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VoiceCon: Microsoft to the VoIP industry: we're here

By Phil Hochmuth,
March 07, 2007 05:52 PM ET - Microsoft introduced the public beta version of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 at VoiceCon. Following the announcement, Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president, of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group, discussed with Network World Senior Editor Phil Hochmuth how Microsoft's SIP-based VoIP, messaging and collaboration server fits in, and competes, in the enterprise convergence market.

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How are you presenting Office Communications Server 2007 to enterprise voice managers and IT managers?

The key message is to see what it can do for you and see what the limitations they may have. We see a lot of folks going down these one-way streets [with PBX and IP telephony vendors]. They might find themselves in a situation where they've deployed a solution, and because it is not an open solution, it is slow in terms of innovation.

Are you talking IP PBX products from companies such as Avaya, Cisco, Nortel, and so forth?

Yes. These are closed systems. They're just like mainframes. Once you bought the computer, or IP PBX in this case, you pretty much every component you buy from that vendor. They'll tell you about openness, and say "you can buy any SIP phone, sure," but when you call product support, they'll tell you, "sorry, if you're not using their phone, we can't guarantee the voice experience." It sort of builds on the fear that voiced cannot be delivered in an open platform.

Our approach to building a solution was we didn’t try to look at it that way. We didn't go back and say here is a list of 300 features on a PBX, and that we need to start matching each one of them. We looked at what people want from their communications systems. For example, IP PBXs today have all these features, but if you ask a user to do anything more than answer a call, or add a third person into a call, is very hard. Most users have unmet needs today.

Many of IP PBX vendors at VoiceCon are calling Microsoft a partner. Is OCS a complementary product, or a competitive product for these companies?

Enterprises which have a TDM PBX today and are looking to move to an IP solution. Then you have some enterprises which have some TDM PBXs and some IP PBX and their goal is to replace all of their TDM PBXs with IP PBXs. What we are telling both groups of users is that we believe, over time, you can be totally based on Office Communications Server. For now, we also want to help customers deal with missing features they may not have, or to help along those who are saying, 'oh, can I trust my voice entirely to Microsoft.' They can keep their current system in place, and put Office Communicator next to it, and slowly phase out the old one.

This resonates with customers, but what about the partners? I'm a big believer in the force of the customer. If customers are educated and aware and they know what they want, they will make the right choices. If there is merit to our approach, then the partners who are in the [IP telephony market] today will have to transform themselves, similar to the way IBM transformed itself form a mainframe company to a great services company. They will provide what the customer is asking right now, which is interoperability with OCS. Over time, they will figure out how to create a good business in this new market. Nortel certainly has joined with us to do that. The question is, will other players do it, or will they push their vertically integrated stack.

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