HP, Microsoft form unified communications partnership

LAS VEGAS – In the past year, Hewlett-Packard Co.‘s ProCurve Networking division has increased its product line and marketing spending to better challenge Cisco Systems Inc. for the attention of network managers. On Tuesday at the annual Interop conference, the company increased its rhetoric as well, seizing the keynote spot from Cisco to announce a broadening of its partnership with Microsoft Corp. on unified communications and collaboration.

The companies promised to spend US$180 million over the next four years to deliver end-to-end solutions combining Microsoft’s Office Communications Server, Exchange and SharePoint portal software with HP’s smart phones, servers, storage and switches to automate workflows and help organizations lower costs.

One goal, said Marius Haas, senior vice-president and general manager of HP ProCurve Networking, is to make video conferencing as easy as creating e-mail.

“We believe we can deliver these solutions in such to be of much greater value to you that what our competition can do,” declared Ann Livermore, executive director of HP’s technology solutions group, which includes the ProCurve division.

Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft’s business division, vowed the alliance will create a “fundamental disruption” in the way organizations collaborate today.

However, the announcement was short on detailed deliverables.

That’s because Tuesday was also the day HP reported its quarterly earnings, a company spokesman told reporters, so it couldn’t say anything more than what was in the keynote and a press release.

At a Wednesday morning briefing for Canadian technology reporters, Manfred Arndt, HP’s convergence solutions architect, said the alliance would do more than assure customers that HP servers are optimized for running Office Communications Server. Customers want to know that devices are ready for unified communications out of the box, he said, so HP will create OCS-enabled solutions and integrate Microsoft technology into its offerings.

The goal of the alliance, he said, is to make unified communications a seamless experience.

The announcement could be seen as a blow to Nortel Networks, which was a prime partner with Microsoft on building telephony solutions. However, since Nortel filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year customers are more caution about buying its solutions.

Among the questions to be answered about the HP-Microsoft UC alliance is whether it goes beyond assuring customers that Microsoft communications solutions built on HP hardware will run optimally to whether it will create new products.

Livermore spoke of HP and Microsoft teaming up on research and development, marketing as well as implementing solutions. She also mentioned an upcoming HP IP desk phone and HP laptops and notebooks will be certified for Microsoft UC solutions.

Even before the recession, organizations were cautiously embracing unified communications, wanting assurances from vendors that promised productivity gains will actually be seen.

The companies will also marry video solutions combining HP’s Halo high-definition video conferencing products and Microsoft Office Communication Server desktop capabilities to bring “conferencing to the masses.”

According to a survey of those who registered for Interop – not all of whom may be decision-makers – 27 per cent of respondents said their organization has adopted unified communications, while another 17 per cent said are they planning on it. Twenty-four per cent said their organization is interested in it, while 18 per cent said their organization is not.

In an interview with Canadian technology reporters, Karl Soderlund, ProCurve’s vice-president of sales and marketing for the Americas, said demand for unified communications “is still early on.” However, he said it is a “hot topic” among customers, leading him to conclude the timing of the Microsoft partnership is right.

In a report, Gartner analysts said the alliance makes sense because HP has proven large enterprise networking and communications integration skills that Microsoft lacks, and it has the largest Microsoft Exchange integration and hosting business in the world.

“The alliance puts pressure on Cisco to build a strong services channel that can integrate its premises-based VoIP gear with its pending cloud-based collaboration suite,” the report also said. “HP and IBM had been strong integrators for Cisco, but we see Cisco steering more of those deals to alternative vendors. IBM already has a strong field team with IBM Global Services. Google is the laggard here, but has a growing partnership with [integrator] Capgemini and it is building a network of smaller field integration vendors. Microsoft already has UCC services partnerships with Nortel and smaller integrators, but those alliances lack the scope and expertise of HP, which further motivated Microsoft to pursue the HP deal.”