Microsoft and Partners Talk Unified Messaging

Telecommunications vendors are releasing or working on unified messaging products and hardware vendors are tuning their equipment for the technology. Now Microsoft Corp. has unveiled a strategy of its own.

It seems that all communications roads lead to unified messaging. Telecommunications vendors are releasing or working on unified messaging products and hardware vendors are tuning their equipment for the technology. Now Microsoft Corp. has unveiled a strategy of its own.

At Supercomm '99 in Atlanta, company president Steve Ballmer unveiled Microsoft's vision for unified messaging, providing "any time, anywhere" access via phone or other devices to a single inbox containing e-mail, voice mail, fax and page messages.

Russ Stockdale, Microsoft’s director of server applications marketing, outlined the strategy in three key tenets: the delivery of the Windows 2000 and Exchange platform, partnerships with ISVs that develop applications on that platform and enabling access to unified messaging via a variety of devices.

Microsoft’s plan is built around the upcoming version of Exchange, code-named Platinum, which recently entered a second phase of beta testing. Because it is built on the Exchange platform, users of a unified system will also have access to typical Exchange features, such as calendars, contacts, appointments and tasks.

Platinum features a Web Store; a Super Long Value (SLV) database format, which will enable the streaming of large voice data files directly in and out of the Web Store; and support for the voice profile for Internet messaging (VPIM) standard, enabling interoperability between separate voice mail systems.

Platinum’s Web Store, which replaces the Exchange message store found in Exchange 5.5, is the basis of the next-generation unified messaging platform. It offers a single place to store and manage e-mail and voice mail messages, and Web pages.

Microsoft officials say more than 50 companies, including Lucent Technologies Inc. (www.lucent.com), Nortel Networks Corp. (www.nortel.com) and Active Voice Corp. (www.activevoice.com), a computer telephony integrator, are actively developing or delivering unified messaging solutions on the Windows NT/2000 and Exchange platform.

In April, Lucent released Unified Messenger (see ENT, May 19, 1999, p.24), which saves voice mail in the same box as e-mail, faxes and other documents, on top of Microsoft Exchange Server.

Active Voice will be rebuilding Unity, it's Windows NT-based communications server, to take full advantage of Exchange.

Nortel announced support for the platform at the same press conference that Microsoft announced its unified messaging strategy.

"Nortel will be extending CallPilot's multimedia messaging capabilities to support the Microsoft architecture for unified messaging, based on the single store, directory and point of administration of Exchange Server," says John Myers, vice president and general manager of Nortel's messaging business.

The unified messaging strategy supports the two most commonly used architectures for unified messaging: the integrated model where separate servers are merged at the client, and the Exchange Server-based unified model that combines all voice and data management on one server with a single point of directory and administration.

Microsoft is working on retrieving unified messages through a variety of devices, including Windows CE handheld PCs and other mobile devices. The company plans to include mobile and wireless access as part of its anytime, anywhere access to unified messages.

Microsoft’s Stockdale says this goal is part of Microsoft’s larger initiative for supporting knowledge workers without limits.

"These initiative are not limited to a single product, to a single feature or a single release," he says. "Instead, they represent a set of investments we’re making over time."