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Microsoft, Verizon Announce Bundled UC&C

The cloud-based Unified Communications and Collaboration subscription service combines Verizon voice and Internet with Microsoft's BPOS suite.

The SMB cloud continues to grow: Verizon Business and Microsoft announced Wednesday a Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC&C) solution, chiefly targeting businesses with 20 to 1,000 employees.

Verizon UC&C with Microsoft Online Services for SMB will wrap Verizon's voice, Internet and other capabilities together with Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Standard (BPOS) suite in a single cloud-based service offered on a pay-as-you-go, per-seat subscription model. Verizon will be the front-end vendor and own the customer relationship.

"It comes together in a neat package that allows our customers to focus on their business," said Patrick Sullivan, director of medium business marketing at Verizon. "It will allow us to really meet the needs of the [SMB] segment."

"Microsoft Online Services delivers the most popular productivity applications in the cloud and offers the same world-class services to small and medium businesses that are available to larger businesses today," said David Scult, general manager of online services, Microsoft Corp. "Verizon is a key partner for us to bring these capabilities to small- and midsize businesses in the United States today and a key launch partner for Office 365."

Office 365, a cloud-based subscription service that includes Microsoft's ubiquitous Office applications alongside BPOS, is currently in beta. Verizon plans to support Office 365 when it becomes available.

The midsize segment -- defined by Verizon as firms with 20 to 1,000 workers represents a key piece of the company's cloud strategy going forward. "The medium business segment is critical to Verizon's success," said Sullivan, adding that Verizon's CFO, Francis Shammo, "has indicated that it's a business imperative to grow this market."

The bundled UC&C offering is priced at $10 per seat, per month -- the same as Microsoft's current price tag on BPOS -- and customers can add or remove users as needed. It rolls up voice, Internet, security, mobility and backup from Verizon, with Office Communications Online, Office Live Meeting, Exchange Online and SharePoint Online from Microsoft -- though the end user will not necessarily be aware of the difference between services.

Nor will they need to be in the office to use them. Verizon stresses the virtual anywhere, anytime access as a crucial feature for productivity.

"That's becoming table stakes in the industry as far as communications," said Sullivan.

E. Brent Kelly, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse Research, said the primary benefit to SMB customers is expanded UC&C services offered through a single provider: "One vendor, one bill."

Kelly noted that Verizon's voice and Microsoft's instant messaging functions won't be fully integrated at launch. "I speculate that ultimately will be added, because that's where the market will be going," he said.

The two companies, extending an existing partnership, also announced Verizon Professional Services for Microsoft Lync, coinciding with Wednesday's launch of Microsoft's replacement for Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 R2. Verizon will sell premises-based consulting for the design, deployment and integration of Microsoft's latest iteration of its UC&C product suite. The company said it believes it's the first provider to announce professional services specifically designed for Lync, and that it's addressing what it sees as pent-up demand for the new platform.

"We're gearing up our services to support that evolution," said Mike Holtgrefe, senior consultant, Verizon Professional Services.

Verizon will offer five discrete Lync services: Strategy and Roadmap, Voice/Video Readiness Assessment, Deployment/Migration, Telephony Integration, and Application Enablement and Planning. Pricing is on a Statement of Work basis. Holtgrefe said the primary target markets at launch are existing Verizon clients, and Microsoft customers currently using or trialing OCS.

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