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Microsoft and Cisco on unified communications

Microsoft and Cisco on unified communications

Although Cisco and Microsoft took the leading positions in Gartner’s 2007 Magic Quadrant analysis of the UC market, they come from fundamentally different backgrounds. As such their respective influence on the market, along with other large vendors, could shape the way UC develops and consequently how the channel approaches clients. Will it be a world of cooperation and greater interoperability, or will a tit-for-tat mentality set in?


Microsoft Australia senior product marketing manager unified communications, Harold Melnick, looks after the software giant's UC portfolio. After working with Microsoft in Redmond for 10 years he moved across the Pacific to take on roles at Vodafone and Telstra before starting his current role. Melnick recently presented Microsoft's views at the IDC Unified Communications Conference in Sydney.

What is your take on the development of Australia's UC market to date?

Harold Melnick (HM): Australia is really at the forefront of the unified communications market compared to other countries for a couple of key reasons. Firstly, Australians tend to be early adopters of new technology; and secondly, because we're keen to focus on our business productivity. One of the reasons this sector is taking off so quickly is that there are multiple solutions available and a broad partner ecosystem to deliver those solutions.

What business trends are likely to emerge in the next two years?

HM: We'll see 64-bit computing become the standard in business over the next two years and unified communications and software deployments will reflect that change. More powerful computers and more powerful unified communications solutions will deliver additional capabilities to customers, enabling workers to do more with their computers, regardless of the medium, platform, device or location. As these trends progress, productivity will increase and collaboration will improve. This will be particularly visible to businesses with remote locations and a strong reliance on mobile workers, and sales people whose impact on the bottom line depends on their effectiveness in the field.

Are there specific factors driving competition in Australia? How do you see it playing out?

HM: We view our competition in Australia as other IT projects that may potentially delay unified communications deployments. There is always the risk that other IT priorities will take the front seat rather than unified communications deployments. We believe, however, that unified communications is more economical. Deploying UC becomes an increasingly attractive proposition because customers can gain almost immediate productivity benefits. We also have one of the broadest partner ecosystems in the world to help deliver these technologies and drive more value for customers.

Is there scope for greater standardisation and cooperation between major player? What would inhibit this?

HM: The Microsoft UC approach is a software-based strategy being driven by existing deployments of our products such as Office and SharePoint - it's a familiar interface for customers and integrates smoothly with their existing desktop applications and skill-set. It therefore makes it easy for Microsoft customers to deploy our unified communications solutions. Microsoft and Cisco have had a strong history of working together for over a decade. Our alliance is customer-driven and in the last few years we've collaborated to deliver standards-based interoperability for unified communications. This gives our customers the confidence to be able to make long-term investment decisions and creates joint opportunities for our sales force and partners.

Should the Australian UC market be looking overseas for lessons or should they be looking to us?

HM: It can go either way. We've seen significant take-up of Microsoft unified communications solutions in Australia - particularly of Office Communications Server 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 - and those numbers are growing very strongly month on month. We're also seeing customers looking to deploy the full unified communications suite in a growing number of instances. This is a strong indicator for the demand we are seeing for Microsoft solutions in this market.

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