Microsoft Unveils New Communications Server
Microsoft today gave the first public preview of its planned Office Communications Server upgrade.
OCS is Microsoft's unified communications add-on that works with Exchange Server and the Microsoft Office suite. In conjunction with this Microsoft stack, OCS supports Internet telephony, voicemail, instant messaging and conferencing. Microsoft typically bills it as a replacement for existing PBXs.
More than 100 million Office users are connected to OCS, said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Office Communications Group, speaking today in a keynote address at the VoiceCon show in Orlando, Fla.
Pall took the wraps off the newest release, code-named "Communications Server 14," in a presentation that was Webcast. Many expect it will be renamed as "Communications Server 2010" in keeping with Microsoft's 2010 branding campaign and roadmap.
The new release will feature a new Communicator client that will integrate with the forthcoming releases of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, as well as Exchange 2010, which shipped last fall. Communications Server 14 will support location-based presence, allowing users to know if another user is in their office or mobile.
A user's location can be detected based on the network's subnet (or wireless access point if mobile) and published, based on the policies selected. "This system is designed to work from anywhere," Pall said. "It is designed to be simple, both from an end user perspective and from an IT management perspective, and the system is designed to be cost effective."
In the demo, Pall showcased how individuals can use Communicator to tap into SharePoint's new search capabilities and find users with specific knowledge or skills. Communications Server will also support 911 capabilities. It can detect a caller's location and direct the caller to the proper 911 dispatch site. The new Communicator client will also support the social networking and activity streams features that are being added to Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010.
The new Office Communicator release will be more extensible and interoperable than prior releases, Pall said. However, company officials declined to elaborate. Microsoft released 14 APIs for Communications Server at its Professional Developers Conference in November. Pall predicted that within three years, 75 percent of applications will have unified communications capabilities embedded in them.
Office Communicator will be better suited to support branch offices, Pall said. "Branch office survivability" will be built into Office Communicator. According to this scheme, if a connection between a remote location and a headquarters is severed, the branch will still have communications capability.
Several of Microsoft's partners announced products that will support Communications Server 14's branch survivability capability, including Audio Codecs, Ferrari Electronics, Dialogic Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
HP and Microsoft agreed last year to work together to tie together HP's ProCurve networking switches with Communications Server. At VoiceCon, HP said its Survivable Branch Communication zl module will enable Microsoft's Communications Server 14 to work with HP's ProCurve 8200zl and 5400zl switches.
Polycom Inc., a leading supplier of videoconferencing and phone systems, said it plans to offer a number of new audio and video phones that work with Communications Server 14 when it ships.
A small set of Microsoft's customers are currently testing a beta version of Communications Server 14. Microsoft did not disclose when a public beta would be released.
Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.