Microsoft Takes On IP Telephony With Unified Communications Launch - InformationWeek

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10/16/2007
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Microsoft Takes On IP Telephony With Unified Communications Launch

Microsoft's "multi-year, multi-dimensional" drive to link voice, video, and data is expected to compete with similar products from Cisco Systems and Avaya.

Microsoft on Tuesday introduced a suite of new and revised software products designed to connect employees and let businesses slowly migrate from conventional PBX and TDM phone systems to an Internet-protocol, software-based communications future.

Bill Gates and Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division introduced several products that fit into the strategy including Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft Live Meeting, a service pack update to Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft RoundTable, which is a $3,000 conferencing phone with a 360-degree camera. The products will directly compete with voice, video, and data systems from other IP telephony providers such as Cisco Systems and Avaya.

Gates said Microsoft's efforts to connect video, voice, data through an Active Directory system were similar to the transformation of computing from mainframes tp PCs and even the way that consumers interact with PCs.

"It will be a lot like the change to graphic user interface," Gates said during a presentation in San Francisco. "Some people didn't participate at first but eventually the technology became so ubiquitous that it was expected to work that way."

Raikes called Microsoft's initiative a "multi-year, multi-dimensional" commitment that includes 800 independent software partners, system integrators, phone and device manufacturers, and IP telephony providers including Nortel Networks, Ericsson, and Mitel Networks.

Business software maker SAP, for example, announced a deeper relationship with Microsoft and said it was integrating Microsoft Office Communications Server capabilities in its Duet product to allow its own customers access to SAP software by clicking through a standard Microsoft Outlook e-mail client.

Microsoft said it will initially market the suite of software to workers who spend most of their time on the road or away from their desks. The company is targeting 100,000 face to face meetings with current and new customers to evangelize the software.

During a demonstration of the products, Microsoft showed how a mobile worker could use voice commands to access e-mail, voice mail, and shift and change scheduled meetings. The demo also showed how Microsoft is linking its e-mail client with instant messaging platforms, and even Word documents to instantly connect with supervisors, co-workers, and even vendors without using a dedicated virtual private network.

Raikes said such a connected system would eliminate the need to leave a voice mail message followed by an e-mail and an instant message. "The era of dialing blind and voice mail tag are over," he said.

The bundle is heavily dependent on a service pack update of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator Server 2007 to shift between e-mail, voice mail, and instant messaging clients. The two products also will allow for integration of upcoming versions of Microsoft Dynamics and the upcoming Microsoft CRM software release later this year.

End-user interfaces include Microsoft Office Communicator as well as Microsoft Office Live Meeting clients to allow for work on PCs and mobile phones via a Web browser.

The launch is the fruition of a roadmap that was unveiled back in August, where Raikes predicted that a business VoIP system will cost half what it does now, as vendors shift from offering hardware-centric systems to software running on standard servers.

Gates quoted a Forrester survey suggesting companies could see a 500% return on investment with software-based communication systems primarily because Internet infrastructure is already in place and all that was needed was to add a server here and a PC there. Raikes augmented the savings by quoting surveys suggesting that computer workers spend 37 minutes fighting "voice mail jail and phone tag," which is time now better spent collaborating.

Already, Raikes said Microsoft has several customer converts including semiconductor manufacturer Intel, whose entire employee population has purchased and is using Microsoft's Office Server and products.

Microsoft was itself a good candidate for change after Gates said it was costing $700 and a week's worth of telephone work every time the company wanted to set up a new office.

The evolution, Gates said, is that Microsoft administrators now can transfer an entire employee's profile including telephone numbers and connection abilities with the click and drag of a mouse.

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