Microsoft bolsters partnerships in advance of OCS 14 release

Microsoft is building out its partner network to support the impending upgrade of its unified communications software, with a new deal with Polycom that will guarantee tens of millions of dollars in investment in new products and marketing programs.The multi-year agreement with Polycom, to be announced Monday, is not exclusive but is "unique in the amount of commitment and resources," says Ashima Singhal, manager of Microsoft's unified communications partner marketing. The partnership will be key for Microsoft in persuading customers that Communications Server 14, slated for release in Q4, can be a real replacement for PBX systems.

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Microsoft and Polycom didn't specify exactly how much money will be spent by the two companies, but said product development will include "next generation Polycom CX series endpoints optimized for Microsoft UC," featuring Polycom's high-definition video and voice technologies; "room-based video systems" that will compete against Cisco's TelePresence; and guarantees of interoperability with "Polycom's existing and future video conferencing solutions."

Polycom isn't placing all its eggs in the Microsoft basket. Polycom has partnerships with the likes of HP, IBM, Juniper, Broadsoft, Siemens, Avaya and Cisco. And Polycom will not be the only vendor delivering hardware using Microsoft's Communications Server 14.

But with 14, Microsoft now has "an enterprise-grade communications" platform, whereas previous versions were not as comprehensive as they needed to be, says Mark Roberts, vice president of partner marketing at Polycom.

OCS 14 is more "elegant" and integrated into natural workflows, Roberts says. In particular, Roberts says OCS 14 lets users locate the proper contacts based upon their skills before initiating a conversation.

The user experience has also been updated with more integration with line-of-business applications such as SharePoint, Exchange and Office, according to Singhal.

"It's really about connecting people," Singhal says.

In addition to new products and integrations between Microsoft software and Polycom hardware, the companies are expanding their go-to-market initiatives with sales training and combined marketing campaigns.

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