In case you haven't noticed, IBM Sametime 9 is a pretty significant release for us. It marks a new chapter in the life of the platform in more ways than the version number alone suggests. So far Sametime 9 has been well received. Analysts like it, customers like it and business partners are busy learning about it and deploying it for their customers.
All this is encouraging and it validates the decision we made to move on from our old UC2 strategy and embrace Social Communications as our guiding principle. We worked very hard to make Sametime 9 a proof point of that strategy and to use it as a launchpad for a new way to deliver software and bring innovation to the marketplace.
Transitioning from Sametime 8.x to Sametime 9 is like a play in two acts: Act One features us--designers, product managers, developers, sellers, and all the people that makes shipping software possible but you never see at conferences or "singing" karaoke at Kimonos in Orlando. Act Two brings our customers and business partners to the stage while we move to playing supporting roles.
The play is still running through the last scenes of Act One and the frenzy is starting to heat up backstage as Act Two is about to start.
The play is a drama (of course) garnished with hints of comedy and musical theater--there are a couple of songs somewhere in the script. The Sametime Song you've probably heard a million times, and this one, which I just came across on YouTube:
I don't know these guys but I applaud their enthusiasm. Now let me tell you about Act One.
After we released Sametime 8.5.2 IFR 1 in November of 2011 we understood the 8.5 code base had run its course. We initially tried to structure an 8.5.3 release but we quickly realized that we needed to close the 8.x chapter and move on. At some point we thought about skipping a version number and go with Sametime 10. That lasted for a few months. Then somehow we decided it was better to go with 9 and that's what we ended up doing: Sametime 9 it is.
We sat down to ponder where we wanted to take Sametime moving forward. We decided to focus our efforts on four main areas: rich communications, mobile, enhancing the social experience and cloud. Then we took inventory of our existing capabilities in each area, we talked to customers and business partners about what we needed to do to get us where we wanted to be, and we devised a plan to get there.
First we focused on taking Sametime 8.5.2 IFR 1 to SmartCloud for Social Business and in adding the capabilities needed to give our customers an attractive offering: integration with Connections Files, built-in audio conferencing, server-side remote control and meetings recordings, and other features that were not originally shipped with Sametime 8.5.2 IFR 1.
Getting a cloud-based offering up and running was by far the easiest of the many things we realized we had to do. We spent most of 2012 doing that and the result is IBM Web Meetings, an IBM SmartCloud for Social Business offering.
We also understood that our cloud story required not only a public-cloud offering but also an option for those customers interested in having their own private environments with integrated telephony hosted within the IBM SmartCloud infrastructure. That's how the new IBM SmartCloud Unified Communications Dedicated offering was born.
Secondly, we understood we needed to revamp our media services infrastructure to support the next generation of mobile apps we had envisioned. We also knew (because you told us) that we had to provide a richer, more personal set of integration points with IBM Connections, WebSphere Portal, Notes and the rest of the IBM software portfolio. So, we set out to build a brand new media services infrastructure from scratch. We wanted it to be standards-based, highly scalable, flexible enough to support not just our desktop client technology but also our Web and mobile clients. Julie Reed has been blogging about that extensively in the past few weeks.
Finally, we took a long, hard look at Sametime 8.5.2 IFR 1 and we noticed it looked like a Windows 95 application (I have to credit John Del Pizzo for such a witty observation). We then decided that we needed a brand new user interface. Thankfully, IBM had recently introduced a new user experience framework called IBM One UI that gave us the modern, streamlined user interface you see today in Sametime 9. Then, as we always do, we allocated bandwidth to clean up, update and improve the platform.
Then we were ready to build our next major release: IBM Sametime 9.
Doing all this took long days and nights; hundreds (thousands, perhaps?) of meetings, conference calls and IM and email exchanges. Release schedules were proposed and discarded. People went on medical leave, others left, and new people came on board. Many content proposals were considered and rejected and--here's the drama--while we were in the middle of all this we were asked to be the first team in the Collaboration Solutions Group to follow the new release management methodology IBM just recently adopted across all product segments.
The new release methodology promised to make the entire process shorter, more focused and less onerous (it did). There was one little problem: It was technically still under development when we made the switch and we had to absorb changes while in flight and reflect them accordingly on the work products we had to complete. We had a long Spring and an even longer Summer. Many of us just got used to working weekends as if they were weekdays. I, for one, did not take any time off until September 27, seven days after we shipped.
Lots of work, for sure, but with very good results. Sametime 9 is a great release and we're all very proud of the work we did to make it happen.
IBM Sametime 9 is the embodiment of the four themes I alluded to above: rich communications, mobile, enhancing the social experience and cloud. I know you've probably read about this in other postings on this blog but I'm going to repeat it anyway because it's wroth mentioning.
Sametime 9 features the new IBM One UI-based user experience designed to get you where you need to go in no more than three clicks (or taps). It's primarily visual, with very little text on the user interface (reading takes longer than spotting an image) and it makes better use of the available space on the client. It's also faster than our old UI framework and it brings all relevant communication channels to the forefront for easy access; all on a common user experience across clients and platforms.
Sametime 9 also features a standards-based media infrastructure built from scratch exclusively for IBM Sametime 9 and implemented on top of WebSphere Application Server.
Our new media infrastructure is an implementation of the H.264 SVC standard. SVC stands for Scalable Video Coding. It's a very efficient way to distribute video streams between a Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) and two or more endpoints (clients). This makes the system as a whole capable of handling high workloads and complex topologies through clustering and geographic distribution.
When we talk scalability in this case we're referring to three different ways in which the new media infrastructure can handle workload and topology: In addition to the intrinsic benefits of the H.264 SVC standard we've added features such as server-side recordings (we already support client-side recording) for meetings, the ability to dial out to audio conferencing bridges via third-party gateways and we are retaining backward compatibility with non-SVC endpoints such as Sametime 8.5.x clients.
We're working on the next generation of mobile apps for Sametime 9. Our new mobile apps will feature audio, video and telephony support along with lots of new capabilities. For instance, our new meetings apps for Android and iOS will feature the first installment of a concept we call Smarter Meetings, which is a specification for capabilities designed to help you optimize the time you spend in meetings and enhance your situational awareness prior, during and after a meeting. The idea is to help you make better, more informed, more educated decisions around issues being discussed with your colleagues, customers and business partners.
Sametime 9 also features closer integration with IBM Connections as part of our commitment to enhancing the social experience. We're starting with integration with IBM Connections Files on SmartCloud and on our new mobile meetings apps, which will also feature integration with Connections Profiles.
We're working on three Widgets initially for Connections communities (and Portal later): the Sametime Video Widget, a Meeting Rooms Widget and a Persistent Chat Rooms Widget. We have a long list of integration points we want to implement and we're just getting started. You'll see more in this area in the future.
Finally, we repackaged our offerings to make them more functionality-oriented. Sametime Entry, Standard and Advanced were, for the most part, structured around what's included in the server components that conform each offering. Our new Sametime Communicate, Conference and Complete offerings are structured around the functionality our customers need for one-to-one communications, Web conferencing and full-fledged social communications respectively. We continue to offer Sametime Unified Telephony as part of our offering catalog with all the functionality and robustness that made it famous at a great price.
Sametime 9 supports Notes 9 and higher; it supports Connections 4.5 and higher and Portal 8.5 and higher. It's available in Greenhouse today if you want to play with it.
Next, we're taking it to SmartCloud.
Sametime 9 shipped in September of this year, as I mentioned before. We're working on a Hotfix scheduled for November that will make Sametime 9 compliant with the new US Government encryption guidelines that are coming into effect on January 1, 2014. The Hotfix also includes updates to our integration with Microsoft Office applications. We're adding support for Office and SharePoint 2013 on Windows 7 and on Windows 8. We'll also publish the Widgets I mentioned earlier to the Solutions Catalog in Greenhouse. This is the first time we're going to deliver product functionality this way and we're very excited about it.
I mentioned we're taking Sametime 9 to SmartCloud. We'd like that to happen in two stages.
We want the first half of 2014 to be all about upgrades to the SmartCloud for Social Business offerings as well as the SmartCloud UC Dedicated infrastructure. We'd like to add support for mobile apps and add new capabilities to the offerings as well. That's our intention but, as you know full well, all plans are subject to change without notice.
On the second half of the year we'd like to focus on enabling multi-point audio and video in SmartCloud and in completing feature parity with the on-premises code base. Again, that's what we'd like to do.
In the meantime, we'll continue working on what's next. This is work that's already started. We are already consolidating the information we've been gathering from sales, development, our customers and business partners on what should come first on Sametime Next. We're also transitioning to a new delivery model that's more dynamic, more flexible and more open. Continuous Delivery and Cloud First (that's the name) is transforming the way we design, build and ship software. You'll hear more from us on this topic as we move along.
That's Act One of this play. I'll tell you about Act Two on a future blog posting. Stay tuned.