Monday, October 22, 2007

Microsoft Unified Communications Server launched....

No one other than Bill Gates launched Microsoft's entry into the VOIP market last week. Microsoft Unified Communications Server is a web conferencing and chat server that can be integrated with existing PBXs (Although the enterprise version has a switching module). Microsoft has validated the VOIP market and this will definitely help educate the market about the benefits of software-based phone systems. Though the route it has taken is a strange one - it's counting on partnerships with PBX vendors to create the total solution. Exactly why PBX vendors would want to partner on this plan is unclear to me, though it seems Nortel has offered to be the first lamb and bought into the idea of letting the Trojan horse into their customer base. I believe CISCO, Avaya and others will put up a tougher fight, leaving resellers to do the integration with the existing PBXs on their own.

Traditional PBXs are more or less black boxes and are notoriously difficult to integrate with. Coupled with the fact that most Microsoft Resellers have little telecommunications experience, I believe that it is going to be an uphill battle for Microsoft.

Not surprisingly Bill Gates announced the demise of the hardware based PBX, (along with message that it wants to partner with PBX vendors), and that a software switch will be doing that work in the future , obviously supplied by Microsoft. As a matter of fact, 3CX can do software based switching today ....

So Microsoft enters yet another market. But will it be successful? Microsoft has launched a series of unsuccessful products that have had a hard time getting significant market share - Microsoft ISA server, Dynamics, Virtual Server to name just a few. Even at no cost, Virtual Server is unpopular. Yet its core products, Operating systems and Desktop applications, are under heavy attack. Vista is a spectacular failure.

I can't help thinking that under Steve Ballmer Microsoft has lost its focus. Frustrated by a share price that has been static for nearly 7 years, Microsoft is behaving like a cornered dog, taking bites at any market it thinks might help its plight. Focusing its efforts on the release of a truly good operating system and desktop application upgrade might help Microsoft more....


David Vella said...

Actually the MS Unified Communications Server has some neat functionality.

I doubt how successful it will be in a software-only form within enterprise size organizations. It definitely needs to partner with the professionals for the infrastructure experience such as Cisco, Avaya etc.

From a completeness of vision in the Unified Communications space (NOT just VoIP) it has good important features - mostly being Presence Awareness, Instant Messaging Capabilities and IM Federation. The core features set are these and not the actual VoIP soft-switch.

MAYBEEEEE (CAPS :) ) the 3CX IPPBX could actually be a great complementary solution with MS UCS as it fills the MS UCS gaps.

Anyway, realistically speaking the full MS UCS vision is possibly overkill for the SMB space. The 3CX solution should be more than enough!


Filios (NYC) said...

From my experience, the winners in the Voice wars will be the vendors that realize that it is not the voice platform that matters, but the applications that it comes with. By that I mean that to sell a system to a hotel, you need to have accompanying applications specific to that market (guest wake-up, voice mail, call center, VIP handling,etc), and for a hospital, operator services, on-call, code call, messaging, bed tracking and more. These applications are on-top of the "me too" stuff such as presence, find me and conferencing.

To that end the VoIP system needs to expose the proper interfaces to make these products possible (CSTA, TR-87, TAPI, and others). These interfaces need to be robust, documented, supported, and available cheaply and openly to developers who build such systems. They should be a standard part of the system not licensed separate as NORTEL and Avaya do. Part of Cisco's success, is the fact that when you lookup VoIP the books that are found are about Callmanager, it's functionality, and the plethora of available interfaces to developers.

Finally, it is very important to identify providers of such systems and work with them to develop and sell the VoIP product and the accompanying applications as a total solution.

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