Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Microsoft Longhorn Beta 3

For those that want to see what is going on in the server side check out the beta 3 release. It is available here: Longhorn Beta 3
What is odd is that new releases like OCS 2007 haven't been platform tested against Longhorn yet even though beta 3 is an overkill for Longhorn. I haven't been hearing the sort of buzz about Longhorn as I have about Exchange 2007, Vista and Office 2007 - I guess server OS features just aren't that exciting to talk about anymore? With any luck they will get Longhorm out to an RC and RTM prior to the end of the year - then all the IT Pro's can spend their holiday season installing a new server OS!
- Ed

Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 Beta

The Beta for OCS 2007 is out and I just got done attending a two day long hands on lab in San Francisco going over all the feature and functions and getting them up and running. I must admit I am impressed with some of the integration and work that Microsoft has put into this product. Granted the list of missing features is big ( there is nothing on the roadmap today to support the concept of a stand alone device that has no user associated with it - like a phone in a common lobby area or kitchen, voice paging, music on hold, and some other standard telephony items) but some shops will be willing to work around those issues to get the rich environment that Microsoft is pushing.
You can get the beta software here: The Power of Unified
So, what is Cisco going to do with their presence solution now is the real question. I honestly think Microsoft entering the game will help push along funding and research within Cisco which is a good thing. While Cisco has been interested in UC presence + voice it hasn't done the sort of serious push behind it that other Cisco products have had as of late. It deserves more attention and investment IMHO.
To top it all off I have already been asked a bunch about Exchange 2007 UM and OCS 2007 integration vs Cisco Call Manager and Unity + CUPS. Plus, some folks are considering doing some weird hybrid approaches or small test deployments. For those VAR's and partners who don't know both sides of the fence (Cisco and Microsoft) they will see their business value erode due to lack of technical knowledge. Hate to say it but I am going to have to brush up on all my Microsoft Exchange skill sets again!
- Ed

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cisco introduces a new partner level

It is the first time in 10 years or so that Cisco has changed the partner levels. It used to be:
Gold, Silver, Premier, Registered - with only the Gold, Silver and Premier actually requiring the registered partner to pass exams and meet certification requirements.
Well, they have introduced the new partner level as Select and it is below Premier and above the generic Registered (pretty much anyone can become a Registered Partner). So now there are five levels which go like:
Gold, Silver, Premier, Select and Registered. The new Select Partner level is specifically targeted at the partners going after the SMB market. It is also the only partner level where all the requirements can be fullfilled by one person (they can be both the Account Manager and Engineer) meaning there are going to be a whole lot of one man shops opening up soon.
I don't know what impact this is going to have on the Premier partner groups yet but my initial feeling is that I don't really like it. Gold and Silver are far enough removed that this isn't much of a factor for them but the Premier status has much more requirements and specializations but doesn't appear to be that much more value in Cisco's positioning as of now. Guess we will have to wait and see if they plan any changes in that.
- Ed

MVP awards - some bad news

I just found out that Scot Mehl and Doug Spindler did not get renewed for their MVP's from Microsoft. I have to be frank and say that I am amazed they did not get renewed. Scot runs the Tri-Valley Network User's Group (TVNUG) and gives a ton of time to make stuff happen from the user group level.
As for Doug not getting it - I am speechless. Doug is a legend in the user group community of IT Professionals. He single handily does more for the IT Pro user groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond then anyone I have meet or heard of in my many years of being involved in user groups myself. I think Microsoft has made a HUGE mistake. Perhaps they are just tired of hearing from Doug about issues they fail to address year after year after year. Perhaps it has finally gotten personal? Who knows. Either way, I can't not help but express my true disappointment that Doug is no longer an MVP. Pacific IT Professionals will be worse off because of it.
- Ed

Thoughts on Microsoft's vs Cisco's efforts in Unified Communications

Well, one of the cool things I got to do while up at the Microsoft MVP Summit was sneak over to the UC presentations going on about OCS 2007. Microsoft is up to some interesting stuff (Shell Oil seems to be really interested) but I am frustrated with Microsoft's lack of understanding on some fundamentals in the market they are trying to enter. Especially when compared to what Cisco is doing today - and has been doing for several years.
1. Lack of a reasonable QoS story. Effectively MS is telling folks QoS doesn't matter. While they have some interesting ideas behind some this they have completely failed to see the bigger issue with QoS. Sometimes Voice and their new wide band codec aren't the most important thing on the network - sometimes EDI or Credit Card transactions or Citrix traffic is far more important as a line of business application. QoS helps in making sure the performance and reliability are what the business actually want. To top it all off, the developers for Vista and Longhorn Server's networking stack did a HUGE amount of working in QoS. They even have a great new QoS solution called QWAVE that they could leverage but it seems the business units aren't talking to each other at all.
2. Client only SIP solution! I know they plan on "fixing" this but honestly, to not have a SIP Trunk solution working already is nuts. They are automatically dependant on existing SIP Gateways out there like...jeez Cisco's?!? or Nortel (snicker) or Avaya (please!). It is a "half" solution at best. Fun to test trial in a lab - nothing you would run your business on full time, it just isn't there.
3. Requirements to upgrade all your MS infrastructure (or close to it) to gain the benefits of UC. Cisco's solution today can work with all your existing platforms so your investment isn't wasted on upgrading other systems in addition to spending money to get UC. They have to have a backward support story or they are going to have serious issues.
4. A real lack of partner community building tools and reporting engines around the product. Real enterprise companies need reports on call volume, who called and how much it is costing them and those tools aren't really there in the way most folks are used to having them in the industry.
5. No call center solution. This one is huge. Even the small environments we support have a small amount of call queuing and call flow control. Often small businesses run their own support and sales groups and that really requires a robust small call center solution. On the larger scale enterprise market this is a requirement and not an option. Perhaps Microsoft plans to use a third party solution but I don't see anything as seasoned as what Cisco has today.
6. Lack of options in handset for clients. This doesn't seem like a big deal until you actually spend some time dealing with clients and their specific needs. Even Cisco until recently has had issues in this area.

All this being said, I must admit I am very excited and interested in what Microsoft is doing. As we all know, after the third release they typically have something pretty cool. Get ready to see more Microsoft partners and Cisco partners going head to head on UC deals. Things are going to get heated in the coming months.
- Ed