Microsoft adds unified comms to its stack

Microsoft adds unified comms to its stack

Office Communications Server 2007 supports audio, video and group instant messaging

Microsoft has launched Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, a platform for delivering unified communications to users of its Office productivity suite. However, firms will need to run other Microsoft programs to take advantage of the release.

OCS 2007 supports on-premise web conferencing, audio, video, group instant messaging, and Microsoft’s RoundTable teleconferencing system.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said OCS would make it easier for staff to communicate with each other in real time. “They will be able to initiate a conversation by email, voice, video, or instant messaging from within Microsoft Office system,” he added.

Gates said the release would also let people stay connected using Windows Mobile devices thanks to a new Communicator Mobile 2007 client and the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) client already built into Windows Mobile 6.

Microsoft’s unified comms group product manager, Mark Deakin, said a number of organisations have trialled OCS, but it is now available for all firms.

Deakin added the arrival of OCS brings telephony firmly within the domain of the enterprise IT manager. “We’re trying to apply our software approach to the traditional telephony world, so when you want to give a new starter access to unified communications, it’s as simple as right-clicking on that person in Active Directory, selecting properties, adding the telephone number and ticking the right box,” he said.

For managing quality of service, OCS offers a “quality of experience” monitoring server, which Deakin said would let IT managers check voice calls for problems such as lag and jitter.

Butler Group analyst Mark Blowers pointed out that OCS runs on a platform that people are familiar with and have the skills to support. “In the past, firms usually needed [third-party kit] to get the same functions,” he added.

Forrester analyst Henry Dewing said his firm’s clients were interested in OCS as a means of increasing productivity. “But Microsoft has had this technology for some time, so it’s not a revolution, rather a good evolution,” he argued.

Dewing added that OCS would make it much easier for Microsoft to embed presence and click-to-call functions into its ERP and CRM systems.

The software comes in two versions: OCS Standard, which is aimed at smaller firms, and OCS Enterprise, which requires SQL Server running on dedicated hardware and also Active Directory. The SQL database would be linked to what Microsoft calls an “enterprise pool”, a collection of servers running OCS behind a hardware load-balancing system.

Dewing argued that the extra investment needed to deploy the software could easily be recouped.

“Any costs associated with an OCS rollout could easily be saved on cutting long-distance international calls, as well as mobile bills and associated roaming charges,” Dewing said

Microsoft’s OCS technology partners include Nortel, which is building unified communications systems using OCS and its own hardware, and EMC, which last week announced complementary tools for the server.