Dell Jumps into Unified Communications

The OEM is partnering with Microsoft and Nortel to bring unified communications to its hardware lineup.

Dell is partnering with Microsoft and Nortel Networks to bring a unified communications platform to its line of hardware, while providing an additional layer of services for customers.

The three companies are announcing the partnership Oct. 16, which is the same day that Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., plans to officially launch its line of unified communications products called Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Communicator 2007.

The agreement with Microsoft and Nortel—those two companies already have an interoperability agreement—will now allow Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, to offer its customers a range of unified communication products that work with its PCs and servers, while also expanding its portfolio of services. The first part of the collaboration between Microsoft and Toronto-based Nortel provided interoperability between Nortels Communication Server 1000 and Microsofts Exchange Server 2007.

Henry Dewing, an analyst with Forrester Research, said surveys have shown that about a third of IT departments are interested in unified communications and have begun deploying at least some aspects of a unified communications platform. The problem, Dewing said, is that many IT departments dont have a good working definition of what a complete unified communications platform is.

The fact that Microsoft, Dell and Nortel have come together to offer a single package should help clarify that definition by using the collective marketing ability of three of the larger names in IT, he said.

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"Part of letting people know what unified communication can do is the evangelization of the solution and that Microsoft and Dell can offer critical support across the market," Dewing said. "Its a very interesting time right now, and this is one step to try and pull it all together."

For Dell, Dewing said this latest announcement is part of the companys effort to reinvent itself from a low-cost box maker into a provider of cutting-edge technology and a range of IT services that can rival services offered by IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Since his return in January, CEO Michael Dell has been pushing the company to incorporate newer technology into its consumer line of products, while adding more options and services into its enterprise lineup to make a companys IT infrastructure easier to manage and support. The latest announcement came Oct. 10, when Dell launched a "streaming" computing solution that offered a centralized desktop computing model with Dell hardware and infrastructure along with Citrix software.

"We are trying to simplify IT and look at new ways to address the complexity of desktop computing," said Rick Becker, vice president of solutions at Dell. "Whether its streaming the OS or managing the complexity of a system or a unified communications solution, Dells commitment to its customers is to offer a complete set of hardware, software and services that allows them to purchase it, deploy it and manage it."

The agreement with Microsoft, Becker said, will allow Dell to offer a combination of different unified communications products—such as e-mail, fax, instant messaging and VOIP (voice over IP)—to its customers. The user can choose one of four different packages or combine all four, he said.

The four packages of unified communications products Dell and Microsoft are offering include: Core Office Communication Server, which provides IM and Microsofts Live Meeting; OCS Telephony, which offers routing tracking and management, a VOIP gateway and PBX (public branch exchange) integration; Audio and Video Conferencing, which allows video and VOIP conferencing; and Exchange Unified Messaging, which provides voice mail, e-mail and fax through Microsoft Outlook.

With Nortel, Dell has found a partner that will add to this new unified communication platform. Under the agreement, Dell will bundle it hardware with both Nortels enterprise and SMB (small and mid-sized business) communication technology.

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The two companies will also co-develop some communications software together, including Nortels Software Communication System 500, a next-generation unified communications platform that is currently under development, said Joel Hackney, president of Nortels Enterprise Solutions.

While Nortel will provide its VOIP, data networking and multimedia conferencing technology to the overall communication platform, Dell will provide all the services, which will give customers a single point of contact, said Becker.

While Dell will resell some of Nortels small business communications software and services, the package that Dell is putting together with Microsoft is meant for enterprise customers, Becker said.

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