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The Coming VoIP War

Now that Microsoft is jumping into the VoIP market, it is only a matter of time. The war is coming. And it won't be Nortel vs. Avaya. Sure, those players will be around, and a few smaller players will survive. But the true battle royale will be between Cisco and Microsoft.


Those two companies over the past few years have co-existed and watched each other carefully as they grew closer to each other's turf, especially in security. But it is in VoIP applications, or unified communications, that the two titans will bump heads forehead to forehead.

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Microsoft's unified communication strategy is set to take off this fall with the launch of Office Communication Server 2007, which weaves together e-mail, instant messaging, mobile and VoIP telephony, and videoconferencing.

This isn't the first battle over VoIP, however. Back in 2000, with companies like Cisco and 3Com pushing into the voice market, established players Nortel, Lucent (now Avaya) and the like were on the defensive. Old voice dealers and networking VARs both faced pressure from the coming convergence. A lot of voice dealers learned about networking (and adding value), and a lot of networking VARs learned about voice. A good number on both sides went out of business.

With Microsoft pushing into VoIP, are we now facing a similar battle? Are we about to watch Exchange VARs and Cisco VARs duke it out to the finish?

To be sure, Microsoft knows it needs to find a different kind of VAR to succeed in the VoIP space. And the company is reaching out to different VAR communities to find them.

But is Microsoft is aware of the dangers? While it is no stretch to associate Cisco with VoIP now, Cisco did not have a smooth run in the early days of VoIP.

In those early days, Cisco spent a lot of time fielding calls about botched implementations, and a select group of Cisco partners spent a lot of time fixing those mistakes. It took years for Cisco to work the kinks out of its channel program as it applied to the voice market. First, Cisco approved too many partners with too little training. Then, it raised the bar too high, slowing the adoption of the technology among partners. Cisco now has its VoIP channel house in order, but it wasn't easy, and it wasn't fast.

Time will tell if Microsoft will hit the same bumps in the road to VoIP, but the journey will be fascinating to watch.

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