With so many solution providers playing in the VoIP space, it can feel a bit crowded at times. Nevertheless, it remains one of the most profitable technology practices for networking VARs, second only to network management. The key to standing out is experience, said Robert Keblusek, senior vice president of business development at Sentinel Technologies Inc., a Downers Grove, Ill., solution provider.
"A lot of it has to do with experience and scale, having a proven track record on installations," Keblusek said. "Because we've got so many installations under our belt, we can usually point to three or four projects we've done in the customer's vertical. We can say that we understand their market and what it takes to make it work."
Partners said the need for lower costs and increased productivity are driving VoIP adoption. As part of that drive toward increased productivity, UC is garnering a lot of attention from customers right now, said Jeff Hiebert, CEO of ROI Networks Inc., San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
"VoIP is not just for transport. Customers are asking what they can do with distributed applications across the Internet," Hiebert said, noting that customers are eager to unify VoIP with technologies such as e-mail, chat and presence.
Channel partners said the technology most commonly included in UC solutions is, of course, VoIP, followed by unified messaging. Approximately half of partners surveyed said they have also included IP videoconferencing, instant messaging or collaboration tools in their UC solutions, while more than 30 percent of partners have included fixed-mobile convergence.
Microsoft's Uneasy VoIP Salvo
Microsoft's Corp.'s entrance into the VoIP space last year, where it both partners with and competes against Cisco Systems Inc., has caused some ripples. More than 50 percent of partners surveyed said they are now reselling, recommending or servicing Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. "I think the market is positioning it where there's going to have to be a coexistence," said Robert Keblusek, senior vice president of business development at Sentinel Technologies, Downers Grove, Ill.
Nearly 30 percent of partners said Microsoft's launch of OCS 2007 will create more confusion for potential VoIP customers. But for the most part, solution providers think Microsoft's VoIP splash will mean good things for the market overall. Over 46 percent of partners said they expect the OCS 2007 release to open up the SMB market to unified communications solutions. And over one-fourth of partners said Microsoft's portfolio will complement Cisco's, creating opportunities for partners in both camps.