Microsoft stashes Cisco hugs

Microsoft wasted little time saying Cisco’s competitive offering is inferior and detailing the testing in a whitepaper

One day after its collaborative lovefest with Cisco, Microsoft Tuesday wiped off the lipstick and came out swinging as it introduced a new server designed to let users troubleshoot voice and video problems by monitoring network performance in real time.

The Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Quality of Experience Monitoring (QOEM) Server, which monitors voice and video quality, will be available as a technology preview when Microsoft announces the shipment of Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 on Oct. 16. QOEM itself will ship in before the year-end.

Microsoft wasted little time, saying Cisco's competitive offering is inferior and detailing the testing in a whitepaper. Microsoft compared the ability of the QOEM server to deliver a consistent call quality to Cisco's CallManager 5.0 using 7961 IP phones, citing a study by Psytechnics Limited. The study concludes that Microsoft's infrastructure "provides better voice quality than the Cisco CallManager version tested in virtually all the conditions enterprise users will likely encounter."

A day earlier, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Cisco CEO John Chambers held a staged event to reiterate the two were working on interoperability, including in the area of unified communications.

They acknowledged that they would cooperate and compete in areas such as software, with Ballmer saying, "I have great respect for John and Cisco as a company, but anything they do and we do, I have more respect for us."

Tuesday's announcement wasted no time reinforcing Ballmer's point.

The QOEM Server, which will ship as a server role within OCS, collects metrics about individual calls such as the handset being used and performance, provides reporting interfaces and runs analytics on data. It also provides root cause analysis and alarms.

The server also integrates with System Center Operations Manager and developers can build applications on top of the platform.

"With legacy VoIP or a PBX, the quality is always the network quality, and we believe that should just be a starting point," said Clint Patterson, director of product management in the unified communications group at Microsoft. "You should really measure what is the quality of the experience at the endpoint."

Microsoft said that as use of unified communications grows, individual network links can become progressively saturated. The company said traditional IP telephony may not provide much advanced warning prior to call blockage in such a scenario.

But Microsoft said its infrastructure could do just that using a media stack installed on clients that would adapt to the link saturation in real time. Microsoft said call quality could be slightly reduced but that call blockage would not occur.

The QOEM Server metrics would show bandwidth reduction, a stepwise degradation in quality, and other tangible signs that the link is congested. The server also would provided advanced notice that the link will need to be augmented and allow time for administrators to make adjustments.

The Microsoft unified communications media stack includes technologies such as Microsoft Real-Time (RT) Audio Codec, an RT Encoder and Decoder and modes for Constant Bit Rate and Variable Bit Rate. The stack is built into the Office Communicator 2007 client and is in use today in the Microsoft Live Messenger real-time communications client, which serves 1 billion minutes of voice calls per month, according to Microsoft.

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft announced that the Real-Time Audio Codec will be licensed by Intel, Texas Instruments, AudioCodes, Dialogic, LG-Nortel and Polycom.

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