Microsoft OCS R2 in clear PBX play

Back in August 2008, I blogged about Gartner's decision to put Microsoft's Office Communications Server in its Corporate Telephony Magic Quadrant and pondered about how long it will take for Microsoft to position OCS as a complete telephony platform. OCS 2007 release 2, which was announced in October 2008, was launched last week. As expected, the major improvements over the previous version's voice capabilities were the addition of audio conferencing and SIP trunking.

So does Microsoft view OCS R2 as a PBX replacement? Well the launch event was instructive, because Microsoft clearly positioned OCS R2 as an entire communications system that could replace legacy PBXs. It concentrated particularly on presence and audio conferencing and had no details on integration with other PBXs – unlike the R1 launch in 2007. It featured a Q&A with OCS users Intel and Sprint, both of which pointed to its capability with voice. For example Michael Browne, vice president of client services at Sprint said: 

"With our existing Microsoft installed base, Office Communications Server was the most economical way to change out about 490 legacy PBXs. Other unified communications options required substantially more infrastructure. Office Communications Server allowed us to leverage our existing Microsoft infrastructure and provide employees with affordable headsets for voice calling."

However, most commentators continue to say that OCS still doesn't qualify as a full-fledged communications platform, even with these latest voice revisions. Current Analysis' Brian Riggs says that "Release 2 Microsoft OCS remains generally unready to act as a full-scale PBX replacement," pointing out that OCS continues to lack features that are requirements for traditional PBXs, such as branch office or vertical-specific call control. However, Riggs says that he is confident that these shortcomings will be resolved in time, and that OCS R2 is a solid foundation for a future fully-functional PBX replacement.

Marty Parker takes a different view. On a No Jitter blog, he says people perhaps shouldn't get so hung up on what telephony feature OCS has or hasn't got, instead perhaps they should consider that Microsoft could be inviting enterprises to look at voice communications in a new way. He suggests the alternative view is:

"Microsoft is solving enterprise communications problems differently. It looks to me like they asked themselves the question: What would be the best way to deliver communications for a "people-ready business" that would reduce costs, improve business outcomes and provide both productivity and control to the users? If the new software also fills in the PBX checklists, that's so much the better."

But most commentators now seem to be now arguing about details and they seem to agree that OCS will be a fully-fledged communications system before long. So what do you all think and does anyone have any interesting experiences they would like to share with us on using Microsoft OCS?
Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.