Microsoft, Nortel team up on unified communications

Integration could be sticking point for Cisco, Avaya

We live in a world of redundancies. Take the telephone (please!). Most of us probably have one sitting right there on our desk, next to our computer. It’s used for talking to people. But do we really need a separate device? “No” is the short answer from a growing number of tech heavyweights pushing “unified communications” technology that combines and integrates voice, video conferencing, e-mail and IM on a single IP network. The technology is still in its infancy, with companies lining up to be the “Microsoft of unified communications” -- including Microsoft itself.

“There are hundreds of millions of people who will be getting a new communications experience over the next four or five years,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a Webcast last week.

Ballmer was celebrating a deal between his company and Nortel to jointly develop new converged IP communications technology.

The deal brings Microsoft’s operating system and applications strengths together with Nortel’s voice and services expertise. Unified communications products from Microsoft and Nortel could be attractive to IT managers who are worried about problems integrating products from companies such as Cisco and Avaya with Microsoft wares, said Mike Gotta, an analyst at the Burton Group.

One question is how closely Microsoft and Nortel will adhere to standards like those being developed by the Business Process Execution Language group, said Frank Dzubeck, president of consulting company Communications Network Architects. The two companies could embrace standards, or follow Microsoft’s “embrace and extend” strategy of tweaking standards to differentiate their products.