Microsoft, Nortel CEOs expand on their VOIP alliance

What to expect from the Innovative Communication Alliance this year

Nortel and Microsoft this week expanded on their Innovative Communication Alliance -- a VOIP-focused partnership announced in July 2007 -- at an event at NBC Studios in New York, where the two companies' CEOs introduced several jointly-developed products and laid out a roadmap for the next several quarters and beyond.

Jointly-developed Microsoft/Nortel VOIP products will ship by the end of 2007, including a hardware appliance for branch offices which ties together Nortel WAN and IP telephony technology with Microsoft messaging software. The companies also plan to insert parts of Nortel's Multimedia Conferencing platform into Microsoft Office Communicator 2007. Microsoft and Nortel also said they will make their jointly developed products will be available in the second half of 2007.

Speaking from the stage that hosts Saturday Night Live, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nortel CEO Mike Zafirovski gave an update on their respective company's partnership to a group of 100 or so customers, as well as analysts and press on Wednesday. Products announced at the event included the Unified Communication (UC) Integrated Branch, an appliance that will package Nortel routing, firewall and IP PBX functions with Microsoft Office Communicator Server (or OCS, a presence, instant messaging and collaboration software suite), and will ship in the fourth quarter of 2007. Also, Microsoft said its Exchange Server 2007 Unified Communication server(an e-mail platform with presence and IM) will be SIP-compatible with Nortel's Communication Server 1000 (the company's IP PBX) by the same time as UC Integrated Branch.

Another product integration, also due by year-end, is the combination of Nortel Multimedia Conferencing -- a server product that sets up voice and video conferencing with Microsoft OCS.

The event took place six months after Microsoft and Nortel formed the Innovative Communication Alliance, a four-year deal in which both companies agreed to integrate their respective VOIP and messaging server, and desktop software. The alliance involves sharing intellectual property, research and development, support, services and sales personnel and resources.

Ballmer said this first phase of integration will involve tying together separate, standalone VOIP and messaging servers from the two companies, and presenting these applications as one system to end-users.

"First, you'll get smart unified clients," which ties together Microsoft messaging, Nortel softphone and hardphone technology. "After that, we'll deliver transformed backend. "Over the next two to three years, Ballmer said, customers of Nortel and Microsoft "can expect to go from a separate, PBX and separate server software [environments], to one where [OCS] ... and Nortel [VOIP] servers deliver the full telephony experience, with both platforms running on standard Intel architecture with common Windows software, development and management tools."

In addition to the upcoming branch office, SIP integration and conferencing moves, Nortel also said it would scale up its enterprise IP PBX platform. In the second half of 2007, Nortel will release an update to its enterprise IP PBX platform -- the CS 2000 series, which will provide greater scale than the previous CS 1000 (up to 200,000 users per system vs. 10,000).

"[This will] allow the same converged office environment for larger enterprise and carrier hosted solutions," Zafirovski said.

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