Microsoft Takes on Telephony, Cozies Up with HP

I was reminded of one blindingly obvious truth last week: Steer clear of political references -- no matter how neutral -- if you wish to avoid ticking people off. Judging by the earful of e-mail I got for a rather tame (if I do say so myself) reference to empty GOP ballrooms on election night, an IT column isn't all that different from the average holiday dinner-table gathering.

My mailbag below speaks for itself on the political snit. But it also includes some insightful comments about Microsoft's plans to flood the market with products in 2007. Many of you are overwhelmed yet preparing for the onslaught; others are licking your chops. Then there are those of you taking a hard line about not implementing Vista anytime soon; perhaps not before Service Pack 1, which is likely to come earlier rather than later if adoption comes slowly.

One of the 2007 products took a few steps forward this week. Office Communication Server 2007 entered its third beta and, for the first time, includes key voice over IP capabilities for testers to explore. Microsoft put the software in the hands of 2,500 IT professionals and partners, some of whom will be running the unified communications solution in production then providing feedback to the folks in Redmond. One of the new version's major enhancements the company is touting is the ability for rich media -- audio, video, etc. -- to traverse firewalls, a feature roundly criticized as missing in the current 2005 iteration of the communication server.

This is Microsoft's most significant stab at unified communications, with this server in particular looming as one of the cornerstones to its broader collaboration strategy. The collaboration story is muddy, as you can see in this recent Redmond article. Microsoft is marketing Office Communication Server 2007, which is due out in the second quarter of next year, as a way for customers to get VoIP through software -- without having to rip and replace current legacy telephony installations like traditional PBXes. The company is entering a realm well-populated by networking giants such as Cisco and, while Microsoft partners with many of these players, it remains to be seen whether it will be able to move ahead of them in the market anytime soon.

Speaking of partnerships, Microsoft joined forces this week with Hewlett-Packard in a sweeping agreement that will see the two invest $300 million over three years to spawn a major Microsoft-focused solutions practice inside of HP. It looks to me like HP is putting an army of Microsoft-ready consultants on the street. All told, HP's planning to grow that arm of its services business from 22,000 Microsoft-trained resources to 30,000 and will participate with Microsoft in joint R&D efforts aimed at creating production-ready solutions. Not surprisingly, the solutions are going to focus on those new markets Microsoft is so keen to take over, including the aforementioned collaboration and unified communications, along with business intelligence and business process integration.

After the Novell deal a few weeks back, it's clear that Microsoft is shoring up friends to help ensure that next year's onslaught of products will enjoy the influence of key services organizations in getting to market. And it can't hurt HP's hardware sales to see Vista adoption take off promptly. The question is, who will Microsoft cozy up to next? It is going to need the help.

Who is Microsoft's next big ally in the 2007 product rollout? Share your thoughts with me at capril@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Carolyn April is the executive editor of features for Redmond magazine.

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