Microsoft, Nortel Alliance Yields Unified Communications Solutions

A year-and-a-half into its strategic unified communications partnership -- the Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA) -- Microsoft Corp. and Nortel Networks today unveiled four new solutions taking bits and pieces from each other to fuel collaboration.

The new products, which add functionality of Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 into Nortel networking gear, make good on a January 2007 road map outlined by top execs for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft and Toronto-based Nortel that promised a breadth of products blending audio, video and software technologies.

Ruchi Prasad, vice president and general manager of the ICA at Nortel, said the goal of the new products is to enable the deployment of global services and offer an "end-to-end unified communications portfolio to enable and de-risk the deployment of unified communications."

First among the four products is the Nortel Converged Office, which integrates the voice functionality of Nortel's Communications Server (CS) 1000 IP-PBX or CS 2100 IP-PBX with Microsoft's Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007. The Nortel CS 1000 is the first and only IP-PBX qualified by Microsoft's Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program, Prasad said, which offers a seamless experience with setup, support and use of Converged Office.

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Second, the pair announced a branch office solution that combines OCS 2007 mediation server capabilities with Nortel's Secure Router 4134. The UC Integrated Branch solution extends unified communications to the branch office and integrates WAN routing, Ethernet switching, security and VoIP into a single platform. Secure Router 4134 has also been qualified by Microsoft's interoperability program.

Microsoft and Nortel also released a hosted unified communications solution that lets service providers offer a hosted option to SMBs and enterprises. The Nortel and Microsoft Carrier Hosted Unified Communications Solution is available to companies using Nortel's Communications Server 200 softswitch with Microsoft OCS 2007. Providers can offer a hosted solution for instant messaging, VoIP, click-to-call, video conferencing and other rich media applications through Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft's unified communications client.

Lastly, the duo unveiled Nortel Multimedia Conferencing 5.0 for OCS 2007, a reservationless audio conferencing solution to enhance OCS 2007 conferencing. The solution supports desktop clients; analog, digital and IP phones and remote callers; and includes features that can convert an audio conference into a desktop video conference.

According to Prasad, the four offerings make good on promises made throughout the alliance's life. She said that since Microsoft and Nortel launched the alliance, the vendors' have had more than 600 wins for their unified communications products.

"With the availability of these latest solutions, Nortel and Microsoft have now delivered on the joint solutions that our two CEOs outlined in January 2007," Prasad said. "With these solutions, enterprises can now choose to deploy unified communications as either a customer premise solution, managed service solution, or hybrid hosted solution, helping accelerate the pace of unified communications adoption."

She said the releases let enterprises choose from a broad portfolio of unified communications software and supporting professional services that offer a single user experience through a common interface, the simplicity of a common architecture and flexibility of either on-premise, hosted or hybrid solutions.

NEXT: The Channel Weighs In

Prasad said Nortel and Microsoft are working with channel partners and getting them ready and certified on both the hardware and software solutions.

Craig Schuman, director of business development and strategy for Microsoft's UC group, added that VARs don't have to offer their customers a rip-and-replace solution to get on board with unified communications. Instead, the pairing of Microsoft and Nortel allows them to offer a phased approach.

"They can enable their customers to migrate to UC and VoIP at their own pace," Schuman said. "They don't have to rip out what they have now. They can choose what they want and when they want it."

Schuman added that Microsoft's software-based approach gives the vendor a competitive leg up against other vendors offering UC wares.

"We approach UC in a fundamentally different way," he said. "Cisco believes the intelligence is in the network. Microsoft says it's in the software and applications."

Jerry Olson, president of One Vision Communications Inc., an Omaha-based solution provider, said Tuesday's releases prove that Microsoft and Nortel are serious about their partnership and about getting UC on the map. So far, Olson said, he has several large opportunities coming this year leveraging the products spawned from the ICA.

"Customers are expressing interest," he said. "I see this as a valuable tool."

Olson said he's currently working to achieve Microsoft gold certification. He said so far, the joint UC solutions have been able to bring his Nortel client-base into unified communications with few headaches.

"I can take a Nortel customer to the next level with just a few upgrades," he said. "I talk about this a lot to all of our customers. It's a security blanket because they know they can do it with their Nortel platform. It's a great story to tell."

Olson added that he's pleased to see the promises made by Microsoft and Nortel are starting to come true, despite the naysayers that came out in droves when the ICA was first announced.

"This proves that it's true," he said. "And we see a lot of good positive things coming out of this now and in the future."

Microsoft's Schuman said the pair will not rest on their laurels after just these releases. The next phase of the alliance is already in motion and includes a fully hosted unified communications solution to provide the same user experience as the on-premise Converged Office solution in a fully hosted environment for both VoIP and all UC applications.

Schuman added that Nortel and Microsoft are also working on integrating Nortel's Contact Center application with OCS to deliver real-time multi-modal capabilities enabling new customer touch points, while leveraging presence and collaboration capabilities to improve first call resolution and improve the efficiency of communications between agents, supervisors and subject matter experts.

"You're going to see the next phase delivering these solutions -- in a hosted environment and contact center integration -- to lower the TCO and offer flexibility," Schuman said.