My co-worker, Irwin Lazar, commented in his blog recently on Microsoft's alliance with Nortel. My additional thoughts are as follows:
- This partnership needs to be assessed in the context of the past three years. Microsoft has been quite aggressive with numerous technology partnerships that resulted in fairly broad integration capabilities for LCS 2005. But for unified communications to really take off, we need more than technology integration and interoperability, we need business models, channel programs and professional services -- the other pieces of the unified communications ecosystem. So that's what struck me as perhaps a subtle inflection point -- Microsoft's transition from the "technology of Unified Communications" to the "business of Unified Communications".
- I agree with Irwin that the absence of any statement around where Nortel will go with MCS was telling. Personally, I imagine that it will fade into the background. For those organizations that will take advantage of the Microsoft/Nortel alliance, the MCS solution makes little sense. And if you are looking for IM and web conferencing from someone other than Microsoft, you will likely head to IBM.
- So the question remains, will Cisco and Avaya cozy up to IBM and Oracle. Will we see an IBM/Cisco and Oracle/Avaya alliance? Or IBM/Avaya and Oracle/Cisco? Cisco appears to be betting that Adobe's Breeze web conferencing stack is the way to go. That might favor a deeper relationship with Oracle (whose web conferencing product is still nascent in the market and could be dropped without many people noticing). Avaya's web conferencing product is weak in terms of market presence as well, a partnership with IBM could make sense where Sametime would become the preferred data conferencing engine.
- Cisco has some assets that could make it a player in the game of presence management. It's not clear whether the market is going to evolve into a flat peer model around federation of presence or one where we will see meta-presence management servers. Both IBM and Oracle could find this an attractive reason to partner with Cisco in a more focused manner.
This seems like a game of musical chairs with communication vendors picking a key partner who has an application and collaboration infrastructure stack to partner with on unified communications. Microsoft can afford to keep making as many of these alliance deals as possible. There's little risk. So expect more to come.