Microsofts Looming VON Announcement: Not VOIP?

By Ellen Muraskin  |  Posted 2004-10-06

Microsofts Looming VON Announcement: Not VOIP?

Im damned if I can figure out what Microsoft Corp. is going to announce with the first, most prominent keynote of all at this months Voice on the Net show, if not telephony links to its LCS (Live Communications Server). The keynoter is Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of Microsofts real-time collaboration business unit—the one charged with LCS.

The "tattler" leaks reported by Mary Jo Foley support my hunch, even as she gets an official denial from Redmond. Maybe theres some technicality here were missing?

Will it officially be announced not at VON but in Redmond, via LCS-mediated videoconference?

Live Communications Server has been pitched as the presence and IM server for the enterprise, and all of the presentations Ive ever seen of it are in some way integrated with telephony.

Its Microsofts SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) server and, as such, it keeps track of who is available, at what IP address and in what medium at any given time. Its easy to imagine it as the core of an SIP IP PBX, doing the signaling for point-to-point voice traffic.

Siemens, in its OpenScape launch back in early 2003, hitched Microsofts LCS (then called Greenwich) to its own (or other vendors!) PBXes/ telephony servers so you could click your way on a buddy list, embedded in Siemens GUI, to increasingly rich interactivity, from chat to phone to Web conference, and so you could drag and drop buddies into audio conferences and collaboration sessions.

Click here to read about Siemens HiPath OpenScape, which runs on Microsofts Office Live Communications Server and Windows Server 2003.

Siemens integrated the solution with WebEx to be able to escalate from voice to multimedia Web sessions, complete with video. It added VOIP (voice over IP) gateways, so that the un-SIPed could be brought into the enterprise fold as well for conference calls.

It looks from here as though Microsoft—having the SIP server, the directory technology in Active Directory, the calendaring and messaging software in Outlook, its own Web collaboration server in Live Meeting (the acquired Placeware), and having SIP voice clients on every Windows XP desktop through MSN Messenger—would be taking the logical step and offering to replace the PBX altogether, either as CPE or by taking on the same role as the service providers of Vonage and CallVantage ilk.

John Jainschigg, former editor-in-chief of Communications Convergence magazine, went so far as to predict the death of the PBX as we know it, slain precisely by Microsoft, the way it has overtaken messaging in Outlook and browsing in IE. Jainschigg was editor of a competing magazine then, and hes still not afraid to stick his neck out. He says:

"Microsoft will keep LCS prices high for a while, and itll follow the same uptake curve as Exchange—people will complain, therell be revisions, people will complain more, prices will come down slowly, until you wake up one morning and all the PBX makers in the world are gone, and Cisco is back to being a router company.

"The add-on telephones are cute, but theyll slowly vanish except as exec-desktop showpieces in favor of instant-on/always-on desktop PCs with dongle handsets and headsets, though most people will just use 802.11-linked PDA/phones running mobile Microsoft IM and other applications," Jainschigg said.

"Microsoft, meanwhile, will slowly remove the bloat so that LCS can eventually run with Exchange, IIS and a few other apps on a single, monolithic box thats cheap enough for a small business with five people, and develop versions that scale up sufficiently for hosting by xSPs."

Next Page: Microsoft has a long move up the VOIP ranks.

Microsoft in VOIP

Jainschigg said he further sees a future in which firewall functions will be taken over by application-level authorization and encryption.

Microsoft will host your enterprise telephony, he says, just the way it hosts MSN Messenger now—from your home or from the airport lounge—with an authorized password.

Id say were a long way from introducing Microsoft into the same VOIP ranks as Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, Siemens, Mitel and Alcatel.

I dont think IT or telecom managers will replace their CPE PBXes with a Microsoft box, not after all of Windows historical vulnerabilities. Indeed, theres already a somewhat sorry history of open-systems telephony servers/PBXes on Windows NT, which tended to crash. These have been made more resilient on Windows 2000.

Theres also a counter-movement to move the IP PBX to Linux, for both vulnerability and pricing issues.

The SIP startup vendors Snom and Asterisk have done this, and Cisco is readying a Linux version of its Call Manager PBX, too. Cisco is also, perhaps not incidentally, acquiring its own presence technology in its recent purchase of Dynamicsoft, one of the biggest names in SIP.

All in all, I do expect LCS to act as an IP voice softswitch, but I dont expect LCS to compete with the CPE PBX vendors anytime soon.

The service-provider scenario is more tempting, especially among small businesses closer to the consumer scale.

Or, like Siemens, might LCS go into the enterprise as a PBX adjunct, to link up dispersed workers via buddy list and gateway with those tethered to the existing PBX? To inform everyone of each others availability? To eventually run the collaboration app, as well, from Live Meeting?

In May, we learned at that LCS Windows Messenger client would tunnel into an enterprise network using SIP over firewall port 5061, and support full encryption and authentication.

Will this apply to voice?

Will Microsoft take on a true VOIP service, with gateways out to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network)? Would Microsoft take on the whole billing and customer-care burden, or partner with other providers? Is Microsoft really going to start selling a VOIP phone, or will it stick with a soft client?

The leaked, unconfirmed news, although it sounds more than credible, launches many questions that we may have to wait until VON–or later–to hear answered.

Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center at for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.

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