Nortel, Microsoft and the Bridge to PBX-less Comms

Nortel and Microsoft's Innovative Communications Alliance is a never-ending source of fascination to me. Not so much for the various solutions they introduce, though these are of course interesting in their own right, but for the direction they are clearly trying to move the industry. This direction was crystallized in a few words this week by Ruchi Prasad, Nortel's VP and GM of the ICA. She drew a line between the current state of business communications affairs, in which a PBX plays such a central role, and the next state where Microsoft is trying to move things by transforming the way voice systems are implemented. It's something Ruchi called "the transformed state:"

The transformed state is a PBX-less environment. ... We are providing a bridge to this transformed environment.

Nortel and Microsoft's Innovative Communications Alliance is a never-ending source of fascination to me. Not so much for the various solutions they introduce, though these are of course interesting in their own right, but for the direction they are clearly trying to move the industry. This direction was crystallized in a few words this week by Ruchi Prasad, Nortel's VP and GM of the ICA. She drew a line between the current state of business communications affairs, in which a PBX plays such a central role, and the next state where Microsoft is trying to move things by transforming the way voice systems are implemented. It's something Ruchi called "the transformed state:"

The transformed state is a PBX-less environment. ... We are providing a bridge to this transformed environment.

The statement itself is not so startling. It's the message that Microsoft has been trying to get out for a year or more. Use PBXs now. Integrate them with your instant messaging software and other business applications. But expect a day when call control and other functionality presently delivered by your PBX is readily available on a simple (Microsoft) server.

What is startling is hearing these sentiments come from an executive of a PBX powerhouse like Nortel. Nortel's enterprise group currently derives the bulk of its revenue from the sale of PBX systems. And if the Nortel Communication Server 1000 PBX you buy today run call control on a Linux server, the CS1000 is at the end of the day still a PBX. Much the same way the Avaya, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, Mitel and several other IP PBXs run call control on a Linux or Windows server.

But Nortel is looking beyond this, to a day - still several years away - when it expects to be delivering communications applications, advanced telephony features, and integration services to PBX-less voice systems. I can think of no other PBX vendor that is making a bolder statement on where they want to bring the industry. It will be very interesting to see if Microsoft and Nortel can turn this vision into reality.