Microsoft's unified communications future

* Some observations on Microsoft's unified communications conference

I went to INTERACT08, a Microsoft conference focused on unified communications. The event was well-attended and provided some good information on the future direction of Microsoft's unified communications technologies. The sessions were quite frank and provided some useful commentary on where Microsoft is today and where it's headed.

* Microsoft admitted that it needs to do a better job at offering voicemail survivability and provide a better means of maintaining function in the event of a loss of connection to the data center, perhaps providing backup capabilities via the public switched telephone network (PSTN). 

* Microsoft’s Mediation Server, which connects the PSTN and OCS, is going away as a discrete offering, but its functions will remain and will be embedded into other products. OCS can be virtualized, but the Mediation Server cannot be, since real time media processing does not lend itself to virtualization.

* Microsoft views Exchange as a mature offering that, in some ways, will act as a sort of “mentor” for OCS. OCS will use some of the best practices from the Exchange team, such as the capabilities of Systems Center, improvement of the command line interface in OCS and working with common partners for both platforms. Microsoft's goal is to make both Exchange and OCS “look like they come from the same vendor.”

* Exchange and OCS share some of the same architectural focus and engineering, but different business pressures force each offering to be “out of phase” with one another. However, Microsoft anticipates coordinating Exchange and OCS to a greater degree in the future.

Microsoft is pushing hard in the direction of unified messaging/communications and will be making significant advancements in the future. This, coupled with IBM’s recent announcement that it will spend $1 billion over the next three years on unified communications, not to mention everything that Avaya, Cisco, Novell, Nortel and many others are doing, will make the unified communications market very interesting over the next several years. (Compare Unified Communications products)

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