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June 29, 2007

Sphere Rolls On With Software-Based IP Communications

By Greg Galitzine, Group Editorial Director

TMC (News - Alert) is no stranger to Microsoft’s OCS. In fact, Tom Keating has been writing about the solution for some time now.
Here is Keating’s first preview of OCS; Here he discusses the public beta; He wrote about the cool devices it would support here; and here Tom discusses LiveMeeting, touching on how it all plays into OCS.
I also have it on good authority that Tom will write his full review of OCS some time soon.
In any event, I had the good fortune to spend some time on the phone with Todd Landry of Sphere Communications (News - Alert) yesterday, and we chatted about (among other things) the pending full-fledged entry of Microsoft into the market.
Landry is Senior Vice President at Sphere, responsible for product management, marketing and business development, among other things.
Of course he feels strongly about the value of software. You see, Sphere provides software-based enterprise telecommunications solutions, and is one of the first to deliver IP PBX (News - Alert) technology as a business application.
Landry told me that “the real value lies in the ability to integrate communications and business processes.”
I asked about Microsoft’s (News - Alert) market entry and what the effect of OCS might be. His response was that “Microsoft can of course have a very strong influence on this industry. And I believe that their entrance validates the idea that enterprise communications market is moving to software.”
One of the bigger challenges has been the customer uptake of software-based or PC-based communications. People are used to having a desk phone. However, Landry feels that Microsoft can help overcome the challenge.
They offer Office, and to the degree that they can have more communications intelligence integrated with those applications, it becomes more likely that customer uptake will increase.
“Of course, this does not replace reliability,” he told me. “But it leads to a business case for the adoption of software-based business communications.
I asked Landry what we could expect from Sphere over the summer months, and he told me to be on the lookout for the upcoming new release of Sphericall (version 6.0).
While it’s not fully available yet, early versions of the upcoming release are in the beta testing hands of several customers, with a full beta expected for July and general availability by August.
Among the highlights of the revamped solution, Landry explained that they have now certified all of Polycom’s (News - Alert) SIP-based phones, and in fact Sphere plans to include a built-in Web server into their platform to drive Polycom’s microbrowser phones.
Now all the unified communications capabilities can be built right into the phone.
Landry said that the new version will have more synergies with Active Directory processes, to simplify development as well as new Web services application alliances, which would allow for example, a customer in the hospitality space to tie their communications into property management systems.
He told me to watch for some news on the contact center/ACD fronts as well as to expect new WSDL files to access Sphere’s media services, which would allow more control over media streams.
So as Microsoft’s OCS nears full market availability, Sphere continues to build upon their existing solution, adding features and steadily pushing the boundary of software-based enterprise communications forward.

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