AT&T, Microsoft Form Alliance To Develop Business Services

Under the deal, the two companies would build applications that would deliver the services over AT&T's network. The applications would be developed and deployed on the Microsoft Connected Services Framework, which uses web services standards for delivering data based on extensible markup language, or XML.

The jointly developed services would expand AT&T's recently announced portfolio of Internet-based network services, called Dynamic Network Applications, or DNA.

Today, AT&T customers are piecing together custom and packaged applications to develop some of the services that would be offered as features in the AT&T network, Chris Molke, director of Internet services for AT&T, said.

"Our goal is to deliver this platform and integrate it into the network, so features can be selected based on the requirements of a particular client," Molke said.

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Features would include location services that can be used to find and communicate with people in a medium of their choosing, such as instant messaging, e-mail or telephone. Directory services also would be provided for user authentication and access to network applications.

Other offerings would include a single database for e-mail, faxes and voice mail, which means all three can be sent and accessed from any device. AT&T also plans to offer over the Microsoft platform web conferencing and document sharing.

In delivering a more "intelligent network," AT&T also plans to provide web-based management tools for customers and a software development kit for customizing services, Eric Shepcaro, vice president of strategy and business development for AT&T, said.

"CIOs (chief information officers) want simplicity in integrating applications into the IP (Internet protocol) network, so they can be delivered to partners and suppliers," Shepcaro said. "They want more functions built directly into the (network) cloud, but also want management capabilities."

Among the first deliverables of the alliance is to provide AT&T's Internet telephony customers with click-to-dial capabilities within any Microsoft Office application, officials said.

Microsoft's Connected Service Framework would be the foundation of AT&T's move to a service-oriented architecture, which is an evolution in distributed computing that delivers data across networked applications via web services standards. AT&T is a founding member of the customer advisory board for the Microsoft framework, and plans to "help shape the development of its road map."

AT&T chose Microsoft because its technology integrated well with the telephone company's application infrastructure and back-office software, Shepcaro said. In addition, the software maker agreed to the joint development effort and to making an adapter available for its framework that companies can use to connect to AT&T network services.

Over the last four years, AT&T has spent more than $10 billion in building its IP network, company officials said.