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Six problems with Office Communications Server 2007

Analysis: our doubts about Microsoft OCS 2007

As the years of hype around Office Communications Server 2007 show, when Microsoft launches a product, everyone wants to hear about it. But we have our doubts about OCS 2007. Here are six examples:

2) Can I really expect some Microsoft software running on a Windows box to be as reliable as a PBX?

With Office Communications Server 2007, users can centralise what were formerly hundreds of scattered PBX boxes onto just one or two servers. That can simplify management and make it easier to fix things when problems arise. The flip side is that if a problem with the Office Communications Server 2007 software occurs, the chances of a "catastrophic failure" bringing down all of the phones companywide is much higher than with an individual PBX.

"If you're all IP and SIP trunking and you lose connection to your carrier, that's not a very good scenario," NEC's Lopez said.

Analysts agree, including Barry Marks at IntelliCom Analytics.

"Vendors such as Avaya, Nortel and Ericsson all understand customer requirements for reliability, availability and hardened environments," he said. "Some of the newcomers who haven't been down that road could be at a little bit of a disadvantage in terms of truly ensuring 'five 9s' of reliability."

The other aspect is that OCS runs only on Windows Server 2003 and, soon, Windows Server 2008, unlike most competing products, which run on Linux or proprietary "hardened" operating systems.

Windows' lack of reliability "is totally out there as a perception and a message", acknowledged Kim Akers, Microsoft's general manager for unified communications. But she pointed out that other unified communication products, most notably Cisco's CallManager, also run on Windows Server.

Dustin Hannifin, a systems engineer at accounting firm Crowe, Chizek and Co who has been beta-testing Office Communications Server 2007, argues that OCS - if architected properly - may prove safer than conventional PBXes.

"The problem I have with traditional PBX systems is that while they are generally rock-solid, when they fail, there is no redundancy plan," he said. "For instance, with the old Octel [voice-mail] systems, there is only one hard drive. At least with OCS, you can back things up."

That's what Microsoft recommends: users should replicate their main Office Communications Server 2007 server continuously to a redundant server in a different physical location.

For now, that isn't necessary for Lionbridge, which has had 99.88 percent scheduled uptime in the past nine months, Kaldestad said.

The firm runs two load-balanced Office Communications Server 2007 servers out of the same data centre. That allows the company to keep one server running while it patches or reboots the other. And if both servers were to fail at the same time, Kaldestad is confident he could bring up a replacement Office Communications Server 2007 server in several hours because "all of the really important configuration data for OCS is stored in Active Directory".

Finally, Microsoft strove to make Office Communications Server 2007 interoperable with PBX and IP PBX gear from a number of vendors, so that customers can hold onto their boxes as long as they want.

"If you're the type of company with lots of mobile workers and consultants who demand a lot of features, you might go 100 percent software right away," Akers said. "But most customers will move in stages and wait for the natural end of life of their PBXes."

Whether you're setting up shop for the first time or you have an established business, Small Business Advisor provides instant access to the most useful products, tutorials and free downloads.

  1. Should I entrust my telephone system to a software vendor?
  2. Can I really expect some Microsoft software running on a Windows box to be as reliable as a PBX?
  3. If I'm not getting rid of my PBXes for a while, why go to Office Communications Server 2007 at all?
  4. Do I even really need unified communications?
  5. Well, I AM interested in unified communications. But Office Communications Server 2007 seems to lack features we need
  6. Why go to OCS if we're not a Microsoft shop?


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