Microsoft has put a fair amount of marketing muscle into their Unified Communications offering. Many organizations are busy architecting, deploying, and implementing the various components- Exchange Server 2007, Office Communications Server 2007, the OCS 2007 Mediation Server, etc. The standard, supported configuration involves separate server hardware for most of the components, and an on-site PBX solution. Evangelyze Communications however, working with VoIP provider NGT (New Global Telecom) has built a fully functional Microsoft Unified Communications deployment running almost entirely virtualized in Hyper-V, and connected remotely to a hosted VoIP service. You can learn more from Mike Stacy’s blog: Hosted Gateway/SIP Trunk with OCS. The result is a Microsoft Unified Communications deployment with significant cost savings in terms of hardware and infrastructure.
Microsoft has a unified communications offering for small and medium businesses (SMB) with Response Point. They also have a more robust solution for enterprises providing even more features, functionality, and power for unified communications with Microsoft UC. What they do’t have, or at least didn’t have, is a unified communications solution for call centers, or other businesses that rely on communications more than standard businesses at an almost exponential level. The have formed a partnership with Aspect, a company that focuses on delivering innovative solutions for customer service and call centers. Combining the power and flexibility of Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007 with Aspect Unified IP delivers next-generation communications for call centers. There are still some hurdles to cross. Aside from delivering unified communications capabilities to the call center, the solution also has to offer high availability and resiliency to ensure communications are not disrupted even in the event of a server, or complete site catastrophe.
One of the most important factors in a successful VoIP or unified communications implementation is ensuring that adequate server processing horsepower and network bandwidth exist to handle the load. Streaming audio and video are less tolerant of latency and packet fragmentation, and the infrastructure has to be capable of meeting the demands of unified communications. Mike Stacy, Director of Professional Services for Evangelyze, has created an OCS Capacity and Bandwidth Calculator. The calculations to determine the number of users a given server can support, or the bandwidth capacity necessary for those users to use unified communications technologies are contained in an Excel spreadsheet which Stacy makes available for free.
Microsoft’s Response Point phone system will have a third hardware provider very soon. Quanta (Syspine) and D-Link have already been providing Response Point base units and phones, and now the long awaited Aastra phone system is nearly ready for prime time. The Microsoft Response Point system offers small and medium businesses many of the features and functions of larger enterprise-level unified communications voice solutions, in a cost-effective and exceptionally simple system. Aastra, aside from just being the third vendor on the block to offer Response Point equipment, is also the first to provide a cordless phone handset option that works with Response Point. Ohio-based consultant Allen Miller shows off some pictures of his beta system and talks a little about the Aastra equipment on his blog. Miller also talks in another post about his experience using the Aastra Response Point phones to conduct a call over VoIP while also loading his network down with additional activity. Overall, Miller gives the Aastra system high marks and says that his call was crystal clear even with the extra network traffic.
Nortel has formed an alliance with SecureLogix to enable Nortel VAR’s to market and sell the SecureLogix ETM System and other security services in conjunction with Nortel’s new Voice Security Services offering. Adding to the arsenal already available to Nortel VAR’s, the SecureLogix ETM System provides a powerful voice security and management platform. Nortel customers will be able to optimize their investment in voice technologies, while protecting the voice and data networks from telephony-based attacks and abuses. Unified communications and VoIP are hot technologies that many companies have adopted or are looking at implementing soon, but few have taken the time to understand the security risks or proactively safeguard their unified communications investment. Nortel and SecureLogix are moving in the right direction by recognizing the security concerns and providing products and services to help their customers leverage the benefits of these new technologies securely.
D-Link, an established name in consumer wired and wireless networking, is targeting rival Cisco to deliver switching solutions for unified communications. D-Link is one of the primary partners with Microsoft for their Response Point communications package, a simple, cost-effective product for small and medium businesses (SMB) which provides many of the benefits of an enterprise unified communications implementation without the cost or complexity. D-Link plans to deliver a range of products aimed at providing unified communications for the SMB market, and they envision being able to achieve 50 percent profit margins in this hot, cutting edge arena.
If you are a Mac user, as an ever-increasing percentage of you seem to be, you may be feeling left out of the unified communications revolution. As Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, IBM, and a host of smaller players all vie to establish their share of the UC pie, the Mac operating system has been largely ignored. According to Evangelyze Founder and Executive Director Joe Schurman, Microsoft has changed that with the introduction of Mac Messenger 7.0. This initial step at integrating Macs with Office Communications Server 2007 does not include Live Meeting or enterprise voice support, but it does enable Mac users to benefit from video, audio, presence, and instant messaging with other users in an OCS 2007 / UCC infrastructure.
In a recent post on the ‘All About Microsoft’ blog at ZDNet, Mary-Jo Foley describes an ambitious plan already in the works from Microsoft that seeks to eliminate the need for phone numbers. The project, codenamed ‘Echoes’, is being developed and incubated by Microsoft’s Israeli Strategic Development Center. The short-term plan apparently involves engaging telcom providers to partner up to provide a common network address book, to SMS in/out messaging, simultaneous ringing, click-to-call, single-sign on and more for their mobile phone users. In a nutshell, the goal seems to be a move toward greater convergence of the unified communications components (email, voicemail, instant messaging, presence, etc.) that will result in simplified communications that can be initiated by just knowing a user’s name rather than having to know, or look up their phone number.
Certificates are a key component of enabling communications between the various components of Microsoft UCC implementation. The OCS server maintains certificates with the various servers in order to facilitate secure communications. Having the certificates expire unexpectedly means losing communications unexpectedly, so admins need to be proactive about ensuring certificates are renewed or replaced before they expire. Mike Stacy, a Director at Evangelyze, discusses how to monitor OCS for certificate expiration.
This is admittedly very short notice, but in my defense I just learned of this conference myself and its in my ‘back yard’ so to speak. The Global Connect 2008 conference is being held at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine, TX near Dallas starting tomorrow, June 1. Actually, for some there is even a Leadership Conference being held today. The stuff going on Sunday is primarily Special Interest Group meetings and such, along with a reception being hosted by Nortel. Nortel’s President of Enterprise Solutions, Joel Hackney, is also kicking off the general session with a keynote speech. For more details about the conference and what you can expect to see or learn there, take a look at the Advance Program.