Microsoft Launches Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2
Feb. 03, 2009
Q&A: Intel and Sprint discuss how Office Communications Server has transformed the way they communicate, collaborate and do business.

REDMOND, Wash. – Feb. 3, 2009 – Microsoft today announced the general availability of Office Communications Server 2007 Release 2 (R2), which delivers enriched audio and video conferencing, powerful new developer tools, and enhanced voice capabilities.

Donald Clark, technical services manager for unified communications at Intel
Donald Clark, technical services manager for unified communications at Intel
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Today’s release caps a year of growth and momentum for Office Communication Server, during which time it has continued to change the face of business communications by integrating audio, Web and video conferencing, instant messaging and e-mail into a seamless collaborative platform configured around the way people work. In today’s economy, businesses around the world are turning to Office Communications Server to improve productivity, cut costs and deliver the benefits of unified communications to their people.

To mark today’s release, Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop was joined by customers and partners for a launch event broadcast to thousands of viewers over the Web. PressPass caught up with two of the companies participating in today’s launch, Intel and Sprint.

Donald Clark, technical services manager of unified communications at Intel, and Michael Browne, vice president of client services at Sprint, tell PressPass how Office Communications Server 2007 has transformed the way their companies do business, enabled them to make substantial cost savings and why– when it comes to unified communications – software makes all the difference.

PressPass: Why did you decide to deploy Office Communications Server?

Browne: Before shifting to Office Communications Server, we had several different communications channels. Employees were using instant messaging, desktop phones, a standalone virtual meeting application and a smattering of videoconferencing tools – none of which were integrated with our Exchange e-mail. Each tool functioned in its own separate silo, which was impacting our productivity. For example, with an audio conference call, employees would have to e-mail a PIN, dial-in number and meeting documents. If these needed to be changed, they’d have to e-mail updates and hope the participants picked them up to receive the latest information.

Consolidating all our communications tools on a single platform with Office Communications Server and Exchange Server opened up an opportunity to simplify management and support. We also wanted to become more agile and responsive - able to turn on a dime to convene conference calls on the fly or switch seamlessly between voice, video, instant messaging and data sharing as the situation demands.

Office Communications Server 2007 R2 in the words of Intel’s Donald Clark:

“We’re on track to roll out Office Communications Server 2007 R2 across the company by May. We’re impressed with the enhancements in R2 – not least what we call ‘blended audio’: the ability, using Live Meeting, to conference people on headsets into Office Communications Server, essentially letting the traditional audio bridge world talk to the PC conferencing world. A lot of us in Intel have headsets and use our PC as our primary means of communication, but I need to be able to bring employees – who may be travelling and without a network signal – into the conversation as easily as the PC users. Office Communications Server 2007 R2 will allow us to do just that.”

Additionally, like most businesses in the current economic climate, we’re budget-conscious. But we also had a pressing need to phase out a legacy PBX phone infrastructure that no longer met our business needs. Office Communications Server allowed us to make this transition cost-effectively and with minimal disruption to our business.

Clark: We were particularly excited to use the presence functionality within Office Communications Server. It provides a kind of built-in intelligence for communications through the ability to check into co-workers’ availability and determine the optimal way to connect with them. Without this capability, communication can be a lottery, so the ability to put our daily interactions on a tighter, more-efficient footing was a major draw.

Our decision to switch to Office Communications Server was also user-driven. We had a groundswell of employees bringing IM products into the workplace without the requisite enterprise security. With Office Communications Server 2007, we got the encryption and authentication we need.

Additionally, it was a response to the information overload people were feeling. Office Communications Server offered a way to get our arms around the emerging communications landscape and return control to the end user.

PressPass: Why did you choose Microsoft’s software-powered approach to unified communications over a proprietary network-based solution?

Browne: A critical driver for us was software-based presence – the ability to embed presence throughout Office and SharePoint applications, which is something we plan to do with our own custom software applications too. Presence everywhere gives us the ability to pinpoint the most efficient way to reach people at a given moment and eliminate communication issues.

With our existing Microsoft installed base, Office Communications Server was the most economical way to change out about 490 legacy PBXs. Other unified communications options required substantially more infrastructure. Office Communications Server allowed us to leverage our existing Microsoft infrastructure and provide employees with affordable headsets for voice calling.

Clark: For us, Microsoft’s approach meshed with our view that voice over IP is really becoming an application.

And because Office Communications Server is optimized for servers based on Intel’s Xeon processor and PCs with Intel Core 2 processors, we can access richer technological capabilities than we could get from a proprietary network-based product.

Choosing Microsoft’s software-based solution, running on Intel’s servers, also put us on a faster innovation cycle - in terms of access to new capabilities - than we could have expected from a proprietary network-based product.

Additionally, Office Communications Server’s user interface is just like Microsoft Office, so it’s familiar to our people, which meant a minimal learning curve in getting them up and running.

PressPass: What can you do with Office Communications Server that you couldn’t before?

Browne: Lots of things. We recently had a critical budget meeting for which we needed one of our vice presidents. But he was visiting clients in the Philippines. With Office Communications Server, we were able to identify the best way to reach him, utilize voice over IP to place a call to him, and through Live Meeting have him review urgent documents. We were able to get the answers we needed to move forward even though he was conducting business outside the US.

New with R2: SIP Trunking

In addition to being a customer, Sprint is partnering with Microsoft on Office Communications Server R2 to offer organizations a new cost-saving service. Sprint SIP Trunking harnesses Sprint’s highly secure MPLS network to enable businesses to connect their voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) network directly to the public telephone switched network (PTSN) with all the features and functionality they’d expect from a combined local exchange carrier (LEC) and long-distance service provider. By reducing the on-premise equipment needed to deploy and maintain, the service allows businesses to reduce their overheads and operational complexity. The convergence of voice and data traffic over the MPLS network also increases network efficiency, yielding additional savings.

Sprint is one of the first U.S.-based providers of SIP Trunking services qualified for use with Office Communications Server 2007 R2.

That simply wouldn’t have been possible with the former method of communication. We would have had to guess the best way to reach him and run the risk of holding up a time-sensitive business process. This ability to be very precise and streamlined in our communications has enabled us to drive productivity, cut costs and seize opportunities.

Clark: At Intel, the presence capability has transformed the way we work. It’s the first tool people use to determine the best method of communication in any situation.

With Office Communications Server, our employees are able to use their time more efficiently and get down to business more quickly. It also enables us to collaborate more nimbly across the world. Many of our teams are distributed globally, and Office Communications Server 2007 is a lifeline for them.

And through federation we’ve extended presence to streamline communications with our supply chain. This results in quicker, more informed decision-making in this critical part of our operations.

PressPass: Has Office Communications Server enabled you to save money?

Browne: Just by forgoing handset replacement costs we were able to avoid at least US$5 million in expenses. So far, we have given Office Communications Server voice capabilities to more than 3,000 employees. Already, we’re seeing US$240,000 in annualized savings to date. These are substantial cost reductions that are pivotal to our strategy during the current economic climate.

We’re also cutting down on nonessential travel. But, with people dispersed across the world, it’s critical to facilitate effective communication between them. Consequently, we’ve become power users of Office Live Meeting to maintain rich visual as well as verbal interaction between co-workers.

Clark: With the new features in Office Communications Server 2007 R2, we’re projecting savings of 20 percent or more on our audio conferencing expenditures, in addition to productivity improvements. When you conduct a million minutes of audio conferencing a day, that’s significant.

Also, by permitting us to curtail travel, Office Communications Server helps us address our sustainability goal of being a good global citizen and minimizing our carbon footprint - something our customers care deeply about and expect of us.

PressPass: How have your end users responded to Office Communications Server?

Clark: At Intel, we leave it up to individuals whether or not to deploy the Office Communicator interface on their client PC to access the capabilities of Office Communications Server. The number of voluntary users speaks for itself: Within Intel, 86,000-plus people have opted in to use Office Communicator. That’s more than 96 percent of our work force - the highest usage of any optional product. It’s democracy in action; people voting with their own feet about the technology that best fits them, rather than responding to an official mandate. Now, if I tried to force people to give it up, I’d probably have a riot on my hands.

Browne: Where we have deployed it, our users have really embraced Office Communications Server. It’s simple to set up, and people are finding it a very easy product to just pick up and run with. Microsoft’s products are a foundation of our communications system at Sprint.

PressPass: How do you envision using Office Communications Server 2007 R2?

Clark: We’re committed to continuing to drive adoption of presence, in particular, so it’s embedded across our business processes to keep business processes on track.

The other key component of Office Communications Server going forward will be HD video – the ability to have high-fidelity video coupled with crystal-clear audio just by flipping open your laptop. This capability is enabled by the new generation of business PCs with Intel vPro technology, which we expect to really push adoption of video to enrich business-to-business communications.

Browne: Similarly, one of the opportunities we see is to extend presence more deeply into our supply chain to improve our visibility into the communications status of our trading partners and make interactions with them more effective and efficient. Our assessment is that there are continued productivity and cost-saving opportunities yet to be realized with Office Communications Server.

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