Microsoft-Polycom Unified Communications Deal: Good for Users?
While strategic partnerships and product optimizations are valuable, the long-term goal should still be interoperability
News that Microsoft and Polycom have signed a multi-year deal to develop and market UC products for the enterprise further consolidates the unified communications market--to a point. Certainly, Polycom will benefit from Microsoft’s reach in the enterprise; the company is top-of-mind for many IT executives when it comes to deploying UC. But Microsoft will benefit, too: It (should) have easy integration with top-flight videoconferencing endpoints and infrastructure, making forays into products like the Roundtable unnecessary. The two companies hope to benefit from joint go-to-market initiatives, including sales and marketing campaigns and channel support.
On the product side, IT buyers can expect to see Polycom products "optimized" for Microsoft Communications Server 14. This may be a boon to early adopters of the Microsoft platform, but "optimized" products always raise eyebrows for the rest of the market, of course: What are users of other UC products (from the likes of, say, Avaya, Cisco and IBM) to do if Polycom products won’t perform as well for them as they will for their Microsoft-using competitors? Settle for less, or look at other videoconferencing vendors, such as Radvision and Tandberg--which can be expected to have its own "optimization" issues, of course, given its ownership by Cisco. (It's also worth asking what, exactly, "optimization" will get you. At this time, details on that are hard to come by, given the early stages of the deal.)
The fact remains that while strategic partnerships and product optimizations are valuable in today's still-primarily-proprietary UC marketplace, the long-term goal of all vendors and IT buyers should be open standards that lead to out-of-the-box interoperability. That way, a company that wants to use Communications Server 14 and Polycom videoconferencing products can do so--without worrying about whether the latest news from the two vendors has delivered on its promises; and companies wishing to integrate technologies from other vendors don't need to think about partnerships at all.