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Microsoft and Nortel Networks on Jan. 17 revealed more about their Unified Communications Alliance, announcing real deliverables and detailing a road map for further products due next year.

The alliance, launched in the summer of 2006, has yielded over the last six months a series of integrated offerings due out this year. First of the new deliverables is to be a joint Unified Messaging offering that provides interoperability between Nortel’s Communication Server 1000 and Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. It represents the first integration of Exchange with Nortel’s native implementation of the industry standard SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). Nortel will supplement the offering with its professional services for design, deployment and support.

To read more about the Microsoft-Nortel Unified Communications Alliance, click here.

Due later in the fourth quarter of 2007 are the UC Integrated Branch and a new Conferencing offering. The UC Integrated Branch will provide a single hardware device that combines routing, switching, VOIP (voice over IP) and unified communications.

“With this we’ve converged branch infrastructure from many boxes to one solution with a truly seamless experience. This combines routing, switching VOIP and all the capabilities from Microsoft in a single device that is cost-effective and can be the engine for new growth in branch offices,” said Nortel Networks CEO Mike Zafirovski at a press event in New York.

The new Conferencing offering will deliver the functions of Nortel’s Multimedia Conferencing product in Microsoft Office Communicator 2007. The aim of that integration is to provide a consistent user experience across voice, instant messaging, presence, and audio and video conferencing, the companies said.

Both companies, in providing firm dates for product deliveries this year, sought to answer critics who have dubbed their efforts slideware.

“We’ve been working diligently on these new solutions in the past six months. They will give second-to-none investment protection, and we have services offerings as part of this on how to help you evolve,” Zafirovski said. “We’ve both worked hard to drive this vision into reality.”

The two companies will also this year address unified communications for large enterprises and carriers by adding support in the Nortel Communications Server 2100 for a unified desktop and soft phone for VOIP, e-mail, instant messaging and presence. The Communication Server 2100 supports as many as 200,000 users on one system.

The road map outlined by the two companies describes a shared vision of how small and large enterprises will move from today’s segmented market with separate “islands” of text messaging, voice mail, e-mail and instant messaging into more advanced integration and finally a transformation in which users interact with a common smart client and integrated back-end infrastructure, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

“We’re the only company whose road map talks about a smart, unified client that largely builds on the popularity of our Windows and Office software,” Ballmer said. “We’re the only company to talk about a unified development and management platform at the server level. Other firms will talk about using standard hardware [or] standard operating systems, but making it easy to write a program that combines e-mail, voice, video, and so on—we’re unique on those dimensions as we work together.”

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In the second integration phase, which Ballmer said he believes will start this year and will move into full swing by 2009, the two companies expect the “notion of separate PBX and server software will give way to a world in which [Microsoft’s] Office Communications Server and Nortel’s feature server [deliver] the full telephony experience on Intel [-based hardware], Windows development and management tools, and deliver a common experience,” Ballmer said.

The transformation phase emphasizes the integration of back-end infrastructure “with collaboration or business process types and common management,” he said.

In this phase, “even more powerful things happen at the upper layers. When you have one common platform for e-mail, IM voice, video and CRM [customer relationship management], ERP [enterprise resource planning], customer billing, [and] the call center, there is one way to build these applications. It leads to a platform in which line-of-business applications will be broadly enhanced with communication capabilities,” Ballmer said.

Concrete deliverables planned for the later two phases include a unified communications contact center, a Nortel feature server, expanded hosted Unified Communications solutions, mobility and client solutions, and application-aware networking enhancements.

Nortel Networks will also deliver a range of new professional services for enterprises. The company announced 11 new core integration services and a structured convergence integration methodology. Also as part of that effort, Nortel announced that has opened 20 regional collaboration or demonstration centers and intends to increase that number to 100 globally. The centers will be staffed by both Microsoft and Nortel personnel.

The new services include IT business consulting to help create business cases for convergence; VOIP, data network and security assessments to help determine the ability of the customer’s network to support new converged applications; network and security design; implementation services for Nortel Communication Server 1000; configuration services for Microsoft Live Communications Server 2005; dialing plan modification; program management; and ongoing technical support.

Nortel to date has 2,200 VOIP experts globally and it said it intends to increase that number as more enterprises adopt unified communications.

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