In the next few months, IBM Networking plans to sign seven global agreements with partners with the expertise to sell managed services.
The alliances will be similar to its existing US agreement with telco Sprint, and a European deal is expected within weeks, said sources close to the company.
Other deals are currently under negotiation.
Sprint provides the services for IBM's proprietary network protocol SNA. The new alliances will cover areas such as voice, ATM and Web caching, enabling communications partners to offer everything from advanced call waiting to high speed Internet access.
John Simonds, communications manager at IBM, confirmed at an IBM briefing in Raleigh, North Carolina yesterday that announcements are imminent. "We will help our partners sell everything from bandwidth to access devices," he said. "A customer may see Sprint as the name, but underneath it will be an IBM product."
IBM claims that, by selling off its Global Network business (see separate stories), it will have the room to push the rest of its networking business on to a new level. But it admits it is arriving late in the game. "Yes, we are late, but better late than never," said Simonds.
IBM blames its late arrival on commitment to certain network customer groups, particularly Token Ring. "We did not want to let our customers down, this way we are protecting them and bringing in new customers at the same time," explained Simonds. "They can be safe in the knowledge that, when voice and data merge, they will be there."
IBM's acquisition of Databeam will play an important part in providing voice/data for managed services. The giant has not written off making other acquisitions to catch up in the networking market.
The company admits that it has been suffering from adverse publicity from its competitors, btu claims this has actually helped it strengthen its networking message. "Of course people were saying we were going to sell our network business, but we had no intention of that," explained Simonds. "A bigger investment and strengthening our links with other divisions within IBM has scared our competitors. They've been trashing us on customer sites but we're getting free advertising."
IBM's software division is expected to invest heavily in networking, with more technology in this area appearing under the cover of servers - including switching and routing. This is likely to appear first in new generation AS/400s, claim sources. The aim is to provide tighter integration between server software and networking capabilities.
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