Microsoft's launch of Office Communications Server (OCS) late last year signalled the beginning of a dramatic change in the unified communications market.

In the past, it would have been advisable for customers to choose one or another vendor to 'go with' for their entire unified communications environment; however, all of that has changed.
"With Microsoft positioning OCS as the proverbial 'glue' in the unified communications market, the best of breed concept is making a comeback," says Marius Vermeulen, Cisco technical specialist at Tarsus Technologies.
"Microsoft is pushing a model that, providing OCS is in that central position, offers customers the freedom to choose what brand of communications hardware and software they surround it with.
"This is an attractive prospect both for vendors and customers," he adds.
"Vendors now have the opportunity to get into accounts that they previously would have been excluded from, but in order to do so, they have to become more competitive and adjust their business models to the reality of pitching for the many different elements of the unified communications environment.
"The customers, on the other hand, get to judge each element on its specific benefits and drawbacks and choose the strongest individual building blocks from which to assemble their unified communications network.
"The great part is that through Microsoft's 'Outlook' information management tool, users only have to interact with a single and familiar interface for all of their communications needs – this is the part that makes the most sense," he adds.
"Since Microsoft has such a strong market share in the collaboration software environment, it is safe to say that the company will succeed in effecting this market change.
"Microsoft will, however, have to prove that it can toe the line when it comes to standards and interoperability – something it has struggled with in the past," he says.
So, are the vendors that classically dominated this market space feeling threatened?
"Well," says Vermeulen, "from what we've seen in the market, players such as Cisco are extremely comfortable with this arrangement. The company has been a respected entity in the market for some time now, producing solutions that customers respect and value," he explains.
"With that in mind, there's no reason why Cisco shouldn't continue to be as strong a force as it has been in the past. Its competitors, however, may begin to feel the pressure," he adds.
"With less of a 'vendor lock-in' factor to deal with going forward, some players will undoubtedly feel the heat.
"The buying decision has less to do with what brands a company currently has in its environment, and more to do with the direction it would like to take in the future.
"In this world, those that continue building the best products in their category will see the change in the unified communications market brought on by the release of OCS as extremely positive," he adds.