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March 9, 2007

Showdown at the Unified Communications Corral

Posted by David Hunter at 11:14 AM ET.

Rik Turner sets the stage for the upcoming showdown in unified business communications at Computer Business Review Online in IBM and Cisco team against Microsoft and Nortel:

IBM and Cisco have announced an alliance bringing together Big Blue’s Sametime collaboration platform with Cisco’s Unified Communications portfolio, in an obvious face-off against Microsoft and Nortel’s Innovative Communications Alliance.

The two industry heavyweights unveiled the initiative a the VoiceCon Spring event in Orlando, Florida, describing plans to deliver something they call the Unified Comms and Collaboration (UC2) Client Platform, which they call “an open set of application programming interfaces offered by IBM as a subset of Lotus Sametime… along with communication APIs by Cisco to access comms functionality such as voice and video services.”

The partners intend to drive app development for their joint offerings by fostering the use of the Eclipse Java development environment and the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi) framework, both of which IBM has been heavily involved in over the years.

Beyond that, however, they’ll be doing their own app dev work, delivering “specific customer offerings including a joint solution based on the new client platform and a set of plug-ins that bring together the communications and collaboration capabilities of both companies.”

The UC2 Client Platform will now form the basis of both companies’ comms and collaboration clients, IBM saying Sametime 7.5 is already based on it, while Cisco committed to porting its newly launched Unified Personal Communicator client in future versions. Among other companies expressing support for the new platform from the get-go were Nokia and RIM, both of whose handset will presumably be able to house the client, as well as Citrix and Presidio, which is a Cisco partner for its high-end TelePresence conferencing portfolio.

In addition to the UC2 client serving as the basis for joint offerings, IBM and Cisco also promised “communication and collaboration products from both companies” as well as “expanded go-to-market activities including Cisco selling Lotus Sametime and IBM selling Cisco Unified Communications Manager [i.e. the Cisco IP PBX], Cisco Unity [the voicemail platform] and Cisco Unified MeetingPlace [its conferencing platform].” There is also a services dimension with IBM Global Technology Services offering assessment through to implementation on the combined portfolio.

There are many more details on the partners’ planned offerings by following the link, but here’s the nut:

And so the battle lines are drawn in unified communications, with Microsoft and its operating system and Real-Time Collaboration Suite, going in alongside Nortel’s CS1000 IP PBX and its MCS5100 app server for conferencing, and IBM hooking up with Cisco for an equivalent offering, with a greater open source component from Big Blue and Cisco increasingly embracing Linux.

It is, in essence, the Notes vs. Exchange battle writ large, and with Microsoft and Cisco moving increasingly into competition in a variety of other areas such as network access control, it is only natural that the networking heavyweight should seek an alliance with IBM to present as broad a front as ICA promises.

Finally, on a related note, Microsoft announced a March beta for Office Communications Server 2007:

In a keynote address at VoiceCon Spring 2007, Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft Corp.’s Business Division, today predicted that in just three years, the average voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) solution for business will cost half what it does today, as VoIP systems move from hardware to software. Raikes also predicted that in the same time frame, 100 million people — twice the number of current business VoIP users — will have the ability to make phone calls from Microsoft® Office applications.

Outlining Microsoft’s progress toward delivering its enterprise voice solutions, Raikes also announced that Microsoft will distribute the public beta-test version of Office Communications Server 2007, Microsoft’s VoIP and unified communications server, and Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft’s unified communications client, to millions of testers later this month.

There had been a private beta back in December.

Filed under Beta and CTP, Cisco, Coopetition, IBM, Microsoft, Nortel, Office, Office Communications Server

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January 21, 2007

Microsoft and Nortel report on their Unified Communications alliance

Posted by David Hunter at 7:02 PM ET.

When companies announce an alliance like Microsoft and Nortel did last July, it’s always a bit of a toss-up as to whether anything substantive will result. Last week the CEOs of Microsoft and Nortel jointly delivered a report that everything was moving along fine and to expect the first products of the alliance later this year:

Today, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer and Nortel CEO and President Mike Zafirovski announced a joint road map to deliver their shared vision for unified communications.

Delivering on the vision they outlined in July, Microsoft and Nortel today introduced three new solutions:

• UC Integrated Branch. This new product from the alliance will incorporate Nortel and Microsoft® technology on a single piece of hardware that delivers cost-effective, high-quality and easy-to-deploy VoIP and unified communications in remote offices. The UC Integrated Branch is planned to be available in the fourth quarter of 2007.

• Unified Messaging. To simplify customer deployments, native session initiation protocol (SIP) interoperability between the Nortel Communication Server 1000 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging is planned to be available in the second quarter of 2007. The solution includes Nortel professional services for design, deployment and support.

• Conferencing. This new solution will extend the rich feature set of Nortel Multimedia Conferencing to Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, delivering a single, familiar client experience consistent across applications such as voice, instant messaging, presence, and audio- and videoconferencing. The on-premise solution is planned to be available in the fourth quarter of 2007.

In 2007, the companies also plan to extend their current unified communications solution — a unified desktop and soft phone for VoIP, e-mail, instant messaging and presence — to the Nortel Communication Server 2100, a carrier-grade enterprise telephony product supporting up to 200,000 users on a single system.

In addition, Nortel and Microsoft presented a road map for 2008 and beyond for moving business communications onto a software platform designed to drive a higher-quality user experience and reduce total cost of ownership. The road map outlines several key applications and technology developments including a unified communications contact center, Nortel feature server, expanded hosted UC solutions, mobility and client solutions, and application-aware networking enhancements.

According to Marguerite Reardon at CNET much of that deeper integration isn’t planned to arrive until 2009. Time will tell on the execution and success of their plans, but for now the game is on and the alliance has to be counted among the players in the fragmented unified communications landscape.

Filed under Alliances, Coopetition, Exchange, Executives, Microsoft, Nortel, Office, Office Communications Server, Servers, Steve Ballmer

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December 12, 2006

Microsoft launches private beta of Office Communications Server 2007

Posted by David Hunter at 9:39 AM ET.

Press release:

Microsoft Corp. today opened a private beta of its new enterprise voice communications server, Microsoft® Office Communications Server 2007, to 2,500 IT professionals. Office Communications Server 2007 allows companies to integrate voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology into existing telephony infrastructure, eliminating the need for expensive network overhauls and also extending the useful life of existing investments. The new voice server will also allow workers to instantly launch a phone call from 2007 Microsoft Office applications, such as Office Word 2007, Office Outlook® 2007 or Office Communicator, by simply clicking on a colleague’s name to determine his or her availability and initiate a person-to-person or multiparty call.

With native support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator, part of the 2007 Microsoft Office system, interoperate with products from industry partners including Nortel Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., LG-Nortel Co. Ltd., Mitel Networks Corp., NEC Philips Unified Solutions, Polycom Inc. and Siemens Communications Inc. Through these relationships, customers worldwide will be able to support VoIP using their existing desktop phones, data networks and time division multiplexing (TDM) or Internet protocol (IP) private branch exchanges (PBXs). Customers will also able to leverage the softphone capabilities of Office Communicator to make and receive phone calls from their PCs, eliminating the need to purchase expensive IP-compatible phones.

Microsoft is being coy about an availability date, but Office Communications Server (which had a shotgun wedding with Exchange in January) is key to Microsoft’s Unified Communications push. There’s also a Q&A on the whole lashup here.

Filed under Alcatel-Lucent, Beta and CTP, Cisco, Coopetition, Exchange, Microsoft, Mitel, Nortel, Office, Office Communications Server, Servers

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October 31, 2006

Deals, deals, deals

Posted by David Hunter at 4:03 PM ET.

It seems to be Microsoft deal day and leading off is the news that Microsoft’s Halo video game based movie, which went on the rocks when Universal and Fox withdrew their funding, has been indefinitely postponed:

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday said the company and the Oscar-winning team behind “The Lord of the Rings” films have postponed “Halo” — the movie based on Microsoft’s popular alien shoot-up video games.

“At this time Microsoft, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh have mutually agreed to postpone making a feature film based on the Halo video game,” Microsoft said in a statement.

“While it will undoubtedly take a little longer for Halo to reach the big screen, we are confident that the final feature film will be well worth the wait,” said the company, which through a spokesman declined further comment.

Leaving broken Hollywood dreams behind for the mundane technical variety, if Microsoft did a big unified communications deal with Nortel why are they demoing with Mitel?

Well, if past deals have problems, there are always new deals like Microsoft and Zend Technologies Announce Technical Collaboration to Improve Interoperability of PHP on the Windows Server Platform. No financial terms were disclosed, but I find it hard to believe that it is a great business opportunity for Zend without some reimbursement from Microsoft. Best line:

The companies believe the alternative “WIMP stack”–which substitutes Windows and the Internet Information Server (IIS) for Linux and Apache–will have some appeal.

Here’s another one that asks more questions than it answers, but in a potentially interesting way:

Autocell Laboratories Inc., a maker of automatic frequency management software for wireless networks and applications, has confirmed that it has entered into a licensing agreement with Microsoft Corp., the company said on Tuesday.

The licenseing agreement is with respect to Acton-based Autocell’s patent portfolio related to load balancing, automatic channel selection, transmit power control, fast roaming, automatic secure wireless key distribution and generation, as well as various software architecture patents.

Microsoft has also obtained non-exclusive rights to use the Autocell access point and station source code bases.

And Microsoft isn’t just buying technology, it’s also selling – in China:

Today at the Innovation Summit in Beijing, Microsoft Corp. announced the first-ever licensing of technologies to two Chinese software companies, Comtech Group Inc. and Hunan Talkweb Information System Co. Ltd. (Talkweb). The innovative mobile communications technologies were developed by scientists at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing. Comtech and Talkweb are demonstrating the potential for intellectual property created in China to be the basis for new businesses in the growing Chinese knowledge economy. Although Microsoft has successfully partnered with other companies and entrepreneurs in Europe and the U.S., this is the first time early-stage intellectual property-based technologies are being licensed under the shared-success business model of Microsoft IP Ventures in China.

The financial part of “shared-success” was not disclosed, but Microsoft says that they like the Chinese deals so much that they are working hard on more.

Filed under Autocell, Comtech, Coopetition, IP Ventures, Microsoft, Microsoft Research, Mitel, Nortel, Patents, Talkweb, Xbox, Zend

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