Cisco Systems and IBM Corp. are teaming up to bring a shared portfolio of Internet protocol-based voice and video products, hoping to boost the fledgling market for converged IP solutions.

The partnership announced this week “”provides IBM technology inside Cisco’s great products and leverages

the breadth and depth of IBM’s services organization to help customers deploy IP communications solutions,”” said John Ostrander, vice-president of IBM Global Services in Canada.

For example, the pair’s will create integrated solutions such as Cisco Unity with Lotus Domino, support for Cisco CallManager on IBM’s xSeries servers and IBM’s Information Management database software with CallManager.

Among the goals the companies have agreed to is creating applications and services aimed at the retail and financial services industries.

The pact – which is not exclusive – commits the two vendors to jointly develop an integrated roadmap encompassing IP telephony, unified messaging, customer contact centers, rich media communications and video conferencing

However, it isn’t clear if their VAR partners will be selling the packages. Asked how partners will benefit from the arrangement, Ostrander said that by IBM and Cisco going after this market it “”will generate a pull on the marketplace where a number of opportunities will open up for our partners to dive adoption of this technology.””

In addition, the announcement may encourage independent software vendors developing solutions for Cisco’s IP phones and applications, said Brantz Myers, national manger of enterprise marketing for Cisco Canada,

However, a Cisco spokesman later said that “”any jointly-developed products will be available through both Cisco and IBM channel partners, with new offerings expected to hit the market by the end of the summer.””

Still, one industry analyst says the agreement may help acceptance of voice-over-IP-based solutions. “”For customers that are working with IBM on other projects this is an added tool,”” said Brian Sharwood of SeaBoard Group. It’s “”somebody else to explain the benefits to them other than Cisco. Cisco can talk about voice over IP all they want, and (customers) will say ‘Another router please.’ But when IBM comes in they can get company IT managers to listen a little harder.””

“”It certainly shows Cisco’s aggressiveness in getting into the voice market, and they picked a good partner.””

However, he noted the announcement could cut two ways: IT managers, he predicted will be excited at the thought of Cisco running their phone system. Telecommunications managers, on the other hand, may be nervous because some Cisco products, such as CallManager, are “”relatively proprietary systems. They don’t flex well with other vendors’ products.””

Mark Quigley of the Yankee Group in Canada also noted that for such integrated VoIP solutions to work best for business they must run over private networks where quality of service can be guaranteed.

IBM is already Cisco’s number one partner, Myers noted. “”IBM has tremendous value to bring to our customers in delivering deep industry value among a long list of vertical industries.””

For example, he said, not only will integrating CallManager on the xSeries servers mean the Cisco software will be able to scale higher, it will also be a good package for small and mid-sized businesses.

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