on Session Initiation Protocol technology licensed from Microsoft. The new Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) version of OpenScape, however, "removes any dependency upon Microsoft's SIP technology," Chew said. "We're still using SIP, but our own SIP infrastructure."

Due by year's end, the SOA version of OpenScape even boasts features that OCS lacks, Chew claimed. Those features are ones that IBM plans to inject into SameTime, which today is best known as a corporate counterpart to IM services such as AOL Instant Messenger. They include "one number" and "aggregated presence" features that help detect at which end-point - whether an office phone, cell phone or PC instant messaging client - a user is available, and forwards calls and/or messages accordingly, Chew said.

IBM will also license a rules engine to help the system manage the forwarding of messages and calls, as well as OpenScape's extended communication capabilities, which Chew claims allow the features to used with "any underlying PBX infrastructure," including previous-generation TDM boxes and current IP-based one.

Siemens declined to say how many users it has for OpenScape. Customers include SAP, Accenture, Shimano, Telstra, and Pepsi.

Chew said Siemens' deal with IBM is non-exclusive, and that his company hopes to license the OpenScape technology to other vendors.