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December 13, 2006

Nortel outlines roadmap for Microsoft partnership

Next year will see the first iteration of Microsoft Corp's collaboration technology with PBX features supplied by Nortel Networks Corp.

By CBR Staff Writer

The telecoms and networking equipment vendor will also turn its MCS5100 SIP application server into the high-end conferencing server to accompany the software giant’s Office Communications Server (OCS), according to Paul Rowe, head of Nortel enterprise solutions marketing for the EMEA region.

These and several other technological developments are the result of the partnership between Toronto, Ontario-based Nortel and Microsoft, the official name for which is now the Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA).

When they first announced the deal in July the two companies spoke of high-level plans to combine Microsoft’s Real-Time Collaboration platform, with its multimedia messaging capabilities and ties into the ISV’s office productivity suite, with Nortel’s telecoms and datacoms expertise, in what was clearly a gauntlet cast down to the company that is increasingly its largest competitor in unified communications, Cisco. Now they have put more flesh on the bones.

ICA has three streams, Rowe said. They are joint R&D; joint sales and marketing with co-branding and collateral, and global services, which Microsoft has teed up Nortel to drive, and we’re already recruiting more professional service staff.

PBX features in OCS

On the product front, there were those in the PBX business who accused Nortel of sleeping with the enemy by allying with Microsoft, in that OCS itself is destined to take on an increasing number of PBX features. So by facilitating that process, Nortel was effectively nurturing what looks like becoming a major competitor to all PBX vendors (some went so far as to use the term signing its own death warrant).

Nortel execs reply that the writing is already on the wall for hardware-based PBXs, at least in large segments of the market – Rowe said companies in the 100-seat range are the most likely to go the Microsoft VoIP route. As such, Nortel’s alliance with Microsoft was simply recognition of the inevitable, according to Nortel.

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Either way, the first fruits of the cooperation will be visible in the third quarter of next year, Rowe said. OCS will have some SIP call control built in, as well as close integration with our CS1000.

The launch of the new version of OCS, called OCS 2007, and CS1000, v5.0, will likely be programmed to take place together or in close proximity to reflect the degree to which they are working in unison, according to Rowe.

Conferencing

Another area of joint activity is in conferencing, for which Microsoft has its own Web conferencing technology that it delivers as the Live Meeting service. There is clearly also a market for DIY conferencing, that is, on-premise technology, with all the requisite tie-ins to OCS.

Nortel, meanwhile, has the MCS5100, which does conferencing but also other functions such as Follow-Me one-number services. While that product still has a life and roadmap of its own (Nortel is working with IBM, both to integrate it with Notes and Sametime environments and to offer it on BladeServer on a Linux OS), it will also form the high-end conferencing server within OCS, Rowe said.

On the Office Communicator SIP client side of the Real-Time Collaboration Suite there are several areas of joint activity. CS1000 v5.0 will support the client on cellphones running the Windows Mobile 5.0 OS, while a client Nortel is considering for Symbian phones will bundle in some of its functionality for integration with OCS, becoming in effect a kind of Office Communicator for Symbian, as it were. (See article in yesterday’s Computergram).

In addition, said Rowe, Nortel is currently the only vendor that supports Office Communicator natively as a softphone. All the other PBX vendors do that with proprietary software, he said. Nortel supports the client natively, whether on the equipment vendor’s own deskphones or on a desktop computer, which means we can do PBX extension to a Microsoft desktop, he said.

Another area of activity around Office Communicator is in the area of WiFi, where Nortel OEMs equipment from Trapeze, and wireless mesh, where it has its own offering. Both are destined to carry voice as well as data traffic, though on the mesh side Nortel still has to add a QoS capability for voice, which is something also planned for 2007.

Since both technologies will ultimately be used with dual-mode cellular-and-wireless handsets to enable fixed-mobile convergence, those phones are a logical place to put the Office Communicator client too.

The voice QoS capability for wireless mesh, by the way, will be based on the IEEE’s 802.11e standard, although Nortel also supports the proprietary SpectraLink Voice Protocol that only works with that vendor’s WiFi handsets.

Contact centers

Another area of cross-pollination on the product side is contact center technology, where Nortel, like all PBX vendors, is a player. In fact, said Rowe, it is market leader in EMEA with specialist analyst firm MZA giving it a 26% share there in 2005. In that market, he said, We’ll be integrating the skills-based routing capability, video calls and IM from our platforms into Microsoft’s CRM, OCS and their Customer Care Framework portal.

Value-added bundles

Beyond these areas of development, Nortel clearly sees a market opportunity in selling additional bundles of functionality to joint customers of the unified comms offering with Microsoft.

Indeed, Phil Edholm, CTO and VP of network architecture at Nortel’s enterprise comms division, said this is the most significant long-term opportunity from the Microsoft alliance in the long-term, in that the plumbing (that is, IP PBX) is destined to a degree of commoditization and absorption into the collaboration platform.

There will be a number of bundles, but Rowe cited a couple of possibilities. One might be for the delivery of digital private network signalling system (DPNSS) functionality to enable features across PBXs from different vendors, while another will be load balancing for the enterprise edition of OCS.

Services

Perhaps the most significant money-spinner for Nortel from ICA, however, is the area of services, and indeed, the company is already recruiting staff for an EMEA Competency Center in Maidenhead in the UK, to which four Microsoft staffers have already been transferred on a full-time basis.

It will be for proof-of-concept with our own and third-party vendors’ kit and may include work around the Microsoft’s Duet partnership with SAP [for integration between its apps and the SAP enterprise app portfolio], Rowe explained.

Beyond the Competency Center, Nortel will deliver business and network consultancy, including audits, technical design, installation, maintenance and managed services around the joint portfolio and third-party kit, he said. We’re also working with HP and other Microsoft partners on this, he added.

Already launched in the US and shortly to be unveiled in other geographies is the Proactive Voice Quality Monitoring service, with software agents in Nortel phones delivering passive continual voice quality monitoring data on jitter, packet loss and delay to an analytical back end provided by NetIQ.

We’ll have four solution areas within ICA, Rowe said. They are business-grade telephony (including mobility and clients), contact centers, conferencing and data.

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