I think we've all heard the pitch before in just about all aspects of our lives - buy product XYZ and it'll do everything you'll ever want, it'll save you money, and it'll get your whites whiter and your brights brighter (to use a Tide laundry detergent analogy). Well in the case of OCS, this sales pitch is actually true (except the part about getting your whites whiter and your brights brighter). 🙂
It's probably no surprise to anyone that most companies have a mix of communication and collaboration infrastructure in their organization that they've accumulated over time. The list probably goes something like this: maybe they've got email from Exchange or Notes, they probably have a phone system - maybe its old style TDM from vendors like Nortel or Avaya or newer offerings from Cisco, perhaps they have an instant messaging infrastructure using Sametime or Jabber, add in a smattering of video conferencing systems from Polycomm or Tandberg, throw in some meeting client experiences like WebEx or maybe Citrix for good measure and you've got all the essential ingredients for communicating in today's world. This world reminds me alot of when I started in the software industry back in 1988. Does anyone remember the days where we had WordPerfect as your word processor, Lotus 1-2-3 as your spreadsheet, dBase as your personal database, clear plastic foils that you put in an overhead projector for your presentations, and perhaps Turbo Pascal as your integrated development environment (if you were a programmer)? Many best of breed applications that did not work super well together, and that whole industry of productivity software changed when the integrated suite was released (e.g. Office or other).
The communications arena is in the same mode and is undergoing a transformation. As recent as a few years ago, the infrastructure I described above was how Microsoft was configured internally: Email == Exchange, Instant Messaging == LCS 2005, Phone == Intercomm, Video == Polycomm, Meeting client == LiveMeeting. Each one of these products has their own directory of sorts for contacts, identities, etc. Exchange & LCS 2005 used Active Directory (AD), Intercomm and all other PBXs have their own directory, same with video conferencing systems for frequently used numbers to dial, same with LiveMeeting to some extent. In fact, due to the number of countries Microsoft operates in accross the globe there were ~500 PBXs spread all over the world, each of course with its own private directory that must be synchronized with business logic every night in order to keep identities, phone numbers, contacts, and payroll information all in sync. Q: Can I as an IT admin implement a policy such that no one in the enterprise can make long distance calls to Siberia? A: no problem, set up a dial plan in the PBXs. Q: How about apply this policy to video as well? A: Um, that's a problem - different directory, different vendor. Q: How about video calls only for executives at a certain level in the organization, and they can make long distance to anywhere but their content will always be purged after any online meeting they hold? A: No way - that's 4 directories w/no easy way to roll that out and enforce it accross the organization against the 3 different modes of communication.
With all these problems of directories, policies, and of course separate management consoles for each of these communication workloads that requires a specialized staff to understand - it seems like integrating these technologies into one server workload makes some sense. Thus far I've only been talking about problems associated at the server or infrastructure layer, what about the poor user end users that have to deal with 4-5 different experiences in order to get their daily jobs done? There's different training associated with each of the user experiences whether its email, IM, meeting, video, phone, etc. Most people really struggle to with very basic things like how to add a third person into a voice conference using their PBX - but there is of course a button for that sometimes (depending on your phone, or perhaps you know the #67 DTMF keystroke in order to instruct the PBX to dail out to the third person). What if we asked end users to get 3 people in an audio conference, with video, in the same context as your current IM conversation and looking at the powerpoint? For most folks that was near impossible until Unified Communications came around with solutions like OCS and Communicator.
Now, there could be some folks who might accuse me of essentially saying that customers should just buy everything from Microsoft (like OCS & Exchange and Communicator) and all these problems I've listed above will just disappear. Actually that is not what I am trying to say. I am simply saying that the communications industry is undergoing a transformation and the old world of separate and silo'd applications and infrastructure do not make any sense anymore from a cost or ease of integration perspective. Both the server & infrastructure people and the end users really need a Unified Communications solution today that can cut costs but also increase productivity.. I think we've got a great Unified Communications solution with OCS & Exchange + Communicator, that was designed from the gound up to tackle all the different communication modalities in an integrated experience (both cilent and server) as opposed to some of my competitors simply wrapping duck tape and band aids around a legacy silo'd solution that was built 10 yrs ago - but I am probably biased. 🙂
As a related story, I was thinking the other day about where the trend of integration is heading in this particular area. In the past, you had disparate silo'd solutions operating on different infrastructure with separate boxes, to now an integrated solution with Unified Communications where workloads operate within one set of common infrastructure. Now with modern servers offering 8 and soon to be 16 mutlicore machines, we actually partition some of our workloads such that they have affinity to a dedicated separate processor within the multi-core system. E.g. so some of the voice conferencing workloads have their own processor(s) in which to operate free from contention from other workloads. Its almost like the world is moving from Separate silo'd, to integrated, and now within the integrated solution back to separate silo'd internally in order to get the best performance due to the advances in computing power. ..