Ten minutes with… Chris Capossela

In this Middle East exclusive interview, Matt Wade talks to Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft's PMG business division, about Office Communications Server 2007.

  • E-Mail
By  Matthew Wade Published  November 18, 2007

In this Middle East exclusive interview, Matt Wade talks to Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft's PMG business division, about Office Communications Server 2007.

Why has Microsoft taken the decision to enter the unified communications space and therefore take on such huge vendors as Cisco and Avaya?

The number one reason is because we see that software is going to play a much more fundamental role in this space than hardware. Traditionally it's been a completely hardware dominated business, and now we see the opportunity for a business transformation - where it goes from a vertically integrated stack of solutions, to a much more horizontal, software-based approach, where integration and choice is a big part of that. We think Microsoft has a much bigger role to play. We can do a great job making the end user experience a lot better, and by taking the cost out. That's essentially a very good formula for us. The end user experience is poor today, the cost is very high today; those are things that come together and make it an interesting business for us to be in.

We have a long history of one part of our company competing with one competitor and another part partnering with that competitor.

Has the development of this solution come about through any external acquisitions the company has made or is it the sole result of internal development?

We've been working on Office Communications Server for a while. We have a product to market called Live Communications Server, and we've rebranded it Office Communications Server as we really use the Live moniker exclusively for our end-user services like Windows Live Hotmail. There have been some acquisitions along the way but by and large it's internally developed technology. We've been at this for many years; it's not like we've just bought a company that has put us in this space.

Why might an IT manager or CIO choose Office Communications Server rather than picking a solution from a competitor?

The number one reason is that the end-user experience today is pretty poor, and we think we can make that far, far better. End users are definitely used to working with Outlook, they want to do instant messaging and video-conferencing, they want access to these new ways of working and collaborating - and yet they want to do it in a very familiar and useable way. We think we've really got a very unique proposition here.

The other reason of course is cost. Many of these companies are looking at going to VoIP solutions, but that can often mean a massive upgrade to their telephone infrastructure. Those huge upgrades are expensive and take a lot of time. If there's a way to add software to their existing infrastructure and still enable a lot of these scenarios on behalf of their end users then you get both benefits: you get the end user happiness and great experience, and you get the dramatically reduced cost for a VoIP solution. It's a pretty simple value proposition; you don't have to rip everything out to do this.

You've said you're working with companies such as Cisco to make your solution compatible with solutions enterprises might already have. To what degree is that possible considering you're competing in the same space?

I think it's very possible. If you talk to Cisco or Alcatel I think they'd tell you that interoperability is incredibly important for their customers. So they know, just like we know, that you can't go it alone. You have to have products that interoperate with each other. The Windows team always worked with competitors that compete with the Office team; anyone who was building software on Windows. We have a long history of one part of our company competing with a competitor, and another part of our company partnering with that competitor. They have to do it, we have to do it. Interoperability will trump the fact that we compete at some levels.

Could you give ACN readers a couple of examples of what Office Communications Server can offer the end user?

One of the classic examples is just reading and processing an e-mail. Instead of sending an e-mail back to somebody, and playing e-mail ping-pong, you can see from the e-mail itself that people involved in the mail are actually online. Then you can click on someone's name and start an instant messaging session with them, or everybody on the mail. Group instant messaging is great for getting an instant decision made.

The other reason it's so nice to be able to do it in an integrated way is that for every IM session you have with someone, you can save that in an Outlook folder called your Conversation History. So then if you're searching Outlook, you're searching all your IMs too.

The other thing would be adding a video-conference to the IM conversation, just by clicking one button, so long as you both have a webcam. So it doesn't require a whole bunch of video equipment.

The last example I'll give is a company meeting. Say this is with people in different locations. Rather than doing a conference call, you can run a really productive web-conference video call, either inside your company or across corporate boundaries with five, ten or 15 people participating.

This solution is still at an early version. Howe would you describe its reception from end users so far?

We have had a very good uptake of the Beta version of Office Communications Server with about 80,000 downloads. So we feel there's a pretty good install base there.

How do you intend to involve hardware vendors?

We're working with companies to design some devices. We've got the USB phone, a couple of examples of that. Worldwide we work on something called Roundtable, which we don't yet have in every region, which is essentially a replacement for, in some cases, a Polycom that you have in a meeting room.

It is essentially a bunch of cameras on a stalk, which are able to shoot a full meeting room and stitch together a 360-degree view of all the people in the room. So if an employee is at home and joining a meeting room full of people at work, that product called Roundtable can show her that panorama. She can see everyone around the room, and whoever is speaking. The Roundtable device can detect them and her box-out on the screen will show them.

We've already completed the design of these devices, but we want partners to build and bring these to the marketplace.

Is office Communications Server aimed at SMBs and large-scale enterprises - or both?

We think this is an incredibly horizontal piece of infrastructure, meaning we think these scenarios apply to big companies, small companies and everything in between. So I would say that any company that has Windows Server and Active Directory - that's the directory of their employees - that's our target market.

If you get down to what we consider a small company, that's five to 10 employees, then the chances of them having a server in their company is virtually non-existent.

Will customers be offered multiple payment methods?

On October 1st, we announced we'd give large companies the chance to pay for a subscription of Office Communications Online, that MS and other partners can run in their datacenters. So if you actually love these capabilities, but you don't want to run the servers yourself, you'll be able to subscribe. In the first version of this service, it's US English only, and it's only for companies that buy 5000 seats or more, but companies from anywhere can sign up for it. I think that over time however this service option will be very interesting for smaller companies.

Is Office Communications Server going to be available on more than one platform?

Office Communications Server definitely requires Windows Server and we don't have any plans to bring it to Linux servers or any others. If you look at the footprint that Windows Server has around the world, it's simply a phenomenal footprint. So we think this is a very big potential market, on top of Windows Server.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code