The Game’s Afoot

The Game’s Afoot

Maren Bennette

Iwas going to call this article something completely different, but having ruptured my right Achilles tendon the day I wrote this article, my foot was very much on my mind! Anyway, this title works just as well, for had Sherlock Holmes been at the Microsoft Unified Communications Group ‘Disclosure Day’ in San Francisco on June 26th, he would probably have turned to Dr Watson and uttered his famous expression once again.

At the meeting, Jeff Raikes, President of Microsoft’s Business Division and Anoop Gupta, Corporate VP of the company’s Unified Communications Group, led a two-hour presentation and product demonstration for industry analysts, journalists and other interested parties during which they laid out Redmond’s plans for entry into the $47 billion converged communications market over the next 12 months or so.

 

These plans include a raft of new products including Office Communications Server 2007 (which will combine and re-name a number of existing products, such as Live Communications Server) IP phones from LG-Nortel and Thompson; and an innovative 360° video conferencing system known as Office RoundTable. At the time of writing, a webcast of the meeting could be viewed at http://www.microsoft.com/winme/0606/27952/UCG_Disclosure_Day_MBR.asx.

Whilst the slideware and the products were of interest, what made the day exciting were the understated comments about the Unified Communications market in general and existing manufacturers in particular. I noted one reference about ‘liberating (the customer) from expensive network vendors.’ One wonders which particular network vendors Microsoft had in mind?

Surely not Nortel, for just three weeks after the San Francisco disclosure day came the announcement of the Innovative Communications Alliance between the two companies. This alliance is a ‘strategic four-year product development, technology cross-licensing and joint marketing partnership’ which will see, amongst other things, Nortel porting its IP communications call control and telephony features to run alongside Office Communications Server 2007. For more information and yet another webcast featuring Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft and Mike Zafirovski, CEO of Nortel & the ubiquitous Anoop Gupta, visit http://www.innovativecommunicationsalliance.co m/index.html.

Comms Business editor Ian Hunter and I felt we needed to know more, so we visited with Sanjay Patel, Microsoft’s Unified Communications Group Business Development Manager for EMEA, at their Thames Valley Park headquarters. We had originally set the meeting up with the intention of talking through Sanjay’s keynote speech and panel debate appearances at the Comms Business Convergence Summit next month at Sandown Park, but Sanjay was eager to talk about the Nortel relationship too. “This is viewed as being as significant as the Microsoft – DEC alliance of the late 80s,” he said. For those too young to remember it that alliance is widely considered to have been a major catalyst in the decline of IBM’s dominant position in IT and networking – and the subsequent rise of client/server IT systems.

Patel went on to say “Our Unified Communications strategy has been in development for more than two years and now we are moving into the mainstream. The next steps are to recruit the channel partners and refine the go-to-market strategy.” Comms Business understands that a dedicated team of UCG sales and marketing professionals will be put in place in the UK to help make this happen, supported by Microsoft’s existing channel management teams and the company’s worldrenowned marketing operation.

But what of the competition? I asked Mitel’s Graham Bevington, MD for the EMEA operation to comment on the Microsoft/Nortel partnership but he cited their forthcoming IPO as a reason he couldn’t make any statement at this time. But other sources close to the Canadian IP communications vendor said that ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’. Mitel has been partnering with Microsoft for a long time and they continue to have a close working relationship. When Microsoft did their UCG disclosure day in San Francisco, it was Mitel’s IP communications system they used to demonstrate their products.

The same question was put to Cisco but as always, the networking giant politely declined to comment on announcements by its competitors. However, insiders have stated that emails describing Microsoft as ‘the company’s biggest ever challenge’ are landing in mail boxes on a weekly basis. Steve Ballmer of Microsoft acknowledged the competitive nature of the two IT behemoths in the webcast with Nortel, but did say that there were significant areas of cooperation as well.

So, the game is afoot, as Conan Doyle would have it. The stage is set for an interesting and informative debate between Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya and Mitel at the Comms Business Convergence Summit at Sandown Park on October 11th at 1.00 pm. If you want to know more of this fascinating industry development or indeed if you wish to put your own questions to the panel, be sure to be there.

 
maren@cbmagazine.co.uk