Microsoft partner first with hosted Communications Server

A Microsoft partner has become the first to offer Microsoft's new unified communications software as a hosted service.

Intermedia on Tuesday will begin offering Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) as a hosted service on a subscription basis for US$7.95 per user, per month, said Rurik Bradbury, vice president of strategy for Intermedia. The service initially will be available to users of Intermedia's hosted Exchange service, which costs $12 per user, per month. Eventually, the OCS service will be available independently of that service, he said.

Intermedia is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider in New York and one of Microsoft's hosting partners. Microsoft also offers Exchange as a hosted service, and eventually plans to offer OCS as a hosted service, but has not specified when. Other Microsoft hosting partners such as and Apptix also plan to offer OCS on a hosted basis, but have not done so thus far.

The company is already hosting OCS for some early adopter customers, but the general rollout of the service starts Tuesday, Bradbury said. The service is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses that find it too complicated to install all the software on premise and administer and manage it themselves.

"If you think Exchange is difficult to set up for a small business, think about setting up Exchange and OCS," Bradbury said. "It's an absolute nightmare for SMBs to do this."

Included in the hosted OCS offering will be private, secure instant messaging and message archiving -- the latter of which is a legal requirement for companies that deal with sensitive information, such as financial services and health care, Bradbury said. The service also offers Web presence integration across Office Communicator, Outlook and SharePoint, so a user's free/busy status is available to colleagues across all those services, and PC-to-PC voice and video conferencing.

One feature of OCS that isn't in the first version of the hosted service is integration with a company's PBX (private branch exchange), but that will be available in a future version, he added.

Microsoft launched OCS in October as the hub of its unified communications strategy, which aims to run a company's e-mail, instant-messaging, Web-conferencing, video-conferencing and IP-based telephony services on one software infrastructure. Microsoft and other software providers such as IBM, as well as traditional networking providers such as Cisco, are competing in this new convergence space, which used to be primarily the domain of telecommunications providers.

Intermedia plans to host its OCS service out of its data centers in California, where it has three: one in Milpitas, one in San Jose and one in Sunnyvale. The company also has a data center in New York.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.