Did You Hear? Something Called Office Communications Server Just Released
The big day finally came, when Microsoft released its long-anticipated, oft-discussed and much hyped next-generation unified communications applications: Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS) and Office Communicator 2007 (MOC), along with Live Meeting 7 (for hosted web conferencing), Microsoft RoundTable (for video conferencing), the Quality of Experience monitoring server and the RT audio codec.
Observers could be excused for not quite getting what all the fuss was about, given that so much of the “news” had already been announced, or at least foreshadowed, over the past several months (nay, year). Gotta agree with Sheila McGee Smith’s blog on VoipLoop, in which she basically bemoans being made a cog in Microsoft’s marketing machine (not Sheila per se, mind you, but all us analysts and members of the press who flocked to San Francisco and played our part in the play).
I’m not crazy about joining the fray, but the products were released, so let’s take a quick look at the impact:
Microsoft’s new and improved unified communications offering includes all the baseline requirements of a UC platform. OCS 2007 (the server) and MOC 2007 (the client) are the heart of Microsoft’s UC product offering (LiveMeeting lives on as a hosted service, but OCS includes access to the new on-premises version of the conferencing software), delivering integrated IM, presence, conferencing (audio, video, and web) and VoIP telephony capabilities. Integrated with the Outlook server, it offers seamless integration with e-mail and unified messaging. Mediation servers and media gateways enable OCS to interoperate with SIP-capable PBX and PSTN systems, and through Active Directory, Microsoft extends presence information and the ability to launch communications from within Office and Sharepoint applications.
While Microsoft has years of experience with presence, IM and web conferencing, its telephony offering isn’t quite ready for out-of-the-box deployment. As my colleague Sharifah Amirah points out in a recent analyst commentary, for OCS integration, PBXs must natively support Microsoft’s SIP specifications and IP media in a format that is interoperable with Microsoft Enterprise Voice, or via a mediation server or gateway. Features such as call forwarding must be enabled separately on both the MOC and on the desk phone, and certain features (conferencing, UM capabilities, voice mail) aren’t transparent between the two. There are further limitations to VoIP telephony as currently offered through OCS. More troublingly, there is no option for native survivability; remote call control is currently disabled in OCS; and because the server doesn’t reveal user location, it can’t support emergency services.
All of which may not matter in the long run, since I don’t expect mid-size and large enterprises to embrace Microsoft telephony any time soon, if ever. Instead, expect to see companies deploy presence, chat, conferencing and social networking tools from their messaging vendor of choice (Microsoft or IBM), and integrate that application with voice from their preferred telephony vendor (Avaya, Cisco, et. al.).
Microsoft also announced a slew of partnerships and support for OCS, as well as the fact that it has more than 130 customers for OCS and MOC. The company, however, won’t reveal how many licenses those customers have purchased. The vendor does point out that more than 200,000 people have downloaded the software from the Internet, but of course it doesn’t know what they’ve actually done with it. Its largest customer, Royal Dutch Shell, is estimated to have purchased—or eventually purchase—about 300,000 seats of OCS and Nortel telephony products, but that deployment will take years, not months, to be completed. Which is about the same timeline we can expect other companies to follow when it comes to UC adoption: years, not months.
Bottom line: Microsoft’s marketing is good for the industry and its own cause—but it won’t speed adoption rates any time soon.
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