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Nortel Splits Conferencing Out of MCS5100
Nortel's recent announcement that it was splitting its conference-bridge functionality out of the MCS5100, into a dedicated product called the MMC 5.0 (press release) provides a good snapshot of where I think we are today with Unified Communications.
Nortel's recent announcement that it was splitting its conference-bridge functionality out of the MCS5100, into a dedicated product called the MMC 5.0 (press release) provides a good snapshot of where I think we are today with Unified Communications.The MCS5100 is Nortel's big honking UC engine. It supports not just conferencing (which it will continue to do even as Nortel sells the MMC 5.0 as a standalone product); it's also the IM/presence/collaboration engine that basically would compete against Microsoft's OCS as a fully-featured UC platform.
Nortel obviously has one problem that no other OCS competitor has, namely, they're in a tight partnership with Microsoft, the Innovative Communications Alliance or ICA. So there's that reason not to plan a full-scale, head-to-head war with Microsoft for UC platform domination.
Another reason not to go up against Microsoft is the likelihood of losing that particular battle. Since Microsoft owns the user desktop in most non-IBM/Lotus shops, OCS has an edge there.
A final reason is that the market isn't showing a tremendous appetite for implementing full-bore UC, and everybody's trying to figure out what the ROI is. When Dave Murashige of Nortel briefed me on the MMC 5.0 release, he conceded that the MCS 5100 is a "very robust product; it has a lot of functionality that a loto f customers don't need," at least right away.
That's where the MMC 5.0 comes in. As a standalone conferencing engine, the MMC 5.0 can offer a pretty compelling ROI case to companies that do a lot of conferencing with service bureaus, especially if there's a strong global component to those conferences.
Nortel does have an integrated conference bridge in its main IP telephony platform, the CS1000, but Dave Murashige noted that this capability only supports 62 concurrent users, so for a large enterprise to take advantage of it, there really has to be a system of reservations in place. By contrast, the MMC 5.0, which runs on standard server hardware and operating system, can support 800 ports per server and 5,600 ports per cluster of servers, which can handle "thousands" of users, according to Nortel, meaning the system can be reservationless and is large enough to replace a service bureau for a large enterprise.
The MMC 5.0 integrates with CS1000 and also with Microsoft Live Communications Server (LCS), the predecessor to OCS; OCS integration is coming, according to Dave Murashige. I asked Dave how MMC 5.0 compares with trying to do conferencing just through OCS (LCS doesn't offer conferencing). Dave noted that OCS conferencing has to be controlled from the desktop via the Office Communicator client, meaning the chairperson has to be at their desktop, logged in as themselves, to open the conference, and mobile participants can't dial in--the system has to dial out to them: "It's "just not sufficient for the way the application (conferencing) is actually used," he said.
So the reason I say that this announcement fits the way the market actually looks today is that Nortel has taken a piece of UC that people actually want to adopt for hard cost savings, and given them a way to buy it without having to take the whole megillah. This move also jibes with a conversation I had at Interop in April of 2007 with John Roese, Nortel's CTO. John argued that Nortel's core competency in call control--broadly defined as the ability to make real-time communications connections at very large scale--would actually be enhanced by the advent of UC, and I think we're seeing something like that in the MMC 5.0 announcement. Nortel does the heavy lifting in making robust conferencing connections at scale, while Microsoft provides the major portion of the user interface. John Roese was convinced there's a business for Nortel in this kind of model, and he may be right.