Thoughts and Opinions concerning Microsoft OCS 2007

October 26, 2007 by Garrett Smith

I recently posed a question to a wide range of colleagues, most of whom work work within the telephony industry. I asked…”What are your thoughts regarding the industry impact of Microsoft OCS 2007 and their overall offerings in the UC and VoIP space.” Well, I received many opinions, and I have summarized them below.


MS will push hard into this space and spend lots of marketing dollars. Whether they succeed, they’ll increase the visibility of VoIP which will help the industry overall.


Voice has become nothing more than an application on a network at this point. Hardware vendors drive the adoption of Internet-enabled voice to drive the sales of switch ports and router processors. For software vendors such as Microsoft, this is a space which is extremely foreign to them. They view the integration of voice into the operating system and messaging platforms (Exchange) as crucial to keeping up the viability of their current install base. However, there is a lack of understanding by Microsoft of how you get their software to become a centerpiece in a communications environment. This is the only place that they feel comfortable. Microsoft keeps doing the “me too” “me too” routine when it comes to innovation. Always a day late and a dollar short. Companies like Avaya and Cisco will always be at the center of this technology for large corporations. Microsoft will play well to small installations. If they truly want to hit the big time, they will have to play well with others. History has shown that this normally isn’t the case.


The marketing impact Microsft OCS 2007 can be felt across the telecom industry including the peripheral products.
An example is the headset industry. More and more manufactures will become Mircosoft certified partners and prodvide Microsoft OCS targeted or enhanced products. See www.jabra.com/microsoft for the latest VOIP headset offerings.

Microsoft entering the UC/VoIP industries validates the fact that consumers and businesses alike demand more effective and cheaper communication technologies.
Microsoft enters markets that it can attempt to dominate, but UC and VoIP is such a big market, I am not worried about loosing much to Microsoft – given their track record with writing software…

In theory Microsoft’s entry into this space makes lots of sense. However I think they will struggle with the execution. It’s not clear to me that they understand the buyer or the pain points, primarily for the SME audience that surely must be their target. In the right hands what they’re doing could certainly be highly disruptive, but I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not sure it’s in the right hands…

With unquestioned indifference the Microsoft OCS 2007 eases the minds of many who are on the fence about a move to VoIP from their traditional analog. The OCS gives the benefit to achieve the crossover with far less difficulty. The product’s true progress will be dependent on how quickly manufacturers can implement this as an inclusion of purchase with their VoIP hardware offerings.

Microsoft is likely going to be pitching a fairly limited segment with OCS 2007. I’m guessing the best (only?) candidate is the SMB with an IT staff, already running Exchange and Active Directory. I’m sure a fair amount of companies fit this profile. I’m also sure there are a lot of companies unwilling to pay the Microsoft tax, and several open source alternatives exist (though probably not so neatly packaged).

Microsoft will probably be good for business customers that need a VoIP solution, but I would like to see Linux or other open source VoIP programs such as Asterisk fill the needs of business as well.

Microsoft smells an opportunity. They want to leverage their Exchange Server installs. Outside of that market segment, I don’t think they’ll have much success at all. They will, however, dump millions into advertising, campaigning, and education of the layperson into to the basics of VOIP, which we will all be able to leverage, no matter whether we use their product or not. Overall I think this is an excellent opportunity, as not everyone has their clout nor assets, but we can all make use of the “output” of their efforts, so to speak.

I’m with everyone else that this is good for VoIP in general, as it will catapult awareness to the general public. A rising tide lifts all boats. Like many of Microsoft’s recent “innovations,” the proprietary nature of the application will hinder its adaptation with one segment of the population, and help its adaptation with businesses that have already swallowed the Microsoft kool-aid. No click-to-call unless you have the entire Office suite might come back to bite them. And no XMPP is disappointing, but most people probably don’t care about that. They are on track with the idea that everything’s moving to the server eventually – we’ve come full circle from mainframe to desktop and back again.

My experience leads me to state that OCS is a great opportunity for system integrators. OCS is a great software platform for IP communications but it’s a bad solution when it comes to its integration with legacy systems. There are many “traditional” telecom aspects/services that MS doesn’t cover (for their own choice, an example is the “concept” of attendants). Some telecom operators in Europe are already dealing with this problem that becomes a big opportunity for system integrators that can come out with gateway solutions in order to make inter-working possible. Many SI are already working hard on this.

I view it as an extension of our market research efforts: analysts will tell us market sizes and adoption rates of features. I view it as an extension of educational services: they will spend marketing money on educating users. I view it as entertainment and I view it as a sport – watching it’s Vista-like success! Thanks Microsoft for helping open source Asterisk and Digium – which are customizable, personalizable, and extensible!

It will take them some time but it will definetly get market momentum raisng awareness and opportunity for UC solutions. Microsoft is doing a me too on their own platform. Nothing related to Microsoft becomes mainstream until Microsoft confirms it. It will be intersting on how the traditional voice and data channels adapt their business models to support this market.

Unified Communications is the “thing to do” in business now. This trend is highlighted in expos, conferences, blogs, and press releases everywhere. So many companies are offering some form of a Unified Communications service that it almost becomes confusing. (http://www.pulver.com/unifiedCommunications/2007/boston/web/)
An issue arises because there are so many different offerings with different premises. It is fine for different companies to have internal systems that do not match the other companies with whom they do business, but when the companies attempt to share information, there are extra steps that need to be taken for the lack of the common denominator. For this reason, I am very excited that Microsoft is taking such an active role in the Unified Communications phenomenon. They offer a free trial, and the ability to use the same tools most businesses already employ, but more effectively. I think that Microsoft might one day take over the world – it already has most of our hearts. I can imagine the grand jury fidgeting in their seats already.

The part that is both amusing and somewhat annoying is that Microsoft will undoubtedly market this as if they thought of it and will push it with typical MS methodology… i.e., they’ll never be a real threat to the other providers of unified systems or platforms. Considering the fact that the Asterisk VoIP open source community is among the most active and well-supported projects in the world, how does MS and its typically closed-source-pay-us-to-market-to-you business model plan to compete? While I certainly respect the accomplishments of Microsoft from a purely capitalistic view, I also readily admit that they have rightfully earned their nickname of “Mediocresoft.” In short, they’re just another vendor throwing their hat in the ring– LATE. They’ll win market share, but they’ll never dominate the VoIP space.

(XXXX) have been using LCS internally for over a year, and OCS upgrade is planned next. Everyone in the company has a headset, and we use Communicator for internal and external calls, Instant Messaging, plus of course Video Conferencing and Sharing Applications/Whiteboarding.
We are also using OCS to provide Federation, e.g. our own customers and partners that use OCS can be federated into our network and phone/chat/VC/etc directly with us, and with other customers and partners with whom we federate. This started off slowly, but is now gaining speed, and we see this as a key benefit of OCS. Viral communications within Interoute is a done deal – we are already there – so adding customers and partners is the next key step.
Note that OCS supports different ways to connect to the outside world. You can buy a hardware box and manage itself or you can buy a managed service from a company that offers softswitch voice services (yes, like us). The advantage of softswitch based service is that it provides connectivity to legacy services. Internally we have Alcatel and Avaya, and using softswitch our communication crosses from voice platform to voice platform without worrying about TDM or VoIP interfaces or incompatible encoding or signalling protocols. Most importantly, it makes the OCS -vs- TDM -vs- other VoIP systems migration problem irrelevant. Users or departments move as and when it makes business sense, and not if it doesn’t. We have users with both conventional handsets and OCS/Communicator/Headsets and the ability to track “hard to reach” people plus the other benefits means that OCS is now the prime “telephone system”. My own headset is bluetooth enabled, so I can answer calls in the canteen or in a meeting room – the fact that OCS is PC based is irrelevant.


Note that a soft service based OCS also makes it much easier to control federation – a web front end provides the capability rather than manual federation entries and hope the different hardware gateways work together (and getting two IT departments talking to each other is not going to result in any quick fixes).
The productivity enhancements within Interoute have paid for licenses, deployment and ongoing support costs within the first 3 months. Any distributed organization which wants the Exchange integration, federation with customers/partners, and “instant” migration to VoIP should consider OCS. Also OCS is more evolutionary than revolutionary (if you use a softswitch based service) as you get internal and external connectivity on day 1, but everyone doesn’t have to make the move as service bridges the different platforms whether or not existing handsets are unplugged). But of course, those who chose alternative VoIP systems or stick with TDM can also benefit from softswitch based voice services. It will be multiple vendor choice (and ease of integration) that will drive true competition.

VoIP Supply Named to the 2007 Inc 500 List

August 23, 2007 by Garrett Smith

Leading Internet Retailer of VoIP Hardware Ranks No. 359 Based on Three Year Sales Growth.

BUFFALO, NY August 23, 2007 — VoIP Supply, LLC (www.voipsupply.com) a leading Internet retailer of Voice over IP (VoIP) hardware, software and services, today announced their selection to Inc. Magazine’s 26th annual list of America’s fastest growing private companies. Based on their tremendous sales growth over the past three years, VoIP Supply ranked No. 359 on the Inc. 500 list with a growth rate of 783%. In 2006 VoIP Supply was named the No. 45 fastest growing company in America by Entrepreneur Magazine and the No. 1 fastest growing company in Western New York by Business First.

““It is an incredible honor to be recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in America,” stated Benjamin P. Sayers President and CEO of VoIP Supply, LLC. “This award is a testament to the hard work, dedication and team effort put forth each day by the entire VoIP Supply staff. I could not be more proud of everyone who has played a part in the company’s success.”

The 2007 Inc. 500 list measures revenue growth from 2003 through 2006. To qualify, companies had to be U.S.-based, privately held independent – not subsidiaries or divisions of other companies – as of December 31, 2006, and have, and have at least $600,000 in net sales in the base year.

For more information about VoIP Supply, visit https://www.voipsupply.com.

About VoIP Supply

VoIP Supply, LLC (www.voipsupply.com), is a leading Internet Retailer of Voice over IP Hardware. In addition to a comprehensive catalog of IP Phones, Telephone Adaptors, VoIP Gateways, and Small Business IP PBX solutions, the company offers technical support, extended warranties, and logistical services for end-to-end customer solutions. VoIP Supply was recognized as number 45 on the 2006 Entrepreneur/ Pricewaterhouse Coopers HOT 100 fastest growing companies in the US. VoIP Supply has also been recognized as the fastest growing company in Western New York by Buffalo’s Business First newspaper. For additional information on VoIP Supply, LLC please contact Garrett Smith at 716.250.3408.

Egorcast mashes Jott / Twitter

August 15, 2007 by Garrett Smith

This post is slightly off the beaten path considering our traditional tight focus on VoIP, but it does have a telephony component via Jott so here we go.

For those of you not familiar with Jott, their service allows you to call a toll-free number that they assign, and record any type of message. Jott then uses a combination of manual transcription and machine translation (Speech Recognition) to transcribe your message to text. This text can then be sent to you as an email, or posted to a blog or webpage.

What the folks at EgorCast have done is hook Jott into Twitter, which is a popular application that allows you to send realtime text updates, typically via SMS. Users can also subscribe to your Twitter “feed” and receive your personal updates.

Egorcast was developed by Big in Japan.

Thoughts on Linksys -> Cisco Rebranding

August 14, 2007 by Garrett Smith

Cisco CEO John Chambers recently alluded to a planned rebranding of their consumer division Linksys, with Linksys products assuming the Cisco name.

Cisco is eager to transcend its roots from an industrial backbone routing and switching behemoth, to reach into the home, which is an increasingly sophisticated environment with residential consumers taking advantage of the myriad digital services available for delivery over common household broadband connections, including VoIP (Voice Over IP), Wireless Applications, IP Television, IP Home Automation & Security and other rapidly evolving technologies.

Back in 2005, Cisco acquired KiSS Technology, and more recently, Scientific Atlanta.

Cisco sees the “set top box” as a strategic gateway for products and services that will create the kind of growth to satisfy shareholders. The combined technological assets of these three (Linksys, KiSS Technologies and Scientific Atlanta) could produce some compelling product offerings.

Anyone who has viewed Cisco’s
Human Network
branding and marketing initiative can feel the new vibe Cisco is trying to propagate as it attempts to transcend the data center and the telco closet.

Ooma public launch imminent…

August 9, 2007 by Garrett Smith

Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch reports that much hyped silicon valley VoIP startup Ooma is currently taking customer orders for their $399 “hub”, which enables free VoIP calling via their proprietary peer-to-peer mechanism.

For complete details on Ooma’s service and features, peep their website here. Their strategy seems to be to create a peer network of Ooma hubs, deployed with residential users across north america. Ooma beta users and first adopters are encouraged to maintain an analog POTS line from their traditional provider (AT&T, Verizon, etc), and go ahead and plug said analog line right into their Ooma device.

Ooma is banking on leveraging these PSTN connections to terminate user phone calls from their peer-to-peer IP network onto the PSTN. In the meantime, until their network is “seeded” with PSTN connected peer devices, they’ll have to terminate those users calls the old (new-old) fashioned way, by using a commercial VoIP termination provider.

I came across Walt Mossberg’s article on Ooma back in mid-July, and the title of his piece “Ooma Puts Out a Call to Ditch Landlines for Web-Based Service”, seems a bit ironic…. as Ooma will, in reality, rely upon those very same landlines for free call termination in order to sustain their business model and bring their CPE devices down to a realistic price for mass consumption.

However, their product packaging and mini-PR machine have taken some queues from Apple by creating a bit of mystique around the product. The $399 cost (reportedly jumping to $599 at the end of 2007) of the Ooma device will go a ways toward offsetting their termination costs until their network is fully built out with sufficient PSTN connected users that the majority of user calls can be terminated within their peer group.

That’s the gameplan at least. Finding consumers willing to pony up $399 up front in the wake of recent high profile industry flame-outs like SunRocket, may prove challenging.

TalkCrunch has a podcast interview with founders Andrew Frame and Ashton Kutcher (yes that Ashton Kutcher)

VoIP POTS Emulation on FXO with MagicJack

July 25, 2007 by Garrett Smith

MagicJack was founded by telecom veteran Dan Borislow of Tel-Save (TalkAmerica) fame. MagicJack provides VoIP service based upon a proprietary USB device which retails for $40 and includes a free year of domestic calling service. After the initial year of service, 1-year renewals are $20.

MagicJack has been shipping their device for a few months, and recently announced a promotion for SunRocket refugees, but it is unclear the number of subscribers MagicJack has.

MagicJack requires a PC, and their simple device plugs directly into a USB port. From there, you connect a traditional analog phone into the RJ11 jack on the USB device. MagicJack assigns you a DID number, and you are ready to make and receive calls. MagicJack also offers free calling features including voicemail and call waiting.

I purchased one of their devices about a week ago, and I have not gotten around to testing it, but it got me thinking. I intend to pair the MagicJack device with an Asterisk based open source PBX, running an RJ11 patch cable between their USB device and an integrated FXO (Analog POTS Line In) port on the PBX. It seems logical that you could use the MagicJack device to emulate traditional POTS service, and create a Zaptel trunk on the Asterisk PBX (Which is, in reality, a VoIP trunk).

If this works, it seems to me that it would be an inexpensive and easy way to incorporate VoIP trunks into an IP PBX for a small to midsized business customer, and could be “self-provisioned”

I’ll report back on this in a week or two with the results of my testing.

Providers fight over Sunrocket carcass

July 24, 2007 by Garrett Smith

In the wake of Sunrocket shutting down operations and orphaning thousands of customers, there has been a mad scramble amongst independent VoIP providers to gobble up Sunrocket’s customer base. Below is a summary of a few current offerings targeting ex-Sunrocket subs:

TeleBlend, a recently launched service provider, reportedly headquartered in Singapore, offering free activation and number porting for Sunrocket subs.

VoIP.com

Vonage 2 Months free service and waived activation fee for Sunrocket subs

With a reported 200,000+ customers at the moment of their untimely demise, many of these smaller providers could see a nice uptick in subscribers if they are successful in wooing jaded ex-Sunrocket users, many of whom likely signed up for Sunrocket’s multi-year prepaid VoIP phone service offering.

Snom 370 IP Phone Now Available!

Latest Snom IP Phone is Their Most Robust Offering to Date

snom 370The Snom 370 has recent reached VoIP Supply’s docks and all indications are that it will in fact live up to the all of the hype as the best Snom IP phone to date. The 370 features a large graphical, high-definition display offering an improved and extended presentation of call lists, address books and caller information. The phone is sturdy to the touch and not too bad on the eyes either, making the phone perfect for upper level executives. The SIP-based Snom 370 offers with its expanded memory capacity in addition to all necessary office functionality such as choice of trunk line, status indicator, group lines, transfer, call-pickup or conferencing (3-way conference bridge) more scope for individual functions and applications. The expanded memory capacity also enables the depiction of graphics and high resolution pictures to show the status of contacts (e.g., busy, on-line, off-line) similar to Instant Messenger. It is also possible to play music and media files.

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The Apple IP Phone

June 27, 2007 by Garrett Smith

What If Apple Made an IP Phone?

With the release of the Apple iPhone just two days away, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the next great Apple product; the Apple IP Phone. The Apple IP Phone combines the style, simplicity, and usability that Apple is known for with the next generation of business class features and functionality that tomorrow’s business person will demand. Let’s take a closer look at the Apple IP Phone.

An IP Phone + an iPhone

apple-ip-phone-front

The first thing that you might notice about the Apple IP Phone is that it integrates with the Apple iPhone; acting as a docking station for the cellular phone, which will allow for all of your mobile calls to be managed through the main IP Phone console while you are sitting at your desk. The Apple IP Phone does not have a handset, as those are old school. It features a full duplex HD speakerphone, and supports Bluetooth headsets, as the business person of tomorrow need the flexibility hands-free calling provides.

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VoIP Supply Named One Of WNY’s Fastest Growing Companies

June 15, 2007 by Garrett Smith

Company named sixth fastest growing company in Western New York by Buffalo’s Business First newspaper.

BUFFALO, NY June 15, 2007 — VoIP Supply, LLC (www.voipsupply.com) a leading provider of Voice over IP hardware, software and services, today announced their selection by Buffalo’s Business First newspaper as the sixth fastest growing company in Western New York. In 2006, the company took the number one spot, as Western New York’s fastest growing company, based on their growth in total sales and number of U.S. employees over the previous three years.

“It is a tremendous honor to be recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in our area,” stated Benjamin P. Sayers President and CEO of VoIP Supply, LLC. “We are proud of our hard work and this award is a testament of the consistent team effort put forth each day by the entire VoIP Supply staff.”

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