Six objections to Microsoft Office Communications Server

After the announcement applause dies down, hard questions remain

3) If I'm not getting rid of my PBXes for awhile, why go to OCS at all?

For some companies, it could be the features. At Crowe, Chizek, Hannifin said employees who have seen him testing OCS "are just going nuts" for its Office Live Meeting feature, which lets users quickly set up ad hoc videoconferences.

"There are a lot of 'oohs' and 'aahs,'" he said.

For other firms that are already heavy Microsoft shops, it's the potential to save on their existing international calling and Web and videoconferencing bills.

Take Lionbridge, which has yet to give up any of its PBXes, some of which are 15 years old.

"It's probably going to take us several years before we get rid of our PBXes," Kaldestad said.

Lionbridge had deployed LCS a year earlier, so its servers were still new. And having bought Software Assurance for LCS, its upgrade to OCS was free.

Lionbridge spent about US$100,000 on new VOIP telephones and headsets that plugged into PCs or ran Office Communicator, Kaldestad said. The savings from using Office Live Meeting and VOIP let Lionbridge recoup its investment in "less than two months," he said.

At the same time, the fear of dumping their PBXes will recede faster than people imagine today, Marks said.

"Five to 10 years from now, I think half of the market will have adopted either software-based PBXes and/or unified communications," he said.

4) Do I even really need unified communications?

Experts say many companies remain truly mystified as to why they should potentially invest millions of dollars in gear which, when it comes down to it, is mostly about helping their employees save a few keystrokes here or there.

"Users are skeptical about UC because vendors have done a crappy job of identifying the value proposition of it," said IDC's Freedman, citing IDC surveys and customer interviews. "So what if employees gain 15 minutes [of productivity] from presence. How does that help the bottom line?"

Convincing them of that won't be easy, because "UC is an amorphous collection of abilities, rather than one particular space," according to Jorge Blanco, vice president of solutions marketing at Avaya.

As a result, most companies are cherry-picking applications such as conferencing, desktop videoconferencing or mobility, without taking the entire package, Blanco said.

The global UC market this year will total just US$4.5 billion, according to Freedman. That's about one-tenth what many vendors are trumpeting, because IDC won't count full price of a product if it ends up being used narrowly as a replacement for a voice PBX box, she said.

While IDC is predicting the UC market will grow to $17 billion in 2011, Freedman remains "cynical about what vendors have delivered." And they need to "educate the unwashed masses about what the hell is unified communications."

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