Hey everyone –
I wanted to get out a message to the community around some recent news on the voice interoperability front – some big things happening recently – the announcement of UCIF, new qualifications in the UCOIP including AT&T and Orange, supporting Remote Call Control for both new and existing customers for the next release of Communications Server, and highlighting the ways that customers can replace, enhance or add to their PBX systems both today and in the future.
First off - on Wednesday, May 19th, industry leaders including HP, Juniper Networks, Logitech / LifeSize, Polycom, and Microsoft announced the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF). UCIF is a non-profit, open alliance of worldwide technology companies that will develop interoperability profiles, certification, and testing programs in order to enable UC interoperability scenarios. The UCIF’s vision is to enable interoperability of UC hardware and software across enterprises, service providers, and consumer clouds, as a means of protecting customer’s existing investments, simplifying their transition to more extended UC networks, and generating incremental business opportunity for all stakeholders in the ecosystem. To learn more about UCIF, including the growing list of companies who have joined the forum, check out the website at www.ucif.org
Of course, Microsoft has been delivering practical interoperability solutions to our unified communications customers since the launch of the UC Open Interoperability Program, or UCOIP, in 2007. The UCOIP is a qualification program for gateways, IP-PBXs, and SIP trunks services that is intended to ensure that customers have seamless experiences with the setup, support, and use of qualified telephony infrastructure with Communications Server. Any IP-PBX, SIP/PSTN gateway, or SIP Trunking vendor that meets the qualification requirements, conforms to the specifications, and successfully completes the third party testing performed by TekVizion labs will have their solution published on the UCOIP web site.
On this front, we’ve had more than a few updates - the first big change is that IP Telephony Service Providers now have the ability to qualify for SIP Trunking to Office Communications Online (BPOS-D) in addition to qualifying for on-premise interoperability with Office Communications Server. To date, AT&T and Global Crossing has qualified for both scenarios, with many more in the pipeline.
And speaking of pipeline, it keeps coming – in the program we’ve now qualified:
- Fourteen IP Telephony Service Providers - and extending a warm welcome to the latest to qualify, AT&T, IP Directions & Orange Business Services.
- 17 different IP-PBXs - Avaya Aura 5.2 being the latest addition.
- 35 SIP/PSTN Gateways - with Media5 and Teldat now qualified.
Check them all out at http://technet.microsoft.com/UCOIP
The interoperability we bring to the market today allows customers to take on Communications Server in a variety of scenarios. For customers ready to replace their PBX for some or all of their workers, Communications Server offers a complete unified communications solution – including IM, presence, and audio, video, and web conferencing -- that also natively supports all critical enterprise telephony features. Communications Server can connect directly to the PSTN via a gateway or through SIP Trunking, and can connect directly to any PBX during the transition phase. The user’s phone number is moved to Communications Server or a new phone number is provisioned and they are provided a device to suit their needs (including choice of new low cost IP phones). Good customer examples of this are Sprint, Royal Dutch Shelland Lionbridge.
Customers can leave their PBX in place and enhance it using Communications Server to give users full unified communications in parallel to their existing phone during a transition period defined by the customer. In this scenario, Communications Server connects to the existing PBX, and each user is given Communicator in addition to their existing PBX phone. The system can be configured such that Communicator rings whenever the PBX phone rings, which allows users to receive calls on the road or in their home office, and gives them the option to use Communicator as their primary endpoint even in the office. Good customer examples of this are AT Kearney and Alutiiq.
Customers who simply want to give some users the ability to control their existing PBX or IP PBX phones from Office Communicator may do so through our Click-to-Call feature (based on traditional CTI using what we’ve typically called Remote Call Control or RCC). Both new and upgrading customers will be supported for click-to-call with Communications Server “14” (CS “14”). The functionality remains the same as with previous releases, so it’s important to remember that Click-to-call users lose other Communicator capabilities including mobile voice. Finally, the integrations to the popular third party gateways like Corebridge, Estos and Genesys are still available, allowing companies to deploy Click-to-call solutions without needing to spend potentially significant amounts of money upgrading their IP-PBX.
As an aside, I should explain that our decision to support “Click-to-call” for new customers in CS “14” is a change from previous plans. Until recently, we planned only to support “Click-to-call” for existing RCC customers. We made the change for several reasons, including some great work we’ve been able to accomplish on the updated management experience that will be an integrated part of CS “14”, being able to pull broader Click-to-Call support along with many more small but important enhancements into the release. The most important reason, though, is that we want to give those customers who, for whatever reason, require desktop control of existing phones, a better option than adding software from a PBX maker, like Cisco’s CUCIMOC, on every user desktop. This blog post about CUCIMOC outlines general issues to consider with plug-in offers; we think our “Click to call” functionality is better not only because of the reasons in that blog post, but also because our “Click to call” functionality works with nearly every PBX and IP-PBX model and version you own, not just those from whichever vendor is promoting their software bolt-on. With our “Click to call”, you provide a consistent user interface and can easily move users to Communications Server voice in the future without re-training users or re-imaging desktops.
Communications Server also provides a good option for customers looking to add only presence, instant messaging, and conferencing to their legacy PBX. Communications Server connects directly to the existing PBX, and allows users to take advantage of audio, video, and web conferencing using Communicator, or audio and web conferencing if they use their existing PBX phone. With the new “Join From” feature in CS “14”, the user’s PBX phone is automatically rung upon conference join. This scenario does not provide users with the ability to use Communicator as their phone device inside or outside the office, but it does give the organization the option to easily enable the voice capability in the future. A good customer example of this is Intel.
It’s been an amazing year already – with our CS “14” first look at VoiceCon, including a demo I did of SharePoint-powered Skill Search and Office 2010 integration during Gurdeep’s keynote (Login to watch the video) and our disclosure of our complete enterprise telephony capability in the Voice RFP response and Next Gen Telephony White Paper.
You’ll be able to see a lot more from us this week at TechEd New Orleans, June 7th-11th. I’ll be hanging out at the booth, along with a few dozen of my colleagues, ready to demo, diagram, and discuss all the great things we’re bringing to market with CS “14”. I hope to see you there!
Senior Technical Product Manager