Next Step in Microsoft’s March to VoIP

Microsoft Corporation yesterday implemented a new step in its well-foreshadowed campaign to enter the VoIP field of battle. The ‘private’ beta testing program for Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS) will be open only to approximately 2,500 IT managers who have had some experience with Microsoft Live Communications Server, which OCS effectively replaces.

Earlier steps in the campaign include the purchase, in August 2005, of softphone and click-to-call software startup Telio, the announcement in June 2006 of OCS, which, significantly, includes SIP-based VoIP functionality, and a partnership between Microsoft and Nortel—dubbed the “Innovateive Communications Alliance” and announced in July of this year—directed at unified communications (convergence of voicemail, e-mail, and fax messaging).

As recently as early November 2006, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said, speaking before delegates at a Microsoft conference in Japan, that the company would enter the VoIP market early in the coming year.

While Microsoft has a built-in bias toward the PC—and Microsoft server products—as the nexus of business communication, the company has made it clear that a major focus of the OCS beta test is compatibility with the legacy hardware and other infrastructure of major telephony provider such as Nortel, Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, Mitel, and others.

In other words, interoperability will be the watchword of Microsoft’s VoIP play.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, vice president of the Microsoft’s unified communications said, in a statement, “With this new open architecture and broad interoperability, Office Communications Server 2007 will give IT managers the flexibility to determine when and how they move their communications infrastructure forward.”

According to In-Stat analyst Jim McGregor, although small businesses will probably be attracted to a Microsoft voice solution early on—due to the lure of cost savings from IP telephony—the company will need to get larger enterprisese, with their sizable investments in phone infrastructure, on board as well is the campaign is to succeed.

“No one makes a jump where there are compatibility questions,” McGregor said.

Adapted from an story by Ed Sutherland.

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