Will OCS 2007 Live Up to the Hype?
Published: October 17, 2007
by Alex Woodie
During Microsoft's launch of its new Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 in San Francisco yesterday, there was plenty of talk about how OCS would herald a new era of worker productivity as it revolutionizes communication and collaboration. While the new software may end up being a giant success, customers have little more to go on than hype at the moment, and there are still many questions about how it will play in the real world.
With its proven capability to reduce costs, Voice over IP (VoIP) is one of the hottest new technologies to hit the enterprise IT market in the last several years. In fact, Gartner recently ranked "unified communications" (the catch-all phrase that includes VoIP and related technologies) as the second most strategic technology for 2008, second only to green IT. And with only 20 percent of businesses having switched out their older PBX telecommunications for new IP telephony technology, there is plenty of room for growth.
The issue for Microsoft is that several vendors--notably Cisco Systems--have already gotten a jump on this market. Microsoft isn't necessarily late to the show with OCS 2007, as there remains lots of room for PBX replacement. But nearly 80 percent of companies have already started their VoIP balls rolling, according to Gartner, which means Microsoft and OCS will need to prove themselves against Cisco's more established offering before it's considered for the biggest enterprise implementations.
One person closely watching the unfolding of the OCS story is Lee Nicholls, global solutions director for Getronics, the Dutch IT vendor that provides technical services to some of the world's largest financial services firms. While many of Nicholls clients are intrigued by what they see in OCS 2007 demos, they are waiting for real world accounts to make up their minds about it.
"At the moment customers are approaching us with exploratory conversations on where we feel this new technology fits," Nicholls says. "They've read a lot of the press and marketing materials Microsoft has produced. The well-informed ones have said this isn't that far away from Cisco. So the Cisco technology is comparable to Microsoft, although Microsoft has a few areas where they are obviously better, around LiveMeeting" and integration with PCs via Outlook.
Curiosity is the main topic of the moment, Nicholls says. "There's an element of caution in trusting Microsoft on a first release with something as important as your company's phone call," he says. "They want to be able to pick up the phone and know that their call is going to get through, and its going to be clear, and the quality is going to be fine. I'm not saying Microsoft can't do that, it's just saying we haven't seen Microsoft do that because there's no real case studies out there at the moment."
Because of the lack of real world references for OCS 2007, Getronics is advising its customers who are interested in OCS to take a modular approach to deployment. That means leaving the existing back-end telephony technology in place--whether it's a traditional PBX or Cisco VoIP--and connecting that technology with OCS so workers can benefit from the integration with Office, Web conferencing (via LiveMeeting), and the call routing (via Exchange integration). If all goes well over the next 12 to 18 months, then customers can start thinking about using the VoIP capabilities of OCS and moving away from their existing PBX or VoIP systems, he says.
That's not to say that OCS will be a flop. On the contrary, OCS appears to be a very promising application, as promising as SharePoint Server was when it launched three years ago, Nicholls says. In particular, it appears to do several things very well, including supporting mobile uses. "It looks like OCS is going to be fantastic for roaming users," he says. Whereas OCS will enable mobile workers to place a call with just the Office Communicator client and an Internet connection, the Cisco solution often requires setting up a VPN, which can be tricky.
Nicholls expects adoption of OCS 2007 to parallel the adoption of Exchange Server 2007. "Most of them doing Exchange upgrades to 2007 will very likely take the jump to do an OCS deployment at the same time, even if they don't necessarily deploy full functionality, and maybe only use LiveMeeting aspects or instant messaging aspects," he says. "We still think that OCS deployment is going to be fairly good. It'll be fairly wide spread. The difference is we don't see a great deal of OCS' actual communications finically in terms of voice being used out of the box."
Office Communication Server 2007 Launched by Microsoft
Office Communicator 2007 Goes Gold
Microsoft Unveils Phones for Office Communications Server 2007
Microsoft's New 'Voice Server' Enters Beta
Microsoft Unveils Unified Communications Product Roadmap
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