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Communications Server '14' Demo Shown at Tech-Ed

Microsoft showed off Communications Server "14" last  Monday at Tech-Ed in New Orleans.

A demo of the new unified communications solution was presented by Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Office Communications Group. It was shown about midway during a Day 1 keynote address by Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business.

Muglia said during the keynote that Communications Server 14 "will ship later this year." Communications Server 14 is the successor to Microsoft's Office Communications Server product. Quite possibly it could take on the Microsoft "2010" product nomenclature, since Communications Server 14 works with other products in the Microsoft stack, such as Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and Exchange 2010, as well as some earlier versions of those products.

Microsoft provided a description of how its other products work in conjunction with Communications Server 14 at a Web page here.

IT pros can use the familiar interface of Active Directory in Exchange to provision users of the Communications Server 14 system. In addition, Microsoft recently announced that Communications Server 14 now supports PowerShell scripting for management tasks. Microsoft's new PowerShell blog for the product explained that "you'll be able to fully manage Communications Server--everything from Conferencing to Enterprise Voice to Communicator client settings--all with PowerShell."

The key to Microsoft's new unified communications product is the Microsoft Communicator 14 client application, which will work across both PCs and mobile devices. Pall described Communicator as a "complete softphone." It shows pictures of contacts via SharePoint, enabling a Facebook-like social networking experience. A contact card in Communicator can also be accessed through Microsoft Office. The card enables multiple contact options, with buttons to push to call the contact or send an instant message or e-mail.

Using SharePoint with Communications Server 14 will enable users to search for other people in the company who may be experts in a field. The search is based on keywords that users have entered in their contact card descriptions.

Overall, Communications Server 14 enables such functions as "presence, instant messaging, conferencing and enterprise voice capabilities," according to Microsoft's description. Microsoft previously unveiled Communications Server 14 at the VoiceCon Orlando 2010 conference in March, describing a few of its features. However, the company has now released a full roster of the features, which can be accessed here.

Pall's demo was supposed to show application sharing using Communications Server 14. He was able to connect with a coworker (Jamie Stark, a Microsoft senior technical product manager) via a $50 streaming high-definition video camera at 720 pixels. However, the upload of a PowerPoint presentation failed to show. Pall's demo of a white-boarding capability, showing a map of the conference center, failed to show the graphic of the facility.

Despite those two setbacks, Pall described Communications Server 14 as a potential PBX killer, although it can also work with an existing PBX in an interim period. Microsoft currently uses Communications Server 14 at its own facilities. The installation supports 74,000 of its own employees using hardphones for audio, and the PBX was eliminated in that case, Pall said. This network now runs 93 percent of the global audio conferencing for those users, supporting 59 million minutes a month and saving $1 million per month, he claimed.

Communications Server 14 can connect to a PBX during a transition phase or it can bypass the PBX completely and connect directly to the public switched telephone network "via a gateway or through SIP Trunking," according to Stark in a blog post. He described two efforts that Microsoft is backing to achieve better interoperability and integration. One is the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) focusing on unified communications interoperability, certification and testing. The other is the UC Open Interoperability Program (UCOIP) that qualifies "gateways, IP-PBXs, and SIP trunks services," he explained.

Such industry efforts will help organizations to replace or enhance their PBX systems with unified communications solutions, Stark suggested.

He also noted that Microsoft has changed its plans on a click-to-call feature in Communications Server 14. Microsoft will now support new customers on the feature, and not just existing remote call control customers.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.