IBM is collaborating with 3Com to enable small and mid-sized businesses to benefit from IP telephony. The two companies are teaming up to enable organisations to make phone calls more cheaply without adding extra servers to their networks. The capability will be available on IBM's System i line of servers.

The IBM-3Com product, to be called IBM System i IP Telephony, will manage call routing, messaging and conference calling. Companies can set up their own conference call bridges without having to pay third-party vendors.

Converting voice to IP typically requires a separate server for each component of the telephony service - call routing, messaging and conferencing - and other infrastructure that can be expensive and difficult for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to deploy and maintain, said Michael Rousseaux, IBM's worldwide System i collaboration offerings manager.

"In a traditional deployment, IP vendors will install a number of different servers that will have to be maintained," Rousseaux said. The IP servers may run on different operating systems from the rest of the server network, he added, but SMBs don't usually have the staff to maintain that much additional technology.

Running the IP telephony feature on an IBM server, one of which may already be deployed on a customer's network, may overcome the resistance of some smaller businesses to the technology, said Allan Scott, senior director of global alliances at 3Com.

Larger enterprises probably have the in-house capability to manage a disparate IP telephony system, but a smaller business could benefit from the simplicity of the IBM-3Com approach, said Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research.

"Managing IP telephony is probably just one more headache for an IT person who's already overworked," King said. Smaller companies also could benefit from the conference bridge features, especially if they have a widely distributed group of employees who work from home.