Microsofts Unified Communications Ready
to Debut"> Ackers is also adamant that the benefits of its Unified Communications solution outweigh the costs, even for those customers who need to upgrade their networks. "From an IT perspective, you do start to realize significant savings as you consolidate your infrastructure onto a single platform and a single set of management tools," she said, citing the fact that Microsoft has saved the $5 million a year it used to spend on a voice mail product, which is now built into Exchange 2007.There were also three distinct groups of customers contemplating Unified Communications: those that were fine being entirely on the Microsoft platform as they saw the value of that; those who wanted multiple platforms and interoperability between them; and those who wanted pieces from each competitor. "That is why you have seen a big push around interoperability from us, and we have been working closely with all of the PBX vendors to make sure that we have that interoperability scenario in place and working," Ackers said. Click here to read more about how Microsoft moved the Unified Communications ball forward. Analyst Enderle agrees that Microsoft has done all it can with interoperability with the PBX vendors, which, he notes, tend to be "incredibly closed." "It is those related practices and a lack of common standards which have been the biggest problem. There were strong solutions like this in test 20 years ago, but the lack of common standards and cooperation between vendors, IT and telephony groups, and no common software framework, killed it, even though both IBM and AT&T spent billions on the project," Enderle said. With regard to the challenges faced by early adopters and those on the TAP program, Akers said that one of the challenges is changing user behavior, such as getting people to use the Communicator software as their phone rather than the physical handset. Another potential issue was voice quality, particularly when people were connected to networks other than at their workplace, which could be less than optimal. To address this, Microsoft built adaptive codecs, which adjust based on the type of network a user is running on so as to maintain the voice quality, she said. Along with these codecs is a quality of experience monitoring server, which gives IT the ability to understand what is happening from a quality experience perspective and do the diagnostics for it. "This was one place where the TAP feedback was really useful to us in terms of helping us come up with new functionality that we needed to build into the product before it was released," Ackers said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.
These "concrete IT savings" are independent of those that came from moving to VOIP. On the productivity side, the ability to reach someone at the time you need to communicate with them did result in quantifiable time savings. "Presence ends up being a critical component of actually delivering that productivity gain," she said.