Siemens Cements Software Focus With UC Offerings

Siemens Communications continued its transition from a hardware-based to a software-oriented company on Monday with the release of its OpenScape Unified Communications (UC) Server.

The software-based platform integrates voice, unified communications (UC) and video applications in the enterprise and is designed to break down the silos separating today's traditionally separate voice, video and unified communications systems, enabling a comprehensive suite of UC applications.

According to Mark Straton, senior vice president of enterprise systems marketing, Siemens' "shift in strategy" into software coincides with the looming trend that voice will not remain a standalone vision, but will become a set of services built around software. The jump, however, will thrust Siemens into a growing competitive market. Where the vendor once went toe-to-toe with Avaya or Alcatel, Siemens will now square off against Microsoft, IBM and Cisco, powerhouses in the UC space.

"We either change ourselves, or the world changes for us," Straton said.

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The UC Server is pure software that runs in any hardware environment, regardless of vendor, Straton said. Also announced Monday were three applications that run on UC Server: OpenScape Voice Application; OpenScape UC Application V3; and OpenScape Video.

Straton said UC Server can run in virtually any IT or telephony environment, including IP telephony or legacy PBX telephony deployments from Siemens or other vendors, eliminating the need for proprietary technology stacks.

Available April 30, UC Server enables presence, administration, session control and other shared services for the suite of OpenScape UC applications, modular capabilities that can be enabled by activating license keys on a user-by-user basis.

"VARs can sell into any base of customers," Straton said. "It's a good entry point to sell it on top of an in-place telephony environment. It's not a rip-and-replace, but an upgrade."

Straton said the typical expense and complexity of UC solutions were tough barriers for VARs to break through and were often prohibitive to their customers.

Donna Warner, vice president of Black Box Network Services, a Lawrence, Pa.-based solution provider, said since UC Server is non-proprietary it will be attractive to customers who are looking for choices with their UC deployments. The ability to bolt on different parts and not have to rip and replace, she said, makes it more attractive than solutions from Microsoft/Nortel and Cisco.

"Siemens, as they've turned themselves into a software company, have been open by not aligning with another player," she said. "Nortel is riding hard on Microsoft. Not everyone wants to be all Microsoft. They get a little tired of the whole 'it has to be Microsoft' environment. And Cisco is not yet there right now, and that's what customers are saying."

Warner said Cisco's UC solutions are expensive and there are feature tradeoffs, With Siemens she can offer customers just voice or migrate them to other UC applications as needed.

So far, Warner said, her clients are interested in UC, but are spending time learning about it. Some are dabbling in certain portions of UC, such as VoIP and messaging. She said she sees a split between customers who want to deploy full UC now and others who want a phased migration, and Siemens modular setup enables either.

"This cements Siemens' shift from hardware to software," she said. "Software is going to be the way to go."

Next: New Applications And HD Video

Warner said she anticipates a 10 percent to 12 percent growth in unified communications sales this year and expects that number to compound in the following year. The fact that Siemens can ride on top of other vendors' hardware will help get into more accounts, she said.

"Our challenge right now is to see how we can really make clients understand this and help them make that leap," she said.

Siemens is releasing UC Server in three versions: The Medium Edition is a single server solution for up to 1,000 users; the Large Edition is a multi-server configuration for up to 100,000 users, or up to 20,000 with full UC; and the Hosted Edition which contains additional application components to support service provider and hosting requirements.

OpenScape UC Server is an open, SIP-based platform to work with shared Web-services components that leverage Siemens' OpenSOA architecture.

As part of UC Server, the HiPath 8000 and HiPath OpenExchange applications, now called OpenScape Voice, have been redesigned to run natively on UC Server for voice and IP routing. The suite of OpenScape UC applications can run in multi-vendor environments and integrate with offerings such as IBM Sametime, Microsoft Office Communication Server and others.

Along with redesigning OpenScape Voice, Siemens also redesigned its OpenScape UC Application as a licensable offering on UC Server. UC Application V3 can now be deployed in nearly any telephony environment to work with any vendors IP or legacy telephony platform. It integrates with any instant messaging environment. UC Application is modular and role-based, meaning it's available to scale to a customer's needs, starting with a single-user Personal Edition to Enterprise and Developer editions, it can grow to as many as 20,000 concurrent users. Straton said UC Application integrates deep into line of business applications for rich communications embedded business processes.

Another new portfolio, OpenScape Video, also launched Monday. The unified video conferencing solution integrates high-definition (HD) video, desktop PC video and video and presence into a single environment. OpenScape Video integrates with OpenScape UC server to allow video and voice endpoints to participate in the same conference calls and use the same directory and call numbering plans. The solution works in a standalone capacity for companies to migrate to high-definition Video over IP.

The OpenScape Video portfolio includes three HD systems and a PC soft client. VHD 600 includes an HD camera, a CD-quality conference phone and a codec that can bridge up to six parties on a video conference call. VHD 400 includes the same components as VHD 600, but can bridge four parties. And VHD 100 is a single, point-to-point solution for one-to-one calls or for a user to join a conference hosted on a VHD 600, 400 or third party video bridge. The OpenScape UC Application desktop client is the video-enabled soft client.

Straton said the new portfolio can give VARs a unique way to tie video into unified communications and the network, offering them upgrades to run on top of Microsoft and IBM environments. VARs can also offer video as managed services and sell break-fix services around it.

While Siemens' software approach is further leading to the demise of the PBX, Straton admitted that hardware voice platforms are still necessary in many environments, mostly because networks aren't quite ready for an all-software approach. He said a software overlay enables customers to keep their TDM systems and VoIP systems and migrate step-by-step until older systems can be phased out.

"PBXs are dead and so are Voice over IP systems," Straton said.