Microsoft and Nortel today launch three new products as part of the
Innovative Communications Alliance, the partnership that they formed in
August 2006. Aimed at converging voice (from Nortel) with data (from
Microsoft) systems, the ICA had previously delivered on better
interoprtability between the two vendors' systems, but little
new technology. Now that seems to be changing.
At the core of the ICA is the Nortel Converged Office, a bundle of Nortel's CS- 1000 or CS-2100 IP PBXs with Microsoft's Office Communications Server 2007. Together, these compete with poducts like Cisco's Call Manager, appearing to end users as a single communications platform that combines voice, video and instant messaging. The Nortel Carrier Hosted Unified Communications Solution is a similar bundle aimed at carriers, letting them provide the same functionality through a hosted service.
But the most interesting of the new products could be the UC Integrated Branch, a blade for Nortel's Secure Router 4134. Aimed at branch offices, the SR 4134 is a modular platform that combines switching and routing with a firewall, VPN and other security features. The new blade runs Office Communications Server 2007, though Nortel emphasizes that it is simply a blade, not a full server installation. Customers still need an Office Communications Server the datacenter, with the blade extending the software's fucntionality out to brnch offices. This is slightly different from rival 3com's partnership with Digium, in which branch routers contain complete Linux servers running a full isntallation of Asterix.
The announcement's other notable point is that all three products are branded as Nortel rather than Microsoft. Given standard telepphony's reputation for reliability relative to most software (and Microsoft in particular), this looks like a sensible strategy. It could even help Microsoft win customers in the carrier market, though the standard telephony part of the system is still supplied by Nortel.