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Nortel, Microsoft Expand Unified Communications

After more than a year and half of partnership, Nortel Networks (NYSE:NT) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) have rolled out new unified communications services. According to company executives, the joint Nortel-Microsoft offering is yielding results and wins against competitors including IBM, Cisco and Avaya.

"This alliance is based on alignment of the visions of our CEOs," Ruchi Prasad, vice president and general manager, Innovative Communications Alliance, Nortel told InternetNews.com. "The end goal is a software-based unified communications platform," he added.

The original deal struck in 2006 has this year been expanded by several new certified offerings. Among them is Nortel Converged Office, which integrates Nortel's Communication Server (CS) 1000 IP-PBX with Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007.

In addition, Microsoft's Unified Communications Open Interoperability Program has now qualified Nortel's Secure Router 4134, first announced last May at Interop, to run Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS).

On the hosted side the two partners have the Nortel Microsoft Carrier Hosted Unified Communications Solution, which melds Nortel's Communication Server 2000 softswitch with Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging.

For audio conferencing, the two companies now offer Nortel Multimedia Conferencing 5.0 for Office Communications Server 2007, which includes dial-in capabilities so non-OCS users can also log in.

Craig Schuman, director of business development and strategy for the Unified Communications Group at Microsoft, commented that the continued alliance is all about moving to a software-based approach for unified communications.

"The whole idea is to have it enable customers to migrate to unified communications and VoIP at their own pace so they get lower total cost of ownership while reducing their infrastructure complexity," Schuman told InternetNews.com.

"We figured there would be a lot of naysayers and that it would not all be smooth sailing," Schuman said. "But with this announcement, we see real solutions and progress and we couldn't be happier with where we are."

Prasad added that some of the customer wins came as the result of customers moving from IBM's Lotus Notes over to Microsoft's Exchange. It's an area that Microsoft is very keen on encouraging as well.

"The areas of movement from Notes to Exchange are one of the key areas that Microsoft is working on," Schuman added.

Earlier this week, IBM ramped up its own UC efforts with a $1 billion investment in the joint communications platform.

IBM isn't the only vendor being targeted by Nortel and Microsoft. Prasad commented that Nortel has also won business against Cisco and Avaya as a result of the Nortel-Microsoft offerings.

Microsoft, however, also interoperates with solutions from Cisco and Avaya at various levels.

"Microsoft, of course, will always interoperate with other vendors," Schuman said. "But the key is that what we do here is integrate," he said. "This is the first certification of this solution among any of them. We certainly believe in a software-centric approach that unified communications lives in software applications that enhance end-user productivity instead of living in the network."