Last October, when Microsoft took the wraps off Office Communcation Server 2007 and began talking in concrete terms about unified communications, channel partners could hardly contain their excitement. But three months later, some solution providers have found that the road to building a unified communications business has some scary looking potholes.
The most formidable obstacle for many solution providers has been Microsoft's complex licensing for unified communications products, which include Exchange Server, Sharepoint Server, and Office Communications Server 2007. Some partners say the task of wading through the various types of access licenses and price points has been far more of a chore than they'd anticipated.
"Licensing for unified communications is absolutely baffling, and figuring out what a solution is going to cost is a monumental challenge," said one solution provider and Microsoft Gold partner, who requested anonymity. "Many people are confused about what constitutes a unified communications solution, how to buy one, and, more important, how much it will cost."
Stephen Moss, COO of NSPI, a solution provider and MSP in Roswell, Ga., acknowledges the licensing complexities, but insists that VARs can avoid them through careful planning and by conducting a 'dry run' prior to taking on an actual unified communications deal.
"Solution providers in the space need to be disciplined, have a keen understanding of the model, and communicate frequently with Microsoft before getting into the middle of it," said Moss. "It's a good idea to do a quick trial run, whether through distribution or through a LAR that sells Enterprise Agreements, in order to avoid the problems that can arise when you have to get out a quote the next day."
Amir Sohrabi, executive vice president of MSPX, an Arlington, Va.-based VoIP specialist that partners with Microsoft, Cisco, and Avaya, says Microsoft's messaging around unified communications hasn't been very clear to the majority of the channel. However, Sohrabi believes Microsoft could dispel partners' confusion by stepping up its channel training and education efforts.
"Unified communications is definitely not a traditional messaging platform sale: It's much more complex than what the average VAR has been doing. There are many SKUs involved, and a lot of components associated with this kind of a sale," said Sohrabi."
In a blog post earlier this month, Michael Smith, an MCSE and Microsoft Exchange MVP, attempted to clarify licensing scenarios for Microsoft unified communications.
Unified Messaging is included with Exchange, and VoIP and call control are included with OCS 2007, and both products are required for companies looking for a full software PBX solution. In addition, for features like presence and instant messaging, OCS 2007 requires the Office Live Communicator 2007 client, noted Smith.
"Microsoft gets you coming and going in licensing, in both OCS 2007 and in Exchange Server 2007. You must license the server software, you must license access to the server for each user, and you must license the primary user interface to the server software," Smith wrote.