Extended interoperability for Office Communications Server 2007

June 1, 2007

Traditional telecoms players align themselves with Microsoft to provide integration

this from the Unified Communications Group Team Blog Russell Bennett the UC senior program manager has promoted an alliance between Microsoft and just about everyone worth mentioning to provide interoperability between OCS and existing PABXs

no comment from Mark as yet but I’d hope to see a UK perspective soon.

this is a commitment by some major major players of the telecoms world to provide seamless ( well as seamless as possible) interoperability with Microsoft Office Communications server.

you’d think as we’re all talking SIP these days this would be a given however as always interoperability is not always so straightforward, for instance OCS uses the SIP standard over TCP and a fair proportion of other equipment uses SIP over UDP to communicate. this isn’t an insurmountable problem however it is not conducive to an easy out of the box experience.

What these manufacturers are actually supporting is Microsoft’s interoperability specification for OCS 2007 which extends the basic interoperability afforded by SIP to include transparent support  of key features found in OCS  across platforms.

we should see the ability to transparently provide

  • a common intuitive user experience
  • multi media interoperation of voice, video, text messaging, web collaboration
  • Ad-hoc multi-party, multi-modal conferencing  ( this will be a challenge I am sure)
  • Integration with business applications
  • Rich Presence, so full multi modal state information shared across platforms 
  • Mobility
  • Enhanced security

the  main press release includes pithy statements from the big players worthy of mention

  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • Avaya.
  • Cisco.
  • Ericsson.
  • Genesys.
  • Mitel.
  • NEC.
  • Nortel Networks.
  • Siemens

Which is how Microsoft reach the the 80% figure of the installed base, I think this is too optimistic for me  the installed base is a notoriously treacherous place to make promises in, Cisco found that in the early days using trad telephony protocols like DPNSS   ( having had bitter experience of interoperability or lack thereof in the past we could be chasing wild geese for months).  On the brighter side native support of the interop spec is to be extended by the use of IP gateways from AudioCodes, Dialogic and Quintum although I am skeptical about gateway traversal of a lot of proprietary systems.

I’m sure these companies can provide interoperability moving forward but I’d expect existing kit to require upgrades ( usually costly) or those gateways’s already mentioned remember PBXs last for years, the established replacement cycle  was always 7 and sometimes longer years which is way way before SIP or even mainstream IP adoption so the chances of older kit being up to scratch is slim.

I am still unsure as to what the outcome of all this is as as I’ve said before OCS is potentially a direct competitor for a great deal of the high, value added applications that the trad telecom companies rely on for big chunk of their revenue, interop seems to open the door for third party developers to get in there with niche apps, I’d expect entry level costs to plummet.

I guess for most of these companies ( with the possible exception of Cisco) it’s  a case of having to offer interoperability or be left behind at the moment and assess the impact of the erosion of core revenues. I’m pretty sure most of the players concerned couldn’t take on Microsoft so I can see them rapidly moving to call routing applications that use the OCS core as a base for their own applications.

One of the most interesting aspects is the potential for vicarious interoperability between established systems using OCS as a mediator, although I am sure this will be a licensing minefield.

exciting times ahead….

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Microsoft and Orange Announce Software as a Service collaboration

May 22, 2007

innovative SAAS  (or is it CAAS) service for hosted Unified Communications and Collaboration

                France Telecom

this announced by France Telecom today (Monday) a service in which Microsoft and Orange Business Services have teamed up to provide unified communications and collaboration tools to multinationals:

the full transcript :

Orange Business Services and Microsoft today announced “Business Together with Microsoft”, an innovative collaborative solution to accelerate the use of unified communications in companies. “Business Together with Microsoft” also helps companies keep up with the latest market requirements for fast communication, constant contact with colleagues, customers and partners, and efficient information sharing.

“Business Together with Microsoft” lets companies radically improve the communication habits of their employees. It gives access to a range of tools that they can use either when mobile or from their workstation. They can take advantage of new services, with total security, from any terminal that is equipped with a compatible web browser. Through a single Windows Outlook interface, they can access their mailbox, view voice messages as emails, read faxes, make voice over IP calls, and access their contacts and calendar. They can also communicate in real time through audio, video, web conferencing or instant messaging.  In addition, they can also manage and share documents and calendars. An encrypted link to their mailbox gives them access to powerful search functions.

Orange Business Services tailors “Business Together with Microsoft” to meet individual customer needs. The complete range of services includes consulting and audits, migration to IP, integration, managed IT infrastructure and applications services, and outsourcing.

“There is a huge demand for collaborative solutions in today’s working environment,” says Laurent Kocher, vice president, Global Services, Orange Business Services. “Cooperative work between employees in different locations across time zones is expected to make up more than half of a typical office employee’s work time by 2015. Companies need to provide staff with the tools to respond quickly to constant demands for attention and an efficient way to manage multiple types of contact”.

“Business Together with Microsoft” is currently available for multinational companies across the world, and is based on the complementary nature of the new generation of software launched recently by Microsoft: Office Communications Server 2007, Exchange Server 2007, Forefront and Office SharePoint Server.

“Business Together with Microsoft” leverages the complementary skills and expertise of the two companies: Orange Business Services in the area of messaging, IP convergence and network-related services; Microsoft in unified communications and collaboration solutions.

It’s an interesting alliance, Microsoft and Orange have been working closely together for some time and this is the first public tangible product to appear.

Reading between the lines it appears to be an Outlook Web Access portal providing access to Sharepoint for collaboration and the UC features of Exchange 2007 with Office Communications Server 2007 providing a VoIP portal, I suspect to Orange SIP trunks.

A packaged unified communications Inbox with Presence, Instant messaging, collaboration  and VoIP calls from wherever you can get access to a browser a very useful suite of applications

An interesting and maybe risky combination as OCS 2007 is still in beta, nevertheless an interesting proposition for the multinational with many mobile workers.

We are going to see a lot more of this,  in my opinion SAAS is about to explode.

I think it’ll have more impact and be much more interesting amongst the smaller business community, imagine if you could have access to all this big company technology with small company agility and no headaches of management……. watch this space…….

I’d  be very interested to see the appetite for managed hosted services out there amongst the smaller business community, if you have an opinion why not share it?

Is SAAS finally coming of age?

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Mini Unified Communications : Cisco enter the fray

May 14, 2007

Cisco bring unified comm’s to the smaller business – the proper way ? well maybe – Microsoft Take Note!

The Unified Communication 500 series brings Cisco Unified Communications Manager to the small business, in a markedly different strategy to Microsoft’s Response Point UC 500 is actually a numerically restricted version of full Communications Manager Express delivered on dedicated hardware.

uc500

The UC 500 is designed to be purchased as fixed configuration units with 8 IP endpoints as standard supporting either 4 x analogue or 2 x ISDN Basic Rate trunks and SIP trunking. each UC 500 has 4 FXS ports for analogue  devices like faxes or modems. the unit has an expansion port for additional trunks if necessary – no PRI support is available in this release.

The UC 500 can be extended to 16 endpoints by addition of a Catalyst Express 520 POE switch, a planned release in Autumn 2007 will extend the capability to 50 endpoints, I suspect leveraging the existing Catalyst Express 500 range.

 

uc500_catex520

the key features are :

Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express

Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express is a Cisco IOS® Software solution embedded in the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series appliance that provides call processing for Cisco Unified IP phones. Simple to deploy, administer, and maintain, Cisco Unified Communications Express is a reliable, feature-rich telephony solution.

Cisco Unity Express

Embedded Cisco Unity Express enables voicemail, desktop messaging, and Automated Attendant services for increased customer service and rich employee communications experience.

Cisco Unified CallConnectors for Desktop Applications

The Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series integrates with common Windows desktop applications to give small business owners access to productivity gains once available only to large businesses. With Cisco Unified CallConnectors, customers can integrate their Cisco Unified IP phones with common applications including Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or Salesforce.com CRM.

Integrated Network Firewall and Security

Security is a fundamental building block of any network, and Cisco products play an important role in embedding security at the customer’s access edge. The Cisco IOS Firewall is a stateful-inspection firewall available with the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series. Built from market-leading Cisco PIX® Firewall technologies, Cisco IOS Firewall is supported on the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series platform as a base feature. Cisco IOS Firewall is an ideal single-box solution for protecting the WAN entry point into the network.

Virtual Private Networking

VPNs carry private data over a public network and extend remote access to users over a shared infrastructure. VPNs maintain the same security and management policies as private networks and are the most cost-effective means of establishing point-to-point connection between remote users and a central network. VPNs have been the fastest-growing form of network connectivity, and Cisco takes this approach to a new standard by making VPN functions an integral part of the Cisco Unified Communications offering. The Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series includes built-in hardware-based encryption acceleration that offloads IP Security (IPsec), Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), Data Encryption Standard (DES), and Triple DES (3DES) encryption and VPN processes to provide increased VPN throughput with minimal effect on the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series CPU.

LAN Switching

The Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series has an integrated managed Ethernet switch that provides 8 ports of 10/100 Power over Ethernet (PoE) optimized for integration with the Cisco Smart Business Communications System. Additionally, the system capacity can be expanded by connecting the recommended Cisco Catalyst Express 520 Switch. The Cisco Catalyst Express 520 Switch provides 8 additional ports of 10/100 PoE and it ships with a predefined software configuration to work immediately with the Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series for Small Business.

Wireless Mobility Services

The Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series supports an optional integrated wireless LAN (WLAN) access point for secure WLAN connectivity. Small businesses can easily extend access to data applications as well as WLAN telephony. Wireless services allow greater mobility for employees, partners, and customers, resulting in increased productivity.
 
The UC 500 has a fully enabled default configuration with basic dial plans and IOS firewall support as standard ( this is common in this market where up to 75% of deployed systems are in their default configuration)
The UC 500 supports a wide range of endpoints including the full range of existing Cisco IP handsets and two dedicated UC 500 handsets designed to provide key and lamp working common in this market place

IPendpoints

Microsoft take note this is the way to do it – UC 500 is to UCME and UCM what Response Point should be to OCS. UC 500 has all the capabilities of UCME and has lovely open connectivity into third party applications.

There is however one question about this device…… why do it?

To be honest I think UC 500 in it’s current format dilutes the Unified Communications Manager Message, commodotises it.   at 16 endpoints the small business might be better placed looking at a hosted solution which provides much easier remote management and support and access to more advanced features.

There is a massive move to hosted voice and IP Centrex, frankly why waste your time with your own kit when you can rent services easily which provide all the features you need. this is Cisco’s attempt to capture the small business before they get away.

As a 50 user system the argument is slightly different and a box of that size is probably a worthy addition to the portfolio on technical merit.

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Microsoft Announce Unified Communications endpoints

May 14, 2007

9 vendors unite with the giant to produce UC hardphones

This via the Unified Communications Team Blog

Yesterday Microsoft announced a pretty ( and some not so pretty ) mixed bag of handsets designed to compliment Office Communications Server 2007 – available as part of the beta program the endpoints are either standalone IP endpoints with Communicator built in  (my preference) or as USB handsets that are driven by Office Communicator on the desktop.

These are the first handsets to use the new unified comm’s interface

hardphoneCommunicator

which closely mimics Office Communicator 2007 there’s a great video over on Channel 10 which at 6:19 in shows you the Polycom x700 in operation, including the touch screen in action, a bit salesy but worth the watch.

You’re about to think you’re seeing double, here’s the Polycom version of the IP endpoint in all it’s glory:

lgnortelIP

and here’s the LG / Nortel

polycomCX700IP

(rofl)

and here’s the USB equivalents:

(the right order this time )

polycom :

polycomcx200USB

and LG Nortel:

lgnortelusb

Polycom do extend the range with a wirefree device the CX400, shame it’s USB though and desktop , I’d much prefer a true WiFi device. cx400

the CX400 screen displays communicator information so it’s a cut above the normal USB handset but as I’ve said I’d much prefer a true WiFi device.

there are more devices on show at the UC image gallery.

to my mind the USB devices are just pretty much more of the same, Communicator interaction is a great enhancement but the addition of Communicator Client to a IP Hardpoint in the The LG-Nortel IP Phone 8540 and the Polycom CX700 really wins for me.

Like most people I’d rather not have to turn my PC on to communicate, call me an old stick in the mud but I’m a two device man in this environment.

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Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Public Beta is here

March 27, 2007

the Beta of the replacement for LCS 2005 is available for public download

read all about it here on the Unified Comms blog – not got time to go into this at the moment ( deadlines deadlines) but will look at it in depth later.


Limitations of Microsoft Office Groove 2007

March 26, 2007

the Limitations of Groove or…….. times when Groove just isn’t groovy enough

sorry  had to do it 

Groove 2007 is my new favourite app but it has some limitations, this refers to a standalone installation of Microsoft Office Groove 2007, I’ll look at the benefits of Groove 2007 within the context of Groove Server 2007 and Groove Enterprise services later.

I’ve been wondering just how far you can go with Groove.

there’s not a great deal out there on Groove’s limitations, the FAQ  expounds it’s virtues there are a few limitations which I’ve discovered, thankfully not through trial and error

  • Groove cannot synchronize any files that are larger than 1 GByte.
  • Groove will stop synchronizing any file sharing workspace that has more  than 5000 files or which exceeds 2 GBytes in total.

in addition you can’t synchronise Hidden, System, Temporary, or Offline files, this last limitation caused me a problem recently, I needed to share historical documents with a colleague which only existed in an offline folder on my machine when I created the workspace.

I had to save it elsewhere and then upload the saved folder to Groove – I suppose it’s too much to expect Groove to synchronise an already synchronising  file so you do need to plan when you are going to build your Groove Workspaces.

you also can’t share a networked folder or any folder already being shared by another groove account.

There are a few tips for keeping your Groove Workspace running nicely,  bear in mind a beefier system will help but much like walking in the wilderness keep the Groove party moving at a speed that suits the slowest members.

  • Don’t flood the workspace by adding large numbers of files at once, the update grinds, and I mean really grinds if you add loads of files,  you can go and make a cup of tea, the single multiple upload seems to take far longer than the combined duration of the same uploads when completed individually.
  • try to keep the number of files down in a workspace, there’s an overhead as Groove has to check multiple files for changes over and over again.
  • the number of files multiplied by the rate of change is a good indication of how the workspace will perform lots of files with little change will perform better than a few files with lots and lots of changes – due to the overhead of updates  
  • keep Groove running, there seems to be a lag when you start the launchbar before the synchronisation stabilises.

if you have members of your workspace that don’t need to be appraised of every update in all or any part of the workspace as it happens you can encourage them to use manual updates, to do this right click on a file folder in the files tool and select properties

grooveWS

then click the downloads tab and select manual download

  • grooveDL

you can do this folder by folder or by a folder tree as folders inherit the download properties of their parent.

reducing the number of people automatically downloading means the Groove clients reduce the number of updates they have to do, keeping things zipping along.

Microsoft say that

Any team of information workers that needs to collaborate on a project can derive value from Office Groove 2007. Team sizes typically range from 2 through 30 members for maximum productivity and effectiveness

Groove hits the mark in this environment and as a solution to the problems surrounding ad hoc collaboration it seems to me to be a winner.

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collaboration with Sharepoint, Live Meeting, Groove and Office Communicator

March 16, 2007

Know your tool and what to use it for

Steve has posted with a link to a handy slide deck showing a very generalised list  of the strengths and weaknesses of a range of Microsoft collaboration products.

I’m really loving Groove, it’s a great ad-hoc tool for collaboration, and causing mayhem in my internal IT team through the viral nature of it’s propagation. you create a workspace send out the invites and there’s immediately half a dozen helpdesk calls asking for the trial to be installed. absolute Genius.

Steve’s post made me consider the fact that Groove has no Voice capabilities which seems strange, it  would surely be simple to integrate this into the application, maybe it’s down to worry  about Groove eroding the USPs of other apps? not sure, it seems like an oversight… going to do some digging.