Microsoft will make its new enterprise voice communications server available to 2,500 companies under a private beta program on Dec. 11.
The product, which will be known as Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, brings with it the ability for companies to integrate VOIP (voice over IP) technology into existing telephony infrastructure, Chris Cullin, the director of product management in Microsofts Unified Communications Group, told eWEEK.
This server is also the successor to Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005, and forms part of Microsofts unified communications portfolio.
"It brings with it voice and conferencing capabilities for on-premise voice, video and Web conferencing, and integrates them together at the application layer for a unified user experience," Cullin said.
"It also provides a single applications infrastructure, a single point of administration and configuration, and a single directory, for the IT professional."
Earlier this year, Microsoft announced its unified communications vision and roadmap going forward, where executives talked about introducing voice technologies to its current lineup, developing new products and expanding the unified communications features its current products provide.
"The number of diverse communication solutions that exist today were starting to add to the communications problem rather than address it, so we are building a solution that integrates this all together," Cullin said.
Communications Server 2007 users will be able to deploy enterprise-wide presence, enable security-enhanced enterprise instant messaging, host on-premise audio, video and Web conferences, and deploy VOIP capabilities.
Voice features includes placing and receiving voice calls, advanced call routing and streamlined integration with the new unified messaging capabilities in Exchange Server 2007.
Other features are multiparty conferencing, call holding, and forwarding and transferring, as well as compliance capabilities—all of which work in conjunction with the existing telephony infrastructure.
One of the benefits that using VOIP brings to enterprises is in business process integration.
A recent report from analyst firm Gartner said that "the ultimate driver of VOIP is not merely cost savings, but is in business process integration. Enterprises should evaluate their long-term strategy toward developing IP telephony applications beyond basic telephony, including business application integration."
The new voice server will also allow workers to instantly launch a phone call from a number of Office 2007 system applications, such as Word 2007, Outlook 2007 and Office Communicator.
Users will be able to click on a colleagues name to determine his or her availability and initiate a person-to-person or multiparty call.
While Cullin declined to give details of the roadmap for the product going forward or around its pricing and packaging, he did say that it was on track to ship by the end of the second quarter of 2007.
"We will be reaching thousands of information workers with this private beta and it will help enterprises prepare to deploy it. We are also breaking down the link between software and hardware and the product will run on industry standard machines and on phones developed by our partners," he said.
Office Communications Server is also a platform for developers and gives them a set of APIs and open standards based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), as well as an applications development environment where people could build line of business or vertical applications on top of the solution set, he said.
Communications Server 2007 and Microsoft Office Communicator, which is part of the 2007 Microsoft Office system, have native support for SIP, and interoperate with products from industry partners including Nortel Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco Systems, LG-Nortel, NEC Philips Unified Solutions and Siemens Communications.
Through these relationships, customers worldwide will be able to support VOIP using their existing desktop phones, data networks and time division multiplexing or IP private branch exchanges, he said.
Customers will also be able to leverage the capabilities of Office Communicator to make and receive phone calls from their PCs, eliminating the need to buy expensive IP-compatible phones.
Office Communications Server 2007 is also integrated with Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, which has a built-in auto-attendant for answering and routing inbound voice calls as well as unified messaging that unifies voicemail and e-mail in a single inbox, Cullin said.
Microsoft is also hosting a TAP (Technology Adoption Program) summit at its Redmond campus the week of Dec.11, which is being attended by some 250 representatives from nearly 100 enterprises who represent IT departments that serve more than 7 million information workers worldwide.
The event includes a showcase of partner solutions, including a demonstration of ICA (Innovative Communications Alliance) scenarios incorporating Microsoft unified communications software and the Nortel Communications Server IP-PBX 1000.
"Most of these partners have been using the instant messaging and presence components and are starting to deploy Exchange 2007 with unified messaging," Cullin said.
"As we add more of the voice and communication components, they become part of the unified communications experience."