Microsoft OCS Crowns Communications Service Package from CallTower

You know a product is gaining some serious traction in the marketplace when two SaaS providers announce hosted solutions within a week of each other. The product in question is Microsoft’s unified communications application, Office Communications Server 2007 R2, which launched to much fanfare about 18 months ago.

The first hosted OCS offering to catch our attention was from Verizon Business (see our coverage here). Before the ‘ink was dry’ on that story, we saw the announcement, from San Francisco-based CallTower Inc., of a hosted OCS suite—integrated with the Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CallManager) PBX.

We caught up with Bob Barnes, CallTower’s executive VP for marketing and business development, for the full story.

According to Barnes, CallTower, which has been providing hosted business communications services since 2002, was the first company ever to offer the market-leading CallManager PBX as their hosted telephony platform.

But CallManager was just the beginning. What makes CallTower unique, according to Barnes, is that, throughout its history, the company has focused on integrating and bundling a variety of communications technologies. From the get-go, CallTower’s service offering included e-mail (Microsoft Exchange) and unified messaging.

“Through the years, we’ve been evolving and adding more and more services to the service suite,” Barnes told Enterprise Two and a half years ago they added instant messaging to the mix, via Microsoft Live Communications Server. “We offer BlackBerry and managed WAN services, and all these other products that fit around this communications landscape,” Barnes said—”and have been doing that for quite a while.”

To sell CallManager to multiple customers, developers at CallTower created a partitioning system that allowed them to run multiple instances of CallManager on a single server cluster. The same system now allows the provider to partition OCS, “and provision all that stuff seamlessly with a single provisioning interface,” according to Barnes.

CallTower’s approach to hosting/managing these big third-party application suites is to give their customers the whole ball of wax, rather than ‘renting’ features out, one by one.

“The way we’re selling it is that every seat of service that we sell gets the entire feature set– the CallManager feature set as well as the OCS feature set,” Barnes said. “Those two are joined together, so the presence management, the conferencing, the Web conferencing, the video conferencing—all of that works and is delivered to every seat of every customer.”

Moreover, CallTower gives its customers the option of getting the phones bundled in with the service offering. “About half our customers choose to bundle the equipment in with our service fees. Customers can also buy it on their own, either from us or from somebody else. But we do allow them to have a ‘zero capex’ option,” Barnes told

Coming later this year (Q2) will be a standalone OCS service offering. “We’ll be releasing a pure OCS product that isn’t going to require CallManager or any other softswitch to be involved. You can use just the OCS phones, and that can really be your primary telephony platform,” Barnes explained.

This will allow customers to take advantage of the mobility potential built into OCS. “You’ll be able to take your laptop home. You log in on the Internet; you can use your USB headset or one of the OCS phones, and you’re fully mobile and present wherever you are,” Barnes said.

According to Barnes, the privately held CallTower targets businesses with 50 or more employees and two or more locations. “Our average client size for the last 180 days has been about 90 employees and three locations, so we’re playing slightly above where the traditional VoIP players play,” he elaborated.

The provider must be doing something right, as—Barnes reported—it has experienced over 50 percent growth every year since its launch. “We’re exiting the strongest sales quarter in our history—the first quarter of this year—which we’re finding pretty encouraging considering some of the other stuff that’s going on in the marketplace,” he said.

The offering has attracted strong uptake in a number of vertical industries, including healthcare, boutique financial services, technology companies, legal, contact centers, and education, according to Barnes.

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