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October 18, 2007

Epygi: Microsoft OCS 2007 Launch Brings Welcome Attention to VoIP Market

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Senior Editor


Microsoft’s (News - Alert) launch this week of Office Communications Server 2007 is both a vote of confidence for the unified communications industry, and an indication of where UC development is likely to lead in the foreseeable future. Because Microsoft has such a huge influence in the marketplace, other players that offer complementary products usually find they need to make sure their solutions integrate with Microsoft’s.
 
Epygi (News - Alert), a manufacturer of IP PBXs, conference servers and VoIP gateways, is no exception. Development of Microsoft support for its products has been a priority at Epygi for a while, and the launch of OCS steps up the importance of this focus.
 
 
TMCnet: How would you define ‘unified communications’?
 
WS: Simplistic unification. There are a plethora of disparate technologies today, all providing key applications for businesses. Unified communications is the approach to blend some of the applications together to provide a clear answer. One example is combining the capabilities of a router and a PBX (News - Alert) together. Another example is the ability of voicemail and e-mail to coexist; when you receive a voicemail you get a copy of this voicemail in your e-mail inbox. Some manufacturers take this a step further by connecting these two systems even more, allowing the action of reading the e-mail to mark the voicemail on the phone system as ‘read.’ That’s true unified communications. Then there is presence and the entire find-me follow-me feature set. UC is not yet fully defined.
 
TMCnet: How would you describe the current state of the unified communications industry?
 
WS: Currently the idea of unification is a recognized benefit; however, the adoption of this technology is limited. This is partly due to the investment required and the lack of a true definition for what ‘unified communications’ is.
 
TMCnet: What is Microsoft OCS 2007?
 
WS: Putting aside the actual feature definition, Office Communications Server is one of the few true attempts at unification. Nortel (News - Alert) and Cisco have also achieved a level of unified communications. Microsoft’s partnership with Nortel has allowed the company to take its Live Communications Server product to the next level. The presence monitoring engine incorporated with the new release of Exchange has yielded a very powerful communications suite.
 
TMCnet: How is Microsoft OCS 2007 significant for the IP communications industry?
 
WS: The VoIP market can use all the attention it can get. Microsoft’s movement with OCS should be well received by all VoIP technology manufacturers. Besides, we cannot fight the giant, only feed off their initiatives. The current software solutions from Microsoft are used by all levels of business; hence the new focus on VoIP applies to the entire industry.
 
TMCnet: In what ways will the release of Microsoft OCS 2007 affect Epygi’s market strategy?
 
WS: Any marketing using the Microsoft name is very closely monitored, thus there is a very specific partnering process defined by Microsoft. Epygi Technologies has been working on achieving higher ranks in their partner program for some time, but with the introduction of the new OCS platform, more energy has been invested. We are planning on achieving further integration with the OCS platform and produce some light marketing around this support. Announcing the certification is a key milestone, but activity after that phase will be limited in our current plan. Success of their solution in our market segment is still to be determined.
 
TMCnet: In what capacity, if any, does Epygi currently partner with Microsoft? How, if at all, will this change after the release of Microsoft OCS 2007?
 
WS: Microsoft has always been a focus for Epygi Technologies, but we have not found a true benefit for a partnership until now. In the past we have achieved basic interoperability with the Microsoft Office Suite. Office Communications Server opens up an entirely new arena for us. Now we can expand our support and integration using our SIP gateway products and XML API for all the IP PBX products. Further application development is underway within Epygi and we are working closely with some other technology partners for joint integration with OCS.
 
TMCnet: What is Epygi’s flagship product and how does it relate to Microsoft OCS 2007?
 
WS: Today we are focusing on two main areas of our portfolio. Our SIP gateways for termination of T1/E1 digital trunks into the OCS platform is a key product. We also offer FXO and ISDN BRI gateways for the smaller OCS installations. The second group would be our IP PBX products. Even though we have a similar feature set, we can still leverage some of the OCS features. Centralizing an application like voicemail for example, is one approach to unifying a telephony application. Epygi’s Quadro PBX line could also utilize the presence abilities of the Microsoft solution to enhance the find-me follow-me feature.
 
TMCnet: How does the release of Microsoft OCS 2007 affect enterprises? Small businesses?
 
WS: The Enterprise market is the primary candidate for the OCS solution. This is partly due to the investment required for this solution. Small to medium business could benefit from such solutions, but the amount of work involved to deploy and to effectively manage a deployment would be cost prohibitive. The return on investment and direct business benefit is easier to equate with larger organizations.
 
Simplifying disparate applications can be a cost saving as well as a method to simplify management. Global presence monitoring and the ability to contact anyone within the organization instantly from anywhere in the world can also be huge productivity improvement. Unfortunately, some of the evident benefits do not translate into hard savings or revenue improvements. Migration to this new solution by Microsoft could still be a slow process even with the clear benefits in mind.
 
TMCnet: In your opinion, what is the most significant aspect of Microsoft OCS 2007?
 
WS: Unified communications platforms offer a wide variety of key business benefits, thus it is hard to focus on a single aspect. However, my past personal experience utilizing the Nortel solution for many years has brought a few specific areas to the top of the list. First off, being connected to your company is the key to success. As I like to say, “You have to be present to win.” If you miss a call or cannot reach a key individual at the right time, this could lead to a lost business.
 
Microsoft OCS provides users with a number of methods to contact key people and to also be contacted at a moments notice. Presence monitoring allows users to customize their state, manually or automatically. This allows other business members to always know your state. Whether you are in a meeting, on the phone, or at a customer location, your team members will know your status. These presence changes can be made from IP phones, PCs, and even PDA/smartphone devices.
 
The next step is actually communicating with that individual. This can be accomplished by simply calling that person on the phone, but with OCS there are many more options. I can call someone via a PC and have a peer-to-peer video call. Instant messaging chat from any of the previously mentioned devices is another option. I can use an analog phone and still have video support from my PC with desktop sharing and whiteboard capabilities. The list goes on, but the key here is being connected and enhancing the team environment.
 
TMCnet: What are some of Epygi’s current unified communications-related initiatives?
 
WS: Epygi Technologies is a firm believer that applications such as OCS provide key features that drive additional benefits to any IP or SIP telephony solution. This is why we began developing our Quadro Communications Manager two years ago. The QCM is a soft client that has the ability to display every extension on the customer’s network and the user’s status. A status could indicate an incoming call, Do Not Disturb, on the phone, or simply available. Today this is purely the state of their extension.
 
We plan to take this a step further to allow additional user status indicators that can be customized with away messages. The QCM can also function as a soft receptionist console to service all the incoming calls. This allows the call administrator to see more detailed information on all the users in the office to efficiently route calls. Other future plans include integration with software solutions such as OCS to communicate a user’s status to the unified communications platform.
 
TMCnet: What else do people need to know about Microsoft OCS 2007 and Epygi?
 
WS: Microsoft has spent a lot of time and effort enhancing what was Live Communications Manager. OCS should be a huge success for the companies that plan to invest in this solution. Epygi Technologies plans to increase its partnership level with Microsoft to achieve further integration and allow our products to enhance OCS and vice-versa. The focus of Epygi is to help the small business owner appear larger than they are, allowing them to benefit from the features and tools of the larger enterprises at a fraction of the cost and effort. We hope to continue on that path, taking the new Microsoft platform into consideration as we define new features and partnerships.
 
To learn more about unified communications for small businesses, please visit the Selecting VoIP Solutions channel on TMCnet.com, brought to you by Epygi.
 
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page. Also check out her Wireless Mobility blog.



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