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Alcatel-Lucent Makes a Major Push into SMB

Many small and medium businesses would like to deploy unified communications solutions. The problem has been that piecing together one of these systems can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Alcatel-Lucent is the latest vendor trying to change that.
Many small and medium businesses would like to deploy unified communications solutions. The problem has been that piecing together one of these systems can be difficult, time consuming, and expensive. Alcatel-Lucent is the latest vendor trying to change that.Unified communications promise to streamline interactions by consolidating different functions, such as email, instant messaging, and phone calls. If a customer tries to reach a sales representative, the communications system will ring each device until it finds the one closest to a user. The international conglomerate has taken its broad product and services suite and packaged them into Office Communications Solutions 2008, featuring bundled networking equipment, software, and services. The networking component includes the OmniSwitch 6400 Stackable LAN Switch, which features Gigabit and Layer 2+ switching. The software is based on the Alcatel-Lucent Extended Communication Server Release 4.1, which has a new push mail function that synchronizes mail, contact, task and calendar data via smartphones. The company has its own service group as well as 1,500 certified partners ready to help small and medium corporations deploy the new application.

Alcatel-Lucent has been successful in large enterprises, with 500,000 companies and 12 million users working with its unified communications suite. The company has retooled its portfolio to make it more attractive to small and medium companies. Cost has been a significant barrier with unified communications products. Office Communications Solution 2008 comes at a price of about $250 per user for the base functionality, which does not include items, such as Web conferencing. Alcatel is embracing the open source movement and support for Linux, especially the RedHat distribution, is central to its new initiative. Also, the packaging of unified communications system has been an issue. Rather than sell it as a stand-alone product, these functions may be integrated into other applications. Alcatel is also bundling its system with applications, such as OScommerce and SugarCRM.

Such moves are needed because competition in the unified communications market is fierce. Cisco, many firms favorite network supplier, and Microsoft, the industrys software Behemoth, are making major pushes into this space. IBM and Nortel are also formidable opponents in this market. Consequently, Alcatel-Lucent faces a few formidable challenges. The company has had more success in Europe than in the US, especially in attracting small and medium companies. Since the vendor has been concentrating on servicing large enterprises, it is unclear if it will be able to gain the attention and then the affection of small and medium corporations. In general, the ramp up to unified communications has taken longer than many expected. Many vendors, including Alcatel-Lucent, think it is poised for rapid growth, but that may not occur. In sum, the vendor is betting heavily on it making a successful push into the unified communications marketplace, but the odds favor the house at the moment.

Do you have a unified communications solution? What do you view as its major benefits? How much would you pay for it?