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Putting The Microsoft VoIP Puzzle Together

Microsoft is the first to admit that when it comes to VoIP, it can't quite do it all. There are several more pieces to the VoIP puzzle that solution providers working with Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 and the rest of Microsoft's new portfolio will need to add.

Microsoft Office Communications Server PBX

At the same time, though, PBX players like Nortel Networks and Mitel are preparing for just such a future, Gates says.

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"[Companies such as Nortel and Mitel are] willing to take their software and put it up on top of our horizontal platform. Now that's a big restructuring for them; it's a big leap to organize themselves for this new, more horizontal, software-focused structure, but they're taking that leap," Gates says.

Toronto-based Nortel, which over a year ago aligned itself tightly with Microsoft via their Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA), plans early next year to begin shipping interoperable products for OCS.

"Nortel is well ahead of the competition in terms of integrating with Microsoft OCS 2007," says Ruchi Prasad, Nortel's vice president and general manager of ICA.

Among the forthcoming products are Nortel Converged Office, which integrates the feature set of its IP-PBX with OCS; Multimedia Conferencing 5.0, an audio/videoconferencing platform that, with OCS, provides support for a mix of analog, digital or IP phones; and Nortel UC Integrated Branch, an appliance that combines Microsoft capabilities to deliver WAN routing, Ethernet switching, security and VoIP.

In addition, LG-Nortel, a joint venture between Nortel and LG Electronics, launched its IP Phone 8500 series of devices optimized for use with Microsoft's platform.

"The Microsoft piece has definitely helped us get out to customers that maybe otherwise wouldn't have entertained talking to us," says Bart Graf, co-founder, director and principal of Integration Partners, a Lexington, Mass.-based Nortel partner. "And now that there's some understanding of the capabilities [brought by joint Microsoft/Nortel solutions], we've done some early demos and seen people's interest become more real."

Ottawa-based Mitel, another of Microsoft's technology partners, has integrated its 3300 IP Communications Platform with OCS, enabling customers to tap into Microsoft unified messaging without an additional hardware gateway.

NEC, Tokyo, rolled out several new products, including its UTR-UC-1 USB handset, which plugs directly into a USB port to provide a desktop phone for Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft's unified communications client. The company also launched MGW for Microsoft Office Communicator, a basic media gateway that connects an existing PBX to OCS, as well as UNIVERGE OW5000, its new collaboration middleware that provides click-to-dial functionality from Microsoft Office applications.

And then there's Cisco Systems. Much has been made of the "coopetition" between Cisco and Microsoft as the two prepare to lock horns in the VoIP space. Solution provider Dimension Data, Herndon, Va., was on hand at Microsoft's launch event to demonstrate the work it has done integrating products from the two vendors, which will absolutely have to work together, said Dimension Data CTO Ettienne Reinecke.

"The chance of finding a customer environment where they both have significant presence with a significant investment is very high," Reinecke says. "The reality is that clients have mixed environments, so vendors will have to work together."

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