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Nortel is wooing VARs to sell its unified communications portfolio by launching starter kits that can quickly get customers up and running with the technology.  

The kits are an extension of the UC 1-2-3 program, launched in June 2007. The program offers Nortel partners training, education and specialized certification on Nortel’s unified communications offerings. The starter kits offer VARs a preconfigured, low-cost way to get their customers familiar with UC without having to implement a full-blown deployment across their enterprise, according to Net Payne, Nortel Americas vice president of marketing. The kits are available to all Nortel partners, not just those who elect to get certified in the unified communications competency, he added.

There are four kits available to addresses a specific enterprise need and they have been developed for complete interoperability with Microsoft’s OCS (Office Communications Server) and LCS (Live Communications Server) communication and messaging platforms, Payne said. He added that Nortel was working with IBM to extend interoperability with Sametime and Lotus environments. The kits are also tested to ensure compatibility with competing UC platforms from Cisco and Avaya.

 "We’re not making this a ‘rip-and-replace’ decision point either for customers, current or otherwise, or VARs — we want to make it easy for them," Payne said.  The interoperability allows customers to adopt certain UC applications at their own pace and helps the channel partner gain a foothold into customers with competitors’ legacy infrastructure, he said.   

The first of the four kits is the Mobile IP starter kit for customers who need to quickly locate specific personnel within their organization, such as in a hospital, caregivers using the technology would be able to see which doctors are available at any given time and communicate with them instantly. 

The Road Warrior starter kit offers customers softphone applications for travelling workers, who can use the technology to make calls from their laptop through any Internet access point, said Payne. This kit is widely deployed within Nortel itself, he added.  

The Work at Home starter kit is designed for customers who have a number of telecommuting employees, Payne said. 

The final kit is the UC starter kit for enterprises that want to deploy UC systems for all their desktop users, he said.  The UC starter kit includes features that appear in other kits, including click-to-call, "power of presence," application sharing and integrated conferencing, he said.  

Payne said the kits not only help the customers with their UC learning curve, but channel partners as well. "Like anyone adopting new technology, channel partners are also adopting UC into their portfolio at different rates," he said. The UC 1-2-3 program and the kits can help them "ramp up" at the same time their customers are, he said.   

Scott Davis, executive director of Xeta, a Tulsa, Okla., Nortel partner, said his company is working on getting the required certifications necessary for the UC competency and was seeing a lot of interest in the technology from customers.  

"We’ve built a hands-on lab here at our company and done quite a bit of education," Davis said. "This is a huge differentiating feature for us with customers," he added. While Davis said Xeta has done two significant unified messaging deployments, he expects the growth in the space to be explosive in 2008.  

"Every company that sees the demonstration or is shown the sales presentation wants to know more," he said.  Davis said that not since the introduction of VOIP has he seen such interest in telephony technology. "There has been limited interest in IP upgrades except if there’s a technical issue or a customer needs to add a new site. But this technology is sparking a whole new level of interest and adoption," he said.  

Payne said Nortel will be offering face-to-face training for partners over the next two months, and the UC 1-2-3 program also offers Web-based training. He said that the kits are priced at about $40,000.