Microsoft Shows Off New Office Communications Server

At the VoiceCon conference in Orlando, Fla., Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group gave a demonstration of OCS 14 and suggested that in three years, more than half of all VoIP calls will include elements of instant messaging, videoconferencing and presence information. By that time, the idea of making an ordinary telephony call in a business setting will seem outdated, he told attendees.

When Microsoft launched OCS in 2007, its message was that the software-only approach would essentially displace PBX over time, and Pall echoed this in a Wednesday blog post.

"Communications centered solely around the desk phone and built on hardware-based systems are quickly becoming a relic of the past," Pall wrote. "In fact, many of today's PBXs belong in a museum; they are already artifacts of the past."

The increasing prevalence of hosted solutions in business, combined with widespread adoption of Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), which lets service providers deliver data along with voice, is driving adoption of unified communications. In a SIP-based world, the PBX, or media gateway, is no longer required, according to solution providers.

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"The gateway is just a device to handle legacy TDM traffic, or translate TDM to SIP to preserve an investment in hardware and phones," said Neil Brenner, vice president of converged technology at Consolidated Technologies, a Port Chester, N.Y.-based solution provider. "The bulk of PBX hardware deployed today indeed will be museum pieces in the next few years."

In OCS 14, Microsoft is adding deeper integration with Office, SharePoint and Exchange to allow users to collaborate more effectively, and it's also furthering client side integration with social networking services.

Microsoft says OCS has been growing by double digits every year for the last three years, and claims that more than 70 percent of Fortune 100 firms have deployed OCS. OCS adoption may be booming in enterprises, but companies that are still recovering from the travails of 2009 are wary of the costs involved in deploying OCS, particularly if they've already got an on premise videoconferencing point product in place.

"The financial impact of point solutions, such as premise-based audio/video conference solutions, can be seen immediately after purchase. But the platform change is much more difficult to justify from a financial standpoint," said Jay Lendl, Microsoft practice director with Minneapolis-based Analysts International Corporation.

"It's not that they don't see the benefit, it's just they've already invested so much in the various point solutions that they currently have, it's hard for them to commit to the big change," Lendl added.