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Eye on the unified communications market: Microsoft

This month we're profiling Microsoft's core unified communication offerings (Microsoft Office Communicator Server 2007) to help you better understand the company's business model and how it may fit into your unified communications strategy.

Unified communications is a rapidly growing and evolving market, with new products and solutions announced on what seems to be a daily basis. The unified communications (UC) market is composed of various elements and components, provided by a variety of vendors. There are several groups of players in the enterprise UC arena, all coming from different directions: the switch, enterprise IM and presence, messaging, mobile devices, conferencing/collaboration, applications and so on.

All of the vendors are approaching UC from various angles, and enterprises need to figure out which approach makes the most sense for their particular environment. For example, most of the switch vendors view the IP PBX as the starting point for UC capabilities. Cisco's approach is based on the converged IP network, while IBM views presence as the starting point, and Microsoft sees the desktop as the heart of UC. All of these approaches make sense and have pros and cons, and companies need to determine which fits best with their philosophy.

Each month, will profile a key UC vendor to help you better understand the company's business model and how it may fit into your UC strategy.

Microsoft's vision for UC brings formerly separate modes or channels of communication and messaging together around a single identity, allowing for streamlined communications for the user and increased operational efficiency for IT. With presence as the backbone, UC makes this set of communications capabilities available from within the business processes and applications that information workers use most.

Microsoft's core UC offerings are Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 and the Microsoft Office Communicator client (referred to as MOC or Communicator). Microsoft OCS is the evolution of Microsoft Live Communication Server (LCS), adding VoIP/telephony and conferencing capabilities to LCS's enterprise IM and presence features. Office Communications Server 2007 supports federation between organizations using OCS 2007, and with public IM systems (AOL, Yahoo and Windows Live).

Microsoft's enhanced VoIP feature is a software-based solution that lets information workers initiate voice communications from the context of the application from which they are working. OCS 2007 also works with existing enterprise telephony systems (PBX) either natively over SIP or via a media gateway and public switched telephone networks.

Microsoft insists that OCS is not an IP-PBX, but it is expected that OCS will ultimately be used instead of the PBX in some enterprises, although it is currently lacking some of the functions capabilities offered by most enterprise telephony vendors.

Partnerships with vendors include Genesys, Siemens, Mitel, Nortel, NEC, Avaya, Cisco, BT, Philips, New Step, RIM,, Sylantro, Broadsoft and Aspect. Other partners include Polycom, Tandberg, Radvision, Arel Anywhere, Dell, Hitachi, Intercall, Premiere Global Services, Sprint, Bell and Global Crossing. Device partners that provide devices to work specifically with OCS and MOC include LG-Nortel, Asus, GN/Jabra, Polycom, Vitelix, Plantronics and Samsung.

About the author:
Blair Pleasant provides consulting and market research analysis on voice/data convergence markets and technologies, aimed at helping end-user and vendor clients both strategically and tactically. Prior to COMMfusion, she was director of communications analysis for The PELORUS Group, a market research and consulting firm, and president of Lower Falls Consulting.

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