Is Microsoft/Nortel VoIP for Them or You?

The slow train that is the Microsoft-Nortel Voice over IP partnership made another whistle stop Wednesday in New York, where some fruits of the labor were announced, including a remote-office server that combines telecom and communications functionality. Wooo. Since the products aren’t due out until Q4, we have some time to think about whether this partnership benefits the companies more than their intended target, enterprise customers.

Matthias Machowinski, enterprise voice and data analyst at Infonetics Research, shares some of my doubts about the attractiveness of a Microsoft-Nortel offering but also notes that there is a problem there to be solved. “In our user research, unified messaging has been at the top of the needs list for several years now,” says Machowinski.

The question for enterprise customers is whether you want to lock your communications infrastructure so tightly to a Microsoft-Nortel scheme, or whether you want to make your plan standards-based, giving you more future options as things like SIP become more hardened and prevalent.

Rich Tehrani mirrors another of my questions, about how the deal might affect customers who want to use Microsoft software with infrastructure gear from Cisco or Avaya. While the companies trumpet the signing of dozens of deals, is it really a wedding that benefits users, or just another celebrity pairing meant to attract attention?

Machowinski says it’s a great deal for Nortel, since the company gets to leverage Microsoft’s desktop dominance. And Microsoft can use Nortel’s telecom experience to get the telecom ball rolling. “If LCS business starts to mirror Exchange, that’s pretty nice for Microsoft,” Machowinski says. But is Microsoft-Nortel the answer for enterprises? “It may or may not be something people want, but I can think of plenty who don’t want it,” Machowinski says.

Tehrani notes that it might not also be the best answer for Nortel or other telecom-gear makers:

The challenge for the communications industry is to partner with the software leader while not developing an environment where the PBX vendor becomes unnecessary… After all, with HMP, SIP and VoIP you can build a PBX on Linux with limited hardware costs. Will an Asterisk server be the equivalent of a Nortel PBX as they both interoperate with the Microsoft front-end?

Good question, and one for enterprises to answer while they wait for Microsoft-Nortel offerings to become reality.