Unified Communications Smackdown

Hi, folks. Keith Ward here, pinch-hitting for the inimitable Lafe Low. I'm the online news editor for the Redmond Media Group, which means I spend my days tracking Microsoft and writing up stories for our group's Web sites. For those of you disappointed by Lafe's absence today, fear not: Although I may not be as handsome, knowledgeable or half as clever as Lafe, I beat him hands-down in one department.

I'm way taller than him.

It's hard to imagine a product that's had a smoother run through the development process than Office Communications Server 2007 and the client part, Office Communicator 2007. Last beta released in May, released to manufacturing a month later, and set to ship on Oct. 16. Blink and you'll miss it.

In a previous story I wrote about the impending release of these products, Gurdeep Singh Pall, vice president of the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft, said his company believes that "all forms of enterprise communications, including VoIP, are moving from hardware-based systems to software."

Hard to imagine a more shocking revelation from Microsoft. This new segment of computing -- with huge profit potential -- is actually hurtling headlong toward the software camp and away from hardware? Let's see: Microsoft is a software development company, whereas Cisco is a hardware company -- which, coincidentally, happens to feel the opposite way.

Which bold prognostication shall turn out to be more accurate? Right now, I'd have to say it's too close to call. Microsoft may have a stranglehold on the desktop, but Cisco's arm is just as mighty on the network side of things.

One thing's for sure: That touchy-feely Charlie Rose interview the other day with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his Cisco counterpart, John Chambers, felt more like the beginning of a boxing match. First the fighters tap gloves; then they come out swinging.

SOA What?
One of the industry's hottest buzzwords these days is SOA, or service-oriented architecture. The bottom line about SOA is supposed to be bottom-line savings, right?

Well, the reality may be that SOA isn't all that -- yet. Analyst firm Nucleus Research recently found that of the 106 businesses canvassed, only 37 percent had enjoyed a positive return on investment (ROI) from SOA.

Sure, developers were more productive by an average of 28 percent. But that rise, in the eyes of most companies, didn't offset the increases in new SOA apps and more skilled employees, the study found.

The moral of the story? Be skeptical of the claims made by vendors selling SOA. Don't dismiss them out of hand -- but don't assume that because you hear so much about SOA these days, it means that everyone's moving in that direction, they're all saving gobs of money, and what are you waiting for? Do your homework.

It's Not Their Fault!
Remember Billy Dee Williams and Harrison Ford in The Empire Strikes Back (the last good Star Wars movie, by the way)? When they tried to engage the hyperdrive in the Millenium Falcon at different times but it sputtered out, and they both exclaimed, in futility, "It's not my fault!"?

That's the situation Microsoft finds itself in this week, responding to the Skype outage that kept the mega-popular Internet phone service dark for almost two days. Everyone's first response (mine included) after reading that the outage happened after patches from Microsoft's Patch Tuesday were applied to computers -- which then had to reboot -- was to shake their heads and mumble, "There goes Microsoft again."

Well, we all (me included) owe a big mea culpa in Redmond's direction. Turns out it was a bug in Skype's software that caused the blackout; it wasn't Microsoft's fault at all.

It seems, however, that we're so conditioned to assume the worst about bugs and instability in Microsoft programs that we tend to immediately convict the company before a trial. Let that be a lesson to us all.

On the other hand, George Lucas deserves all the blame for the abominations that are Star Wars episodes I, II and III. George, I want my money back!

Want to rant at me, or with me? I'm at kward@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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