Microsoft Readies Its Unified Communications Platform - InformationWeek

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Microsoft Readies Its Unified Communications Platform

The upcoming Oct. 16 release will solidify Microsoft's push to sell to telecom managers communication services that business application developers can incorporate.

Microsoft on Tuesday said it would make generally available in October the components of its unified communications platform and would release a new monitoring server about the same time.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of Microsoft's Unified Communications Group, told attendees at the VoiceCon conference in San Francisco that Office Communications Server 2007, Office Communicator 2007, and Office Live Meeting would be generally available Oct. 16. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and Jeff Raikes, president of the company's business division, would launch the components of the UC platform, which also includes Exchange Server 2007, in San Francisco.

About the same time, Microsoft would make generally available the Quality of Experience Monitoring Server, which enables telecom managers to keep tabs on the quality of communication services, Pall said during his keynote address.

The monitoring server captures data related to more than 35 parameters set for every voice call. During a demonstration, Warren Barkley, group program manager for unified communications, showed how Microsoft Access, a client-side database, or an Excel spreadsheet could be set up as the front end to query a SQL Server database storing quality of service information and to read reports.

Barkley also showed how Microsoft's 3-D aerial mapping service Virtual Earth could be incorporated to view the physical location, such as a building, where a problem existed in a global operation.

Besides observing voice communications, the monitor server could also be used to track service quality in call centers, Pall said. All stored information starts at the device initiating the call, including mobile devices, so "information is in real time."

Not surprisingly, Pall's speech focused on Microsoft's software-based UC system as the best replacement for older in-house PBX telephone switching systems that interconnects telephone extensions to each other as well as to the outside telephone network. "When you don't have a software-centric point of view, then your heading in the wrong direction," Pall said.

Software, particularly Microsoft's, makes it possible for telecom managers to expose communication services that business application developers can incorporate, making it possible to contact people -- whether by voice, video conferencing, or instant messaging -- directly from the desktop.

As a result, telecom managers are elevated to a position where they are contributing to the creation of computer-based business processes that are more efficient and reduce costs. "That's when a telecom manager is helping drive the business forward," Pall said. "That's when the telecom manager is at the table when key decisions are made."

Microsoft's approach to telecom has placed it in competition with partner Cisco Systems, which takes a network hardware approach to unified communications. While intending to push their own agendas, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers held a news conference Monday, assuring the industry that the companies plan to continue working together in areas where joint customers are served.

In answering questions submitted in advance by the audience, Pall reiterated his boss' position. "From a customer perspective, Microsoft and Cisco individually are very important partners for customers," Pall said. At the same time, both needed to fight hard for their own agendas. "I think it's very important for the industry and customers that we compete fiercely in getting out the right vision."

Pall also commented on Skype's claims that a recent two-day interruption in its voice-over-IP service was caused by a massive restart of users' computers after the machines rebooted following the automatic installation of patches from Microsoft's Windows Update service. Skype has more than 220 million users worldwide. Subscribers talk to each other at no charge and pay a modest 3 cents a minute to call non-Skype users.

Pall did not address the problems cited by Skype directly, but noted that enterprise VoIP requires a more robust and secure system.

Pall also announced at the show that Microsoft had licensed its voice codec software, called RT Audio Codec, to Intel, Texas Instruments, AudioCodes, Dialogic, LG-Nortel, and Polycom. The software is used to improve sound quality in software-based communication systems.

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