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OCS 2007 Set to Ease Telephony-App Integration

Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 ties Office suite to corporate phone systems.

Microsoft this month will release to manufacturing its Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, a product the company's betting will change the way individuals communicate by tying its Office suite to corporate telephone systems. It could also mean changes for corporate development teams in the form of integrating more telephony into applications.

Slated for delivery this fall, OCS is the successor to Live Communications Server 2005, or LCS. The new release provides common interfaces to the major PBX systems from the likes of Avaya Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks, among others.

Microsoft announced compatibility between OCS and the telephony systems of 12 major vendors at last month's Interop show in Las Vegas. Regardless of the telephone system a customer may have, developers can use a common set of code and APIs to build the capability of determining presence and establishing telephone calls into applications. With Microsoft's LCS 2005, that was a complex undertaking that required customization because every telephone system has its own unique call control and system protocols.

Now, Microsoft is making the OCS APIs available, and telephony vendors have agreed to expose their own interfaces to OCS. Microsoft will be broadly pushing the concept of unified communications through its new Office Communicator client, which embeds telephony into Outlook and other Office applications. Company officials anticipate third-party vendors such as SAP AG, as well as ISVs, will also use the interface in their own applications.

Microsoft officials envision corporate developers building this functionality into homegrown apps, too. "In-house developers can now, with a few lines of code, enable an application to be communication-ready," says Tony Bawcutt, Microsoft's director of business development for unified communications.

Rapid Growth Potential
Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business division, predicted in March that 100 million users will be able to make phone calls from Office applications. Some believe that goal may be attainable.

"I think we're all going to be shocked at the market share Microsoft gains when it comes to telephony," says Jim Burton, CEO of voice consultancy CT Link LLC and co-founder of the Web portal Unified Communications Strategies.

Scott McKechnie, director of product management for application enablement services at Avaya, points to Microsoft's use of the ECMA International TR/87 standard. It specifies the Session Initiation Protocol, which provides a common spec for creating, modifying and terminating telephone calls, conferences and the distribution of multimedia over IP networks.

That should provide integration between OCS and Avaya's recently introduced Communications Manager 4.0, McKechnie says, though the company still has to run tests. At the same time, Avaya, which in the past has offered its APIs to telephony-oriented developers, is now reaching out to those focused on .NET.

"More and more are moving toward the .NET environment, so we issued a .NET SDK," McKechnie says.

They can develop in Visual Studio or other tool suites. Roger Toennis, CTO of Carrier Access Corp., a supplier of hardware and software, uses the Eclipse IDE to develop in Java. "The nice part about the new OCS stuff is it's not specific to .NET and C++ and Visual Studio," Toennis says.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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