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Microsoft: Your PBX Is 'Dead'

Microsoft on Tuesday rolled out its "launch experience" of Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS) Release 2, a unified communications (UC) product first unveiled in October.

In addition to promoting the server solution, Microsoft officials seemed intent on using the event to advance the UC market's status itself. UC technology -- combining voice-over-IP (VoIP), video, e-mail and collaboration apps -- is still at the early adoption stage, at least for many enterprises.

Microsoft has taken a leadership position with its UC efforts, according to Gudeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of engineering in the Microsoft Office Communications Server group. With the R2 release, Microsoft put greater emphasis on the voice portion of the product, aiming to phase out conventional PBX boxes, Pall explained.

The keynote speaker at Microsoft's event was Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division, who emphasized the economic benefits of the server.

"CIOs are looking for things to help the company save money, increase productivity and generally do more with less and operate in these difficult economic times," Elop said. "I look at the current circumstances as something that will actually accelerate our business in this area."

Elop introduced company reps from Intel, Infonavit (a Mexican financial concern) and Sprint Nextel, all of which have embraced UC and OCS. The companies are using the technology to unify cross-company communications and replace aging infrastructure.

Mike Brown, vice president of IT client services for Sprint Nextel, provided a case in point. Brown said that OCS is helping the telco deal with 409 aging PBXs across different locations.

"Right now, we're retiring somewhere between five and eight PBXs a week," Brown said.

Intel uses OCS R2 as an audioconferencing provider for its conference calls.

"We're really addicted to meetings," said Gregory Bryant, vice president of Intel's Business Client Group, noting that OCS R2 helps reduce the costs of doing "about a million minutes on audioconferencing every day."

Intel now has between 3,000 and 4,000 workers using VoIP and all 86,000 employees using SIP, instant messaging and presence as part of UC.

Infonavit is replacing its aging PBX systems with OCS to facilitate collaborative communications, explained Victor Nuñez, Infonavit's CIO. The platform's efficiencies, he said, have allowed Infonavit to offer 30,000 more mortgages per year.

The PBX is a thing of the past with OCS R2, Pall predicted.

"The PBX and the siloed telephony single-purpose machine it represents is dead and it's becoming less relevant for our customers," Pall said. "They're looking for a unified architecture across instant messaging, VoIP, video, Web conferencing, etc. Whether you call it a PBX or an IP PBX or disguise it with names like a call manager, it has no future," he said.

The past has no future -- that seemed to sum up the 50-minute presentation. Moreover, when it comes to unified communications, the old PBX can't be patched.

"Unified doesn't mean copious use of duct tape on disparate systems put together and represented under the unified name," Pall said.

About the Author

Jim Barthold is a freelance writer based in Delanco, N.J. covering a variety of technology subjects.

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