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Unified communications offering launched by Microsoft
    IT Business  

By Paolo Del Nibletto

    July 11, 2007  

Software giant enters uncharted waters with its first VoIP offering targeting SMB and branch offices

Denver -- Well, it is official. The long rumoured move by Microsoft to offer some kind of unified communications, VoIP and telephony was announced today at the Worldwide Partner Conference, held here.

Called Office Communications Server 2007, the product will be released to manufacturers this summer and will be available in Canada in November.

Microsoft's goal with its VoIP services is to streamline communications through Outlook with voice, video, telephony and fax, said Chris Capossela, corporate vice-president of information workers at Microsoft.

With Office Communications 2007, users can attach voice notes and see the sender's calendar or agenda for the day through Active Directory. They can also click on an icon to call a mobile phone or do instant messaging.

VGA quality video calls with picture in picture views in full screen can be made. The key for Microsoft with unified communications is that it is not a rip and replace solution, Capossella said.

“It is software powered VoIP to control your phone. You can forward all calls during work hours and control it all from the PC rather than the phone, which is more complex,” he said These moves puts Microsoft squarely in Cisco's crosshairs even after the two firms made an historic partnership agreement back in 2002.

Cisco executives have been upfront about the Microsoft relationship and have said repeatedly they want to continue to collaborate and interoperate with them. However, there will be areas where they compete and one of them will be unified communications. John Chambers, Cisco CEO, said during the company's last Partner Summit in Las Vegas.

"Microsoft has given us a three-year lead. And we've never lost a game when we've had a three-year lead,” said Chambers. “It's a battle we fully intend to win."

Harry Zarek, CEO and president of Toronto-based solution provider Compugen, doesn't feel that Microsoft moving into this space that Cisco has dominated will force channel partners to choose one or the other.

“As a solution provider and integrator you never want an either/or with Cisco or Microsoft. I hope we can avoid a battle of the two titans and I don't think it will happen because customers do not want it. It would be bad for the industry because they want to leverage both technologies,” Zarek said.

Kevin Restivo, analyst for the Seaboard Group, concurs with Zarek saying he doesn't believe there will be a standards war.

However, Restivo did say that the industry has changed dramatically because of IP, just from the year 2000, forcing vendors to be quicker to market giving incumbents such as Cisco no clear advantage.

Erin Elofson, unified communications and collaboration product manager for Microsoft Canada's information worker group, said Office Communications 2007 will try to solve four key areas: streamline communications, protection, operational efficiency and be a future ready communications solution.

“It puts people at the centre of telecommunications. With our entrance, we want to bring voice back to people with a single ID that spans many devices.

We do not want people to step out of Excel to communicate,” she said.

Evan Zaleschuk, director of collaboration technology at MTS Allstream, believes the sweet spot for Office Communications 2007 is between 80 to 120 seats.

Microsoft partner MTS Allstream can even tailor this offering to organizations while leveraging the unified communications system over many customers. The partner charges customers any where from $2 for a basic offering to $22 on a per month per user basis and within that can make between 20 and 25 per cent of margin depending on the customer, Zaleschuk said.

The channel opportunity, according to Zaleschuk, is that traditional VoIP was intended as a way to cut costs, but that it required customers to migrate to new applications, handsets and PBXs.

“That can get very expensive. Now with software you can integrate it with existing phone infrastructure to give users a choice to answer it with a phone or a PC,” Zaleschuk said.


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