Microsoft's VoIP Plans Take A Step Forward

Office Communications Server 2007 and the Office Communicator client are now code complete, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's Business Division, said Thursday at the vendor's annual analyst meeting.

"We're one step close to delivering the products that will establish Microsoft as a major force in communications," said Raikes, adding that Microsoft expects to be able to help organizations cut their enterprise telephony costs in half.

Office Communications Server 2007, in public beta since March, promises to bring VoIP telephony, instant messaging, conferencing and presence under a single PC-focused umbrella.

The interest in OCS 2007 for most customers will be with the integration with Exchange unified messaging, says Jay Lendl, vice president of Microsoft services at Granite Pointe Partners, a Plymouth, Minn.-based solution provider.

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"It's important to have a single view of the internal teams and people that you work with, and have presence be a part of collaboration, whether it's through text, speech, video conferencing," said Lendl.

During a Q&A session, Raikes was asked about the challenge posed by Cisco in the VoIP market, and said that Microsoft's software based solution offers superior cost savings and broader functionality.

"Customers are truly seeing the magic of software in this instance. They see they will get more capabilities at less cost than the traditional approaches of any of the existing players," Raikes said.

Amir Sohrabi, executive vice president of MSPX, an Arlington, Va.-based VoIP specialist that partners with Microsoft, Cisco, and Avaya, believes Microsoft is best positioned to make inroads into the VoIP market.

"OCS 2007 uses SIP (session initiation protocol), which allows it to work with different vendors for VoIP interoperability. Cisco, in contrast, has a closed, proprietary system, which drives up the cost of the solution," said Sohrabi.

Microsoft needs to make sure players have the right skill sets to deploy VoIP, and they've provided a good way to measure this with its recently unveiled voice specialization, Sohrabi said.

"Any partner that's going to be involved with rolling out OCS 2007 and Exchange 2007 is going to need VoIP skills, because now you're reaching out into the enterprise and touching mission critical systems," said Sohrabi.

Microsoft on Friday also took the wraps off Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2008 and Beta 2 of .NET Framework 3.5, and also rolled out the final release candidate of Silverlight.