Polycom, Microsoft Forge Tighter UC Channel Ties


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Polycom and Microsoft expanded their existing unified communications relationship and will now partner on both product development and marketing around Polycom end points and Microsoft's new Communications Server 14.

The goal, according to executives from the companies, is to jointly offer end-to-end unified communications packages and incentivize their respective channels to do the same.

The new agreement between Polycom and Microsoft was revealed Monday. Productwise, it calls for Polycom optimizing various Polycom CX series end points for Microsoft's UC platform and designing video systems specific for integration with Communications Server (CS) 14. More new products and better interoperability between existing Polycom and Microsoft UC products are also on tap, the companies say.

Marketingwise, the companies will jointly develop sales resources, common messaging and training, as well as integrated marketing campaigns for solution providers. Polycom also will be a presence at Microsoft Technology Centers around the world -- including Atlanta, Chicago, New York, London and Paris -- and provide active technology demos at each.

"We're really excited about what this means for our joint customer base," said Ashima Singhal, group product manager of UC partner marketing at Microsoft, in a CRN interview. "We've been tremendously excited about our [CS] 14 product and this takes us even further."

"If we get this right, we've got the capability to transform business communications and provide a very effective, elegant and expansive collaboration experience, whether internal or external," said Mark Roberts, vice president of partner marketing at Polycom.

The agreement comes as competition for UC dominance grows fierce. Though Microsoft and Polycom have a number of existing UC-related partnerships with other companies, they face competition on multiple UC fronts and in a variety of markets from Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, ShoreTel and others.

In a Monday release, the companies touted statistics from Wainhouse Research estimating that 70 percent of companies considering a UC implementation are kicking the tires on Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS).

Polycom and Microsoft declined to quantify how much they were co-investing in the UC strategy, but Roberts said the number would run into the tens of millions and that the partnership -- as well as the products and opportunities that would emerge from it -- was in the "very early stages."

Microsoft officially took the wraps off CS 14 at VoiceCon this past spring, with Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group, suggesting at the time that within three years, more than half of all VoIP calls would contain some combination of instant messaging, video and presence information. Microsoft originally launched OCS in 2007, predicting at the time that a software-only UC approach would eventually overtake traditional PBX communications.

The Polycom products involved so far, Roberts said, include the CX 5000 video collaboration platform and a number of IP phones, including Polycom's CX700 conferencing line.

The two companies didn't disclose how many channel partners would immediately benefit from the combined push, but Roberts said the initial numbers the companies had seen of overlapping channel partners between Polycom and Microsoft are "more than tens and less than thousands."

"I view this very simplistically as a dual-pronged approach," Roberts said. "We have both sets of channel partners and we can see where we've already got overlap. We have a list of channel partners that have expressed a huge interest in engaging early and aggressively."

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