Microsoft Delivers on Its Unified Communications Vision

Editor’s Note, July 26, 2007: Language in the second to last paragraph has been changed to clarify the availability of the ROI Calculator and ROI White Paper.

REDMOND, Wash., July 26, 2007 – During his address at Microsoft’s Financial Analyst Meeting (FAM), Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, announced that Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator are code complete and will release to manufacturing (RTM) tomorrow. With this milestone and launch around the corner this fall, the Unified Communications Group is one step closer to fulfilling the UC promise and helping customers streamline business communications, increase productivity and lower costs.

PressPass spoke with Gurdeep Singh Pall, vice president of the Unified Communications Group, about the evolving unified communications industry, the return early adopters are seeing from Office Communications Server and Office Communicator and the company’s progress towards launch in the fall.

PressPass: Unified Communications and enterprise VoIP is getting a lot of attention these days. What are the big trends you’re seeing in this space?

Pall: At Microsoft, we believe all forms of enterprise communications, including VoIP, are moving from hardware-based systems to software. This transformation is really what’s behind unified communications. It’s the transformation to software that makes it possible for businesses to streamline communications through a software interface and platform that unites voice, instant messaging, e-mail and video and Web conferencing. Over the last year, we’ve seen customers and partners increasingly validate our viewpoint and our strategy in this space. Even our competitors are validating this trend by trying to reshape their hardware-based businesses and investing heavily in software R&D.

PressPass: Why does an organization need Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007?

Pall: Companies today need better tools to help their people meet the demands of the always on, always connected international nature of business. In this global environment, people need to be able to more easily communicate and collaborate, and they need to be able to work as efficiently and effectively on the road as at their desks.

Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007 will provide foundational communications capabilities that include presence, software-powered VoIP, Web conferencing, and enterprise instant messaging. Working with Exchange 2007 and Office Outlook 2007, Office Communications Server and Office Communicator streamline communications making it easier for people to collaborate and access the information necessary for informed and timely decisions.

PressPass: You announced your unified communications strategy a year ago; what has been your progress?

Pall: We’re extremely pleased with the progress we’re making. In fact, today at Microsoft’s FAM, Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, announced that Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator are code complete and will RTM tomorrow. With this milestone, we’re one step closer to delivering the product that Burton Group’s Mike Gotta said “establishes Microsoft as a major force in the unified communications market.” We’re delivering on the strategy we outlined last year and are on track to launch this next wave of Microsoft’s unified communications software in the fall.

PressPass: Office Communications Server has been in public beta since March. What has been the response?

Pall: We’ve witnessed tremendous interest – more than 75,000 people have downloaded the public beta to date. Beyond this, we have been deeply engaged with our customers who have been deploying pre-release software and working closely with us to incorporate their feedback into the products. These early testing programs have been very successful, and we’ll share more details about these customers at our launch. We also shared the public beta with top technical reviewers in the media, and the reaction from them has been exciting to see. They are particularly impressed with the advanced presence features and seamless integration with Microsoft Office applications and Exchange 2007 unified messaging.

PressPass: What has been the response from your partner community?

Pall: We view this communications transformation from hardware to software along the same lines as the mainframe to the PC transformation. Like that change, this is creating an open partner ecosystem with tremendous partner opportunities. Unified communications is predicted to be a US$45.4 billion industry by 2010, and we’ve seen partners engaging in virtually every category.

Notably, 12 of the biggest global networking, telephony and gateway vendors have signed on to implement Microsoft’s specifications for interoperability, allowing Office Communications Server 2007 to work with approximately 90 percent of legacy TDM and VoIP phone systems.

Traditional telephony VARs and Exchange VARs are expanding their skills and partnering together to deliver a more complete unified communications solution. We’re introducing a variety of new training programs as well as adding new partner specializations and programs to help partners tap into this growing market.

PressPass:Now that it’s on its way to the market, how will Office Communications Server 2007 be sold and how much will it cost?

Pall: With the release of Office Communications Server 2007, customers are getting breakthrough value. Office Communications Server 2007 delivers VoIP and unified communications in a way that significantly reduces costs compared to legacy systems. Simplifying licensing and deployment, and the ability to leverage existing systems, early adopters are starting to see significant returns.

As with Live Communications Server, the predecessor to Office Communications Server, customers need both server and client access licenses (CALs). There are two types of Office Communications Server CALs: Standard and Enterprise. The Standard CAL has the IM and presence capabilities including new group IM and rich presence features and costs roughly $21 for the average enterprise. The new Enterprise CAL provides all of the new conferencing and VoIP call management features and costs roughly $97 for the average enterprise. The Office Communications Server Standard and Enterprise CALs will also be included as part of the Microsoft Enterprise CAL Suite, a bundle of several Microsoft server CALs available at a discount.

We also wanted to make sure we took care of existing Live Communications Server customers, so those folks will have rights to both Office Communications Server CALs as part of their Software Assurance agreement. Starting next month, detailed pricing will be available at Microsoft.com.

PressPass: You mentioned that people need to be able to work efficiently and effective on the road. How are you accomplishing that with these products?

Pall: We believe people should be able to use their PCs to work from anywhere, and with Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007, that includes using VoIP anywhere and on any network. With Communications Server, your desk phone goes everywhere you go, so you can take and place VoIP calls, join video and web conferences, and IM or email from anywhere you have an Internet connection. We’ve even done special work with our voice software to ensure that customers get high voice quality regardless of the connection they’re using.

We also believe that enterprise communications shouldn’t exclude the mobile phone, and that’s why Communicator Mobile comes as additional software with Office Communications Server. With Communicator Mobile, people can use a Windows Mobile Smartphone to view presence status and click-to-communicate using voice, IM or email, almost as if they were sitting at their desks.

Communicator also provides a ‘simultaneous ring’ option so that people can have their mobile phone and desk phone ring together.  People can configure the features so that it only occurs during working hours and when you are available to take calls.  This is perhaps one of my favorite features.  I’ve set my phones to simultaneously ring so that my team can reach me whether I am at my desk or in transit – but only during office hours and when I am available.

PressPass: What is the ROI from deploying unified communications?

Pall: Early indicators from our beta programs show customers are experiencing strong returns in a variety of areas. In addition, other third-party experts are finding through their research that customers are benefiting from unified communications solutions. A recently published white paper from Unified View outlines areas where customers can achieve a return on their investment. This includes reduced internal technology costs; reduced business communications costs, especially person to person voice calls and mobile devices; increased individual productivity; and increased business process performance.

To help customers build the case for their deployments, Microsoft field reps have an ROI Calculator to help customers project the return from their deployment, and Friday we will publish an ROI White Paper at www.microsoft.com/uc. The white paper pinpoints 13 different ROI areas, and the calculator gives customers a tool for determining how much the Office Communications Server and Office Communicator implementation will return. I think many are going to be pleased with the predicted results.

PressPass: What should we look for after RTM?

Pall: This is an exciting time for us. With the code delivered, we now begin localizing the software for worldwide availability. As we look forward to launch, we will continue to cultivate our industry partnerships and work closely with customers. You’ll be hearing more from us on these topics and more, in the coming months.