Microsoft Dishes On New OCS 2007 Release

At the VoiceCon conference in Amsterdam, Microsoft announced that Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2 will boost support for mobile devices with single number reach; add SIP trunking; and incorporate new tools that developers can use to embed communication features into business applications.

Microsoft's goal, according to Moz Hussain, a director of product management, is to weave more and more PBX-like features into OCS 2007, thus enabling organizations to improve productivity while also reducing the cost burden of their legacy PBX infrastructure.

SIP trunking, new in R2, and also an important part of Microsoft's ResponsePoint small business VoIP offering, will allow companies to move to a standards-based infrastructure while also reducing the number of gateways connected to the PSTN.

"With SIP trunking, you can connect OCS 2007 directly to the carrier network, thereby reducing infrastructure costs at the gateway," Hussain said.

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While OCS 2007 traction has thus far been happening mainly in enterprises, Jeff Roback, CEO at Praxis Computing, a Los Angeles-based solution provider, says SIP trunking will help spur OCS adoption in the midmarket and SMB segments.

Given the high cost of T1 lines needed to drive PBX environments, "SIP trunking suddenly opens OCS up to businesses of all sizes," said Roback. "This will be the second 'VoIP revolution', in which a while different set of companies adopt the technology."

But despite the new features, solution providers believe it'll take a while for Microsoft to realize its stated goal of using OCS as a replacement for the PBX.

Jay Lendl, Microsoft practice director with Analysts International Corporation, sees OCS 2007 R2 as a way for Microsoft to provide tools that 'surround' the PBX. Companies with branch offices, or standalone businesses that have yet to invest in PBX infrastructure, are the most likely to gravitate to OCS 2007 R2, he added.

"I don't see 5,000-person companies saying 'Let's turn off our PBX'. I'm not saying it won't happen, but right now, it's not part of the conversation," Lendl said.

Microsoft's 'endgame' with unified communications is to convince companies to get rid of the handsets on their desks, but there are still technology barriers that have prevented this from happening on a widespread scale, according to Roback.

"People are still very attached to their desk phones," said Roback. "I think we will [eventually see OCS replace the PBX], but I haven't seen a single company in which that has been seriously discussed."

Microsoft will release OCS 2007 R2 to manufacturing on Dec. 12, and is the midst of a private beta test run involving a large group of enterprise customers, Hussain said. An official launch event for OCS 2007 R2 is slated for Feb 3, at which time Microsoft's volume licensing customers will be able to download the software.