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Microsoft Talks Up Beta Version of VoIP Server

Microsoft on Tuesday opened a private beta of its new enterprise voice communications server to 2,500 IT professionals.

Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 allows companies to integrate Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology into existing telephony infrastructure. The software giant hopes to gain traction in this market with a business process integration approach to VoIP.

The new voice server will also allow workers to launch a phone call from 2007 Microsoft Office applications, such as Word 2007, Outlook 2007 or Communicator, by clicking on a colleague’s name.

“The convergence of telecom and data networks is happening rapidly,” said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft. “Software will integrate these two worlds, enabling IT managers to deliver new communications possibilities that include VoIP.”

It’s About the Savings

Office Communications Server 2007 is the successor to Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005 and a part of Microsoft’s unified communications portfolio. Companies using Office Communications Server 2007 can deploy an enterprise-wide presence; enable security-enhanced enterprise instant messaging; host on-premise audio, video and Web conferences; and deploy VoIP capabilities.

Capabilities in the private beta of Office Communications Server 2007 include placing and receiving voice calls; advanced call routing; streamlined integration with the new unified messaging capabilities in Exchange Server 2007; multiparty conferencing; call holding, forwarding and transferring; and compliance capabilities.

In its quest to demonstrate the validity approach to VoIP, Microsoft pointed to a recent Gartner report that stated, “The ultimate driver of VoIP is not merely cost savings, but is in business process integration. Enterprises should evaluate their long-term strategy toward developing IP telephony applications beyond basic telephony, including business application integration.”

Wanted: Networking Capability

Microsoft’s voice server offers native support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and works with products from industry partners such as Nortel Networks, Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE ALU), Avaya, Cisco Systems and Siemens Communications.

These relationships will allow customers to support VoIP using existing desktop phones, data networks and time division multiplexing (TDM) or Internet protocol (IP) private branch exchanges (PBXs). Customers will also be able to leverage the softphone capabilities of Communicator to make and receive phone calls from their PCs, eliminating the need to purchase IP-compatible phones.

Microsoft may be hoping to gain some credibility in the networking space by touting names such as Cisco and Nortel as partners, but the company will need more than partnerships to establish credibility in this market, according to Michael Dortch, director of the Robert Frances Group’s IT Infrastructure Management Practice.

“Microsoft faces two problems any time it introduces something like this: unproven expertise in the specialty area and the fact that you have to run Windows to get it,” Dortch told TechNewsWorld. “There are a number of classes and types of enterprises that are seeking to reduce their dependence on Windows.”

Challenges Ahead

Microsoft is charged with demonstrating that Windows — and the other Microsoft technologies that are part of this server — deliver some clear business benefits that make it worth either developing or increasing dependence on Windows, Dortch said.

“The question that is the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room is Why? What does this product bring me other than a VoIP solution in a box? The answers to that question are going to have to do with business benefits, meaningful technology innovation and alliances and partnerships,” Dortch said. “Microsoft is going to have to quickly carve out a unique niche or this will be looked at as an attempt to maintain control in the server space.”

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