Microsoft OCS 2007 R2 Heralds the Death of the IP-PBX

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Microsoft OCS 2007 R2 Heralds the Death of the IP-PBX

Today, Microsoft debuted Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2 (R2), an update to Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007. Customers will be able to purchase the release, currently in private beta testing, beginning in February 2009.

Office Communications Server 2007 R2 includes several new important  functionality, particularly for remote and mobile workers. It includes on-premise audioconferencing to help reduce operational costs and introduces new developer advances, including the ability to build communications-enabled business processes.

"Office Communications Server 2007 R2, debuting just one year after the Microsoft unified communications launch, highlights the pace of innovation that is possible with software," said Stephen Elop, president of the Microsoft Business Division at Microsoft. "This new release puts Microsoft on a rapid path to deliver voice software that does much more than a network private branch exchange (PBX) and with much less cost."

Interesting quote, eh? Does this not sound like Microsoft is sounding the death knell for the network PBX (IP-PBX)? This is an interesting turn of events. Microsoft hasn't been pitching OCS 2007 as an IP- PBX replacement, but rather as something complementary. In fact, I remember talking with Microsoft about this last year and they went out of their way to explain that OCS 2007 is not an IP-PBX replacement. Also, Microsoft has many IP-PBX partners in the OCS 2007 arena, including Mitel, Nortel, and others. Slip of the tongue? Or is Microsoft going full-out into the IP-PBX arena? Certainly, the fear by many IP-PBX vendors is that one day Microsoft will offer a full-fledged software-based IP-PBX replacement, but I don't think that day has come yet - even with the new features in OCS 2007 R2.

Microsoft added more fuel to the fire when the explained, "Since the solution became available in 2007, businesses have begun migrating their workers off their PBXs to Office Communications Server for all their telephony needs. Customers such as Royal Dutch Shell plc are already taking a load off their PBXs by using Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 for mobile and remote workers in place of PBX phones to provide global employees with innovative communications solutions to quickly and efficiently reach their colleagues and help reduce operational costs."

Then they threw some napalm on the fire when they said, "Customers are leapfrogging an entire generation of Internet protocol (IP) PBX technology to move straight to unified communications and software-powered voice over Internet protocol (VoIP)."  They also stated, "Office Communications Server 2007 R2 allows customers to take the next step toward replacing their PBX with Microsoft's unified communications software and managing voice in the same way as other applications such as e-mail and instant messaging."

Now they did bring out the peace pipe and say, "Office Communications Server interoperates with legacy PBX and IP PBX investments, allowing customers to transition to the new platform without undergoing an expensive rip-and-replace upgrade of their network."

It'll be interesting to see how the IP-PBX vendors take these statements.
In the meantime, check out the key new features of Office Communications Server 2007 R2. One big feature I like is Persistent Group Chat:

  • Dial-in audioconferencing. Office Communications Server 2007 R2 enables businesses to eliminate costly audioconferencing services with an on-premise audioconferencing bridge that is managed by IT as part of the overall communications infrastructure.
  • Desktop sharing. This feature enables users to seamlessly share their desktop, initiate audio communications and collaborate with others outside the organization on PC, Macintosh or Linux platforms through a Web-based interface.
  • Persistent group chat. This enables geographically dispersed teams to collaborate with each other by participating in topic-based discussions that persist over time. This application provides users with a list of all available chat rooms and topics, periodically archives discussions in an XML file format that meets compliance regulations, provides tools to search the entire history of discussion on a given topic, and offers filters and alerts to notify someone of new posts or topics on a particular topic.
  • Enhanced Voice and Mobility
  • Attendant console and delegation. This allows receptionists, team secretaries and others to manage calls and conferences on behalf of other users, set up workflows to route calls, and manage higher volumes of incoming communications through a software-based interface.
  • Session Initiation Protocol trunking. This feature enables businesses to reduce costs by setting up a direct VoIP connection between an Internet telephony service provider and Office Communicator 2007 without requiring on-premise gateways.
  • Response group.A workflow design application manages incoming calls based on user-configured rules (e.g., round-robin, longest idle, simultaneous), providing a simple-to-use basic engine for call treatment, routing and queuing.
  • Mobility and single-number reach. This extends Microsoft Office Communicator Mobile functionality to Nokia S40, Motorola RAZR, Blackberry and Windows Mobile platforms, allowing users to communicate using presence, IM and voice as an extension of their PBX from a unified client.
Check out the video where Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop talks about the debut of Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2 (R2):

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