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Unified messaging rides again!

A look at some of the recent developments in unified messaging.

During the course of a phone conversation with some Cisco representatives last week, we got to talking about the company's newest addition to the Cisco Qualified Specialist program—namely, the Cisco Unified Communications Design Specialist. Though the credential requires a CCDA as a pre-requisite, the company also "strongly recommends" that candidates also possess an MCSE "with an emphasis on Microsoft Exchange 2000 or 2003." Therein hangs an interesting story, because one of the things that I discussed with Rick Stiffler, Senior Manager of Advanced Technology Training at Cisco's Internet Learning Solutions Group, was why they didn't simply decide to require the MCSE: Messaging on Windows Server 2003 or MCSE: Messaging on Windows 2000 specialization certs instead.

It seems that the Cisco Unity products, which combine abilities to gather and distribute e-mail, voicemail, and various types of text messaging and alert services, work particularly well with Microsoft Exchange. Among the many features of such systems include the ability to notify users that they've got voicemail using e-mail, and even to attach voicemail recordings to e-mail messages for easy access and remote playback (without even using a phone, on properly equipped PCs). Thus, it made sense to all of us that a more specific background recommendation might make sense in the future.

Of course, Cisco isn't alone in pursuing unified messaging. I remember back in the early 1990s when Novell was still a leading networking player, that the company sank a major investment into integrating messaging solutions with similar features built around the company's still popular GroupWise product family. And of course today, when IP rules the world and has become the obvious glue for achieving broad integration of data, voice, and networking services, Cisco isn't alone in pursuing unified messaging, either. A broad range of companies, including SysMaster, Covad, Qovia, One Unified, INET, and most of the big telephony players such as Nortel, Avaya, and others, are all offering or working toward unified messaging solutions.

What's different today from the early 90s is that now we've got sufficient bandwidth and more sophisticated quality of service mechanisms in place to make unified messaging more workable, both on the backbone and inside most corporate (and a lot of home and SOHO broadband-based) infrastructures as well. As far as I can tell, nobody's yet built and documented the veritable "killer app" in this space, but it looks like that's just a matter of time. And when that happens the way we use personal computers, portable computing devices, and portable phones will surely change forever.

Ed Tittel is a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Web sites, and the author of over 100 books on a wide range of computing subjects from markup languages to information security. He's also a contributing editor for Certification Magazine, and edits Que Publising's Exam Cram 2 series of cert prep books. E-mail Ed at

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