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November 26, 2007

Microsoft's OCS 2007 Sheds Spotlight on Software-based VoIP

By Alan Rosenberg, BlueNote Networks

“Organizations need easy-to-use and cost-effective voice and data communications services to enable personal productivity and efficient operations, and to be responsive to their customers. Windows, as an open platform that supports standards, provides the infrastructure to meet these customer requirements. Coupled with third-party support, Windows offers a comprehensive set of communications technologies and solutions from which customers can choose. With the open platform of the Windows family, Microsoft (News - Alert) is committed to making it easier for telephony and converged communications software and hardware vendors to bring better solutions to customers more quickly. Today's announcements support this mission.1 Microsoft.

Sounds like a quote from Microsoft’s recent Office Communications Server 2007 launch doesn’t it? Think again.
“Today at Computer Telephony Expo (CT Expo) Spring '99, Microsoft Corp. announced agreements and plans to expand opportunities in computer telephony and converged network communications for customers and developers using any of the Microsoft Windows operating systems. Microsoft also previewed new technologies expected to increase the use of Windows as the preferred platform for communications solutions.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Windows TAPI version 3.0 failed to live up to the promise of establishing Windows as the preferred platform for voice communications solutions. But Microsoft has taken a renewed interest in converged communications with OCS 2007. And this time they are putting more R&D and marketing dollars behind converged communications (although these days it is more fashionable to refer to it as Unified Communications (News - Alert)).
OCS 2007 delivers a broad set of presence-aware IM, VoIP and conferencing capabilities. And Microsoft has established partnerships and interoperability agreements with all the major PBX (News - Alert) players including Nortel, Avaya, Cisco and others. Jeff Raikes, President Microsoft Business Division predicts that in the next three years, at least 100 million people will be able to make phone calls using OCS.
With all the industry buzz it is difficult for IT and Telecom planners not to take a hard look at OCS 2007. But with history as a guideline, many planners are proceeding cautiously. Prudent IT managers are identifying the true total costs of an OCS 2007 implementation, investigating the availability of key features, and studying alternative and complimentary solutions.
The basic premise upon which OCS 2007 is founded is not new. Microsoft recognizes that the voice and IT worlds have always been autonomous. Voice has been purchased, implemented, and managed independently of the IT infrastructure. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, interactive communications services, such as voice, can be delivered in software and they can be deployed and consumed in a manner similar to other IT applications and services. Business Communications Platform vendors have been promoting and delivering this concept for quite some time.
By implementing voice as a software-based service, an enterprise can:
  • Leverage IT server assets (and volume purchase agreements) for voice
  • Exploit ongoing server price/performance improvements
  • Utilize IT staff and back office systems for voice administration and operations
  • Reduce voice TCO
  • Offer single sign-on and authorization for voice and data
  • More easily integrate voice with software applications and business processes
But not all software-based interactive communications platforms are the same. Here are some important items to consider when investigating OCS 2007 or any software-based solution for voice services.
Handset and soft phone choices. Does the solution support any standard SIP-based hard phone or softphone so you can choose the device that best meets your price, form-factor and functional needs? Some vendors rely on proprietary extensions that limit your handset choices.
PBX and PSTN interworking. Does the platform work with any standards-based media gateway? Does it offer a choice of external gateways as well as internal server adapters that best meet your price and capacity needs throughout your entire enterprise?
High availability. What types of redundancy and availability features are supported? Can a branch office survive an IP failure? Can branch office workers continue to place and receive PSTN calls when the data connection to HQ is down?
Emergency calling services. Does the system support 911 calls for SOHO users?
SIP trunk providers. Does the solution allow you to leverage a SIP trunk provider to reduce your long distance and international calling costs?
Thin SIP client technology. Does the vendor offer Java, ActiveX or Flash technology to embed a softphone into a Web page or browser based application? Can you quickly add VoIP click-to-talk to your web site or Web 2.0 application? Can your mobile employees place and receive corporate telephone calls from a browser?
High level APIs. Does the platform offer an abstract programming interface to allow developers with no telephony background to quickly and easily integrate voice with software applications and business processes? Do these APIs allow you to reach out to external business logic to influence call handling and routing decisions?
By deploying voice as a software service, enterprises can extend and improve IT asset investments, make better use of IT development and administrative resources, and reduce telecommunications capital equipment and operations expenses. And by incorporating interactive communications into business applications, businesses can enjoy improved employee productivity, increased product and services revenues, and increased customer satisfaction and retention.
When formulating a Unified Communications strategy, IT planners should fully investigate the VoIP capabilities of OCS 2007 and other UC platforms. In practice, an enterprise may need to deploy a combination of solutions to meet its full set of requirements – a UC solution such as OCS for presence, I/M and collaboration plus a Business Communications Platform to integrate voice and other interactive communication services into Web pages, Web 2.0 applications and business processes while delivering enterprise grade corporate voice services.
1. Microsoft Innovations Lay the Foundation for Computer Telephony Solutions, March 2, 1999.

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Alan Rosenberg is director of Product Line Management for BlueNote Networks (News - Alert). With BlueNote SessionSuite platforms, enterprises, ISVs and partners can quickly and easily embed interactive real-time communication services into a range of commercial or custom software applications, Web sites and internal business processes using industry-standard interfaces and technology. Rosenberg can be reached at [email protected].


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